Aesthetic outsourcing: arthropod artisans

Peacay just let me know about this cool article in Cabinet Magazine, written by Jeffrey Kastner.

The aquatic caddisfly constructs a shell-like “case” for itself out of debris in its environment. For years, artist Herbert Duprat has been supplying his caddisfly corps with top-grade building materials, and they’ve produced “art” like this:


Is the caddis worm’s precious case the work of the insect or the work of the artist? This is not the right question. The contradiction can be resolved by the differing viewpoints. According to the first view, the caddis worm owed nothing to the artist (who is simply the author of one noise among the thousands of other noises in its environment). According to the second view, the caddis worm is merely the executor of the artist’s project. The artistic statement plays on the confusion of the two levels by overlaying the two perspectives. (Christian Besson, quoted by Jeffrey Kastner in Cabinet; Besson’s extended interview with Duprat in this article from Leonardo)

There’s even a video of a caddisfly case in progress, with the larva perched like Smaug on a huge heap of gold and pearls, scrabbling and gluing away.

I used to collect caddisfly larvae in streams, although I hadn’t thought about them in years. I think the mica-faceted blue-grey caddis-houses of the Pacific Northwest are every bit as beautiful as these baroque arthopod Versailleses. Still, it’s a cool idea – and far better than roach-brooches! (Those overhyped roaches don’t even do the decoration themselves. Pshaw.)

Thanks Peacay!

(Also blogged by the Zymoglyphic Curator.)

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5 Responses to Aesthetic outsourcing: arthropod artisans

  1. Keri says:

    Very cool! I love this kind of stuff — reminds me of Aganetha Dyck’s work with bees.

  2. Pingback: ectoplasmosis » Arthropod Versailles

  3. Chas brown says:

    There are a couple of folks who do this. There’s an artist named Kathy Stout who sells jewelery with the caddisfly cases:

  4. Pierre Carlès says:

    That’s totally wild ! Thank you for the link, I love the idea.

  5. adam p adam says:

    … indeed an oldie but goldie (tadachumm). I love this. It’s great to see the video.

    Swedish FRONT design also does some fantastic work with/by animals like the Rat Wallpaper, the Snake Hangers and the Dog Vase… Their method is not quite as scientific and they don’t have as much control of the process as Duprat though.

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