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You probably have not heard many artists claim to have been inspired by insects, let alone termites, but one famous artist, Nicholas Mangan, is an exception in this regard. Mangan has recently contributed an art display to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum as a part of the museum’s exhibit titled: Post Nature–A Museum as an Ecosystem. Most of Mangan’s work highlights aspects of the ecosystem that many people are unfamiliar with. For example, Mangan’s latest exhibit focuses on the positive effect that termites have on the ecosystem.

Mangan is calling his exhibit Termite Economics, and it consists of 3D printed models of different termite habitats, including nesting mounds, earthen tunnel networks and dwelling chambers within blocks of wood. All of his 3D models were constructed from plaster, dirt, synthetic polymer paint, and plywood. In addition to the habitat models, Mangan also commissioned drone footage of particular regions of Australia’s arid landscape where termites are known to be active. This footage is played on a continuous loop in order to provide spectators with a termite’s point of view as it navigates terrain and approaches its nest. The footage is played on a computer that is situated amongst Mangan’s models. This exhibition was inspired by current termite research being conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO.

Researchers working for CSIRO are currently studying how subterranean termites can lead humans toward rare mineral sources that are located far below the ground where they cannot be viewed by humans. Mangan believes that CSIRO research shows how social cooperation among termites allows the insects to achieve feats that are beyond human capabilities, such as complicated mound architecture, and in this case, mining, so to speak. Mangan’s exhibit allows people to understand how the mining and world-building capability of termites reflects manmade economic systems and social hierarchies. For Mangan, a termite colony is like a tiny universe that closely resembles human sociality.

Do you believe that termite sociality is similar to human sociality?

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