The first manifestation of my cyanotype butterflies was a pair of shadow boxes that contained around 100 butterfly specimens pinned in a chaotic cloud shape. In this version, I was attempting to subvert the strict geometry traditional in museum display cases. I was not, however, able to challenge the manner of display which kept the butterflies behind glass.
After graduating from college, I was looking for a new project, and I had the idea of liberating each individual butterfly by giving them a magnet. I had already been using mgnets in my other animal sculptures, and so it was a natural extension to try them on my butterflies.
In July of 2012, I finished the first 200 magnetic butterflies and began to install them around my home-town of Indianapolis.
My aim was for the butterflies to alite and therefore transform various metal objects and surfaces in the urban public sphere. In so doing they bring a kind of natural beauty, albeit an ephemeral one, into mundane and overlooked city spaces.
During the fall of 2012 I traveled to the East coast for a gallery installtion and it seemed natural to bring the then 400 butterflies along.
A few weeks later, my family and I traveled to Hawaii and the growing swarm of 800 traveled across the Pacific ocean for the first time. By this point it was clear to me that this project is greatly enhanced by travel, and I continually looked for opportunities to bring the butterflies to new places.
At the same time, I was also including my swarms in site-specific gallery installations. These took various forms, but I was innitially attracted to cloud-like shapes created with chiken-wire that were then covered in butterflies.
In September 2013, breaking from that naturalistic mode, I created a 6 foot diameter sphere that was covered in chicken-wire and illuminated from within. This installation was interactive, and visitors were invited to move the butterflies around the sphere. I now see this as a kind of prefiguration of the global migration I hope to achieve through this project.
Most recently, I created a new mannor of hanging the swarm that allows them to move in a more life-like fashion. This 2014 installation at LaGuardia Community College's gallery in Queens, NY had hundreds of hanging strings that have thousands of small washers tied to them. Each washer allows for the placement of a single butterfly, and the result is a swarm cloud with much more depth than before. Unlike the previous installations which allowed only for a surface covered in butterflies, this new mode allows for a volume with verying concentrations of blue insects.
The swarm's final stop before they travel the world will be a large solo show at the Franklin Park Conservancy in Columbus Ohio as part of their Butterflies and Blooms summer festival. For this show, 4,000 butterflies will occupy the center of the gallery space in a winding murmuration-like cloud.
It was druing a trip to Istanbul, Turkey in March of 2014— the first international adventure for the butterflies— where I had the idea to make this a collaborative global project. I hope you feel inspired to participate and help me write the next chapter for these magnetic butterflies.