Why back this project?
I am a full time artist. What that really boils down to is that I am my own boss and there is no one to delegate to. First, I am an artist. I invent new processes and create cultural content. But, to be an artist in the 21st century, I also have to be a web designer. I learned to code in order to best display and share my work online. I became a graphic designer and photographer in order to present my pieces in a clear and compelling manner. Then, once I had the idea for this project, I became an organizer. I created databases of addresses and mobilized people on a global scale. After the images came back from the participants, I learned how to design a book from scratch. Then, to promote the project I became my own videographer and animator.
Next, I will be a publicist. I will pitch my work to media outlets online and in print. Finally, I will work the mail room. I will process, prepare and ship out all these books to your homes. An artist is never just an artist. By backing this project you are helping me live my life, do what I love, and bring exciting new work to a wider audience. If you do back more than your selected reward amount, know that everything I make will go back into my artistic process.
Origin of The Swarm:
I began working with cyanotype butterflies during my final year at Swarthmore College. At that stage they were contained behind glass in two large shadow boxes, but within, represented a swarm of rebellion against the orderly specimen collections prized by lepidopterists. After graduating in May of 2012, I moved back home to live with my parents in Indianapolis, Indiana and to continue making art. I had been using magnets in other parts of my practice so it was not such a leap for me to see how adding little magnets to my butterflies would get them a whole new level of freedom and flexibility.
With just 200 butterflies, I hit the streets of downtown Indianapolis for a First Friday event and created my first ‘swarms.’ I learned a lot about what the butterflies did best, how best to activate public spaces, and how to engage with a new audience: passers-by. From these first few installations on electrical equipment, telephone poles covered in staples, and newspaper boxes, I knew that the swarms would have two separate means of engagement. One would be the random stranger who happened upon me during the 15 minutes the installations last. The other would be the visitor to my blog who would experience the installation through the photos I took of the event.
Throughout the fall of 2012, whether I traveled for work or pleasure, I brought the butterflies with me and took photos of them in new places like Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Quakertown, PA; Swarthmore, PA; New York, NY; Kona, HI; Hilo, HI; and Berkeley, CA. The swarm also grew a little bit every week until I had my first thousand for a gallery show in January 2013. Later that year, I moved to New York City, and as an ode to my new home I made a stop-motion animation video with the butterflies swarming over 30 locations around Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governor’s Island. By animating the butterflies, I was able to bridge the two very different experiences my viewers were previously having. A static image online or an ephemeral moment on the street were replaced by a fluttering and pulsing swarm video.
There were many things which drew me to an installation spot. Sometimes it was the exciting contrast the butterflies provided to the decay of the metal object, often it was the way the metal interacted with the landscape I could still see behind it, other times it was how the butterflies could interact with layers of street art already present in the space. In the back of my mind, I felt there had to be some way of opening the project up and sharing that experience.
My butterflies had more to offer. I still wanted others to experience what only I and a few select friends and family had experienced- the feeling of actually choosing a location, swarming, photographing, and then taking the butterflies down and moving on to the next location.
During 2013 I continued to add to my butterfly swarm, but my sculptural practice grew and other sculptural pursuits took precedent. It was not until the Spring of 2014, when I decided to take a few hundred butterflies with me on a vacation to Istanbul, Turkey, that I was able to see the next step of the project: Swarm the World.
My visit to Turkey with the butterflies was exciting and inspiring. During the week away, I realized something quite simple and beautiful. I knew I could not travel the world and install my butterflies, but if I could reach them, I knew that there were people out there already who would be able to share my joy in expanding and continuing this project. Once I got home, I built a new website for this idea. I explained my goal and asked for anyone interested to email me for a chance to become my collaborator in an expansion of my magnetic butterfly swarms. After some well-timed press on a few art blogs and online newspapers, the word was out, and hundreds of people emailed me from around the globe.
I narrowed down the participants to 160 people, launched a Kickstarter campaign, and raised $10,000 USD to fund the shipping for the project. In the Fall of 2014, fifteen packets of 350 butterflies each left my apartment in New York City and arrived a few weeks later across 7 continents. All the while, I made time in my artistic practice to manage shipping, re-direct routes, and enjoy all the great images being posted by participants. I am excited to announce the capstone to this project: The Swarm the World book.
Making the Butterflies:
The butterflies are printed with an early photographic process called cyanotype. It is also known as a blueprint or sun-print and was used widely to reproduce architectural drawings. Once the two chemical parts are combined, it becomes light-sensitive and can be painted onto any porous surface. For the butterflies, I worked with cyanotype-coated cotton fabric because it allowed me to print the same image on both sides of the fiber. The photograph is made by placing a negative in direct contact with the surface and then exposing the fabric to sunlight. Wherever the chemical coating is covered, it will remain white, and wherever it is not, it will turn a deep blue. After a period of 5-10 minutes, depending on the intensity of the light, the print is removed from the negative and washed in cold water.
During the development process, all of the unexposed chemical is removed and the blue color deepens. To further brighten the print a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide is added to the final water bath. Once the butterflies are printed, I cut them out by hand. After I have cut out a few hundred, I begin the stiffing process with a light water-based glue which is brushed onto the fabric until both sides are fully coated. This process gives the wings a little body and allows the swarmer to manipulate the wing placement by folding or unfolding them. When they dry, the next and final step is to sew a magnet to the belly of each butterfly. For this project, I used neodymium, also known as rare-earth magnets, which are very small and very strong. I use a ring magnet because it can be sewn on like a button.
8.5 x 8.5 inches
340 color images
120 different photographers
Images from 45 different countries
Printed by BookBaby in the USA 80lb sustainable forest certified paper
Risks and challenges
I am optimistic about the printing turn-around for these books, but the publisher may have scheduling issues unrelated to me that could delay the fulfillment slightly. If anything like that should happen, I will be transparent about the changes in the timeline.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (24 days)