Insect as Idea

Jennifer Murphy, Scarab Butterfly, 2020. Collage of cut images from second-hand books sewn together with thread. Courtesy of the artist and Clint Roenisch Gallery.

Insect as Idea
Carl Beam, Christi Belcourt, Catherine Chalmers, Andrea Cooper, Aganetha and Richard Dyck, Jude Griebel, The Institute of Queer Ecology, Jennifer Murphy, and Amy Youngs

Featuring insect specimens from the Zoological Collections, Department of Biology, Western University.

April 28 – June 18, 2022
Curated by Dr. Helen Gregory and Dr. Nina Zitani

From the imperceptible flutter of a butterfly wing to the electric buzzsaw whine of summer cicadas, the thrum of insects forms a subtle soundtrack to our quotidian existence. Insects have captured human imagination for centuries. The ancient Greeks equated butterflies with the soul to such an extent that they used the same word – psyche – to refer to both. This exhibition examines insects within a multispecies framework, considering the role that they play throughout ecological systems. How have we learned from insects in the past and what can they tell us about the future? If we read insects as bellwethers or even, more poetically, as ideas made manifest, what does their disappearance say about human-earth relationships?

Insect as Idea puts the work of the artists in conversation with the stunningly beautiful historical collection of Riker Mounts housed in the Zoological Collections at Western University. Many of the specimens housed in the Zoological Collections were collected in the early twentieth century by scientists as part of their research projects. Other specimens were collected by hobby naturalists and later donated to Western, including the Riker mounts on display here. The mounts include specimens from North America to the Amazon Rainforest, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and other localities around the globe.

Zoological Collections, Department of Biology at Western University. Image credit: Brian Lambert.

Each of the artists in this exhibition considers insects within a multispecies ecology or cultural history. In a work from The Columbus Project, Carl Beam juxtaposes images of bees with a portrait of Christopher Columbus, addressing the historically imbricated impulses of exploration, discovery and colonization with analysis and classification. Christi Belcourt intertwines bees, birds, strawberries, and native plants to underscore the interconnectedness of living things within the natural world. Catherine Chalmers presents a series of extraordinary films, drawing parallels between the behaviour of neo-tropical leafcutter ant colonies and the human traits of language, ritual, war, and art, with the aim of blurring the lines between culture and nature. Originally created for Instagram, Andrea Cooper’s film Wild Honey provides a metaphorical exploration of fertility, colony collapse disorder, and climate change. Aganetha and Richard Dyck work collaboratively with bees to co-create works of art, in this instance through the use of a flatbed scanner inserted into a beehive. New work from Jude Griebel takes inspiration from Victorian anthropomorphic illustration to imagine a tiny entomological protest against the current ecological crisis. The Institute of Queer Ecology’s three-part film Metamorphosis is a call to reimagine and rebuild the planet, employing the metaphor of the life-cycle of an insect in which the organism fully restructures itself to adapt to its changing needs and ensure its survival. Jennifer Murphy combines images culled from old nature books to create composite forms that remind us of the complexity of ecological relationships. Amy Youngs “shakes hands” with a cluster of composting worms in an interspecies gesture of respect that acknowledges our dependence on the organisms that decompose our waste. Collectively, the work encourages us to consider the importance of monitoring insect biodiversity as an indicator of the health of an ecosystem, be it thriving or imperiled, as well as human impact on these ecologies.

McIntosh Gallery thanks Dr. Kirsty Robertson for the original exhibition concept. Helen Gregory extends her gratitude and appreciation to her students in the Department of Visual Arts Museum and Curatorial Studies Practicum course for their input during the development of this exhibition: Avory Capes, Meghan Carnegie, Stephanie Fattori, Sarah Fletcher, Kaitlyn German, Megan Goddard, Emma Hennessey, ShaSha Hou, Kaede Kusano, Etienne Lavallee, Emma Morin, Roshieka Russell, Serena Shearly, Hanyu Xi, and Turing Xu. Nina Zitani wishes to thank her student volunteer curatorial assistants Fraser Allen, Ryan Chieu, Shukri Matan, Donald Tyler Watson M.Sc., Natasha Weppler, and Mitchell Zimmer for their dedication and hard work helping to curate and maintain the Zoological Collections. Without their input this exhibition would not have been possible.

Related Programming:

Panel Discussion
May 12, 2022, at 5:30 EST on Zoom
Featuring Catherine Chalmers, Andrea Cooper, Aganetha Dyck, Jude Griebel, and Amy Youngs
Moderated by Dr. Helen Gregory and Dr. Nina Zitani

Join us for a panel discussion hosted on Zoom in partnership with the Zoological Collections, Department of Biology, Western University, on Thursday May 12. In conversation with exhibition curator Dr. Helen Gregory, participating artists will discuss how their practices have been influenced by environmental issues and multispecies ecologies.

This virtual event is free and open to the public. All are welcome. Attendees must register in advance here.


All visitors to McIntosh Gallery are required to provide proof of vaccination upon arrival. Please note that 3-layer medical face masks (provided) should be worn indoors in all University facilities including McIntosh Gallery.

If you have questions or are seeking additional information about visiting the gallery, feel free to reach out to us at mcintoshgallery@uwo.ca. For ongoing coverage of COVID-19 protocol and operations at Western University, visit www.uwo.ca/coronavirus/

McIntosh Gallery
1151 Richmond Street N.
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Saturday: 12 PM – 4 PM
McIntosh Gallery offers free admission to all exhibitions
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