Friday, July 19, 2013

Harnessing Nature's Creativity

Let's talk about the new direction that visual art is taking these days. Have you ever picked a leaf off a tree and made a crayon rubbing of its veins and textures? Seems pretty normal. Ever done it with a housefly?

John Knuth is a visual artist based in Los Angeles. What's so interesting about him? He doesn't use your average paintbrush to fill his canvases. Knuth has captured and raised over 250,000 houseflies, whom he has enslaved within small enclosures to make original pieces for him. Watch this five minute video about his process:

At the beginning of the video, I thought that he fed the flies paint and then stuck their pigmented bodies to his canvases with some sort of glue. At least this isn't nearly as cruel (comparatively). He lures the flies to paint-soaked paper laid overtop a dish of sugar water, and the flies cover themselves in paint in the process of getting to their food. Knuth states that the work is a visual exploration into the world of a non-social species of animal (the fly) and how their behaviour relates to that of the human.

Honestly, after seeing the finished pieces at the end of the video, I can't say that I can see any evidence of this non-social behaviour. I certainly can't tell whether these flies are having lengthy conversations about the state of politics or how that fly down the road is getting fat, but the miniscule dots of paint on the canvas seem to make a sort of pattern, in that they are clustered together in a way that suggests, to me, that flies like to be near other flies.

Regardless, what do you think of the social aspect to this type of process? Is it moral or allowable for humans to harness the bodies of other living things for their own purpose? You could argue that yes, they are only flies and their brains are probably too small to think past that dish of sugar water that they love so much, but we don't really know what flies are thinking at all. While people are making such a big deal over makeup-testing on animals, no one seems to care too much about the fly.

While I will admit that this is a very imaginative way to make art, maybe we could explore some ways to do it without enslaving any living things. Does that seem like a stretch?

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