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Exposition à la Tufts University Art gallery de Boston

Alain Eschenlauer is a young artist who lives and works in Strasbourg, France. Born in the rural part of Alsace, Alain is mostly inspired by Nature and its variations.

In this exhibit, he presents artworks juxtaposing entomologically precise drawings of insects and symmetrical inkblots reminiscent of the Rorschach’s tests. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, between zoological truth and psychiatric suggestion, the artist invites us to have a new vision of the insects and our surrounding world. The multiple facets of our complex relationships to these creatures are also illustrated by texts presenting the point of view of various people: biologists, psychiatrist, pest controller, Zoological Museum curator, children and artist.

This exhibit is made possible thanks to the support of the Boston-Strasbourg Sister City Association, the « Consulat de France » in Boston and the City of Strasbourg.

From an artist’s point of view…

How does the artist create his effects? It is scary to see bugs this big. They could eat my kitties. This scale increase grabs our attention; the artist insists we really look at these insects. The symmetrical placement of both images, centered in their two separate zones, allows them to play off each other and emphasizes their similarities and differences. We see two species of insects, two sets of heads, antennae, and bodies. The difference in their presentation, however, causes us to react differently to each image. The upper drawing of a bee is finely articulated in sanguine (reddish brown) pen and ink, a medium that allows the artist to draw each segment and hair on the bee’s leg, each wing facet, the texture of that hairy abdomen. This literal rendering and close attention to detail feels « scientific » (just the facts, ma’am) and provides the viewer enough analytical distance to suppress thoughts of negative reaction (bees sting) and allow thoughts of honey production and an admirable work ethic (busy as a bee) to surface. In contrast, the lower insect, rendered in brushy black ink as a gestural silhouette, is foreboding and anxiety-producing. The insect seems to loom on the page. This generalized freer approach creates an overall impact that we experience on a more visceral level. Eeeeeee! My amygdala is humming with adverse reaction to this BUG. There is nevertheless a pleasing symmetry in its curves and bulges and repeated rhythms that recalls the lyrical depictions of Art Nouveau.

Jane Goldman, visual artist

From the children’s point of view…

“Maybe the bottom one is the inside of that bug.” Noah (Kindergarten)
“The artist might have thought of a bug and then thought of a weird flower. Those four things on the bottom could be the petals. Maybe he was thinking about an alien bug and an alien kind of flower.” Evan (Kindergarten)
“I notice that he drew two so he wouldn’t waste the picture frame.” Maya (Kindergarten)

“When I see the brown bug, I think it’s a real bug but then the black thing, it’s an imaginary bug that the artist made up.” Ian (2nd grade)

“The top bug is when it was alive and the bottom bug, somebody squished it.” Nicholas (2nd grade)
“I think the top one looks a bit like when it’s fall and then, when it’s winter, it’s more like the bug froze or something.” Abby (2nd grade)
“The bottom one looks like a shadow, but the one thing I don’t understand is that usually shadows don’t have red in them.” Andrew (2nd grade)

“The bottom looks like a simpler one of the top.” Adam (3rd grade)
“The top one looks like a wasp and then it flew into a fire and the bottom one looks like it is already burned.” Denis (3rd grade)
“The one in black looks like a creature from long ago and the top one looks like an insect from today. They say that there is a good and bad side to everything, so I think the bottom drawing is the bad side to the top drawing.” Alanna (3rd grade)
“I think the top one looks more done than the bottom one. That one doesn’t really look like it is finished. But the top one is really finished.” Ernesto (3rd grade)
“I think that the bottom one might be like a skeleton to the top one.” Adrian (3rd grade)

“The bottom one looks like a ghost” Carney (4th grade)
“The bottom one can look like a cartoon-ized version of the top one.” Ross (4th grade)
“The picture on the top might evolve into the picture on the bottom.” Charlie (4th grade)

“I think that the bottom image is kind of a negative image of the top one” Kate (5th grade)
“I think those insects are like insects from parallel universes. The top one looks like from Earth, and then the
bottom one could be from Mars or something.” Lily (5th grade)
“The top one is more like a photograph although it’s not really in color and then the other one is more of an abstract version of the top one, although it has different colors.” Ian (5th grade)

The children from Burr Elementary School Newton
With the help of their art teacher, Diane Jaquith

From a pest controller’s point of view…

Think of environmental control. Not the environment of the global world as viewed from space. Not the huge over populated human environment with its manmade pollution, poisons and Global warming. Think small; think of the micro environment, apart from that of man, where conditions and essential elements exist to support the most dominant population in the world, the insects. An environment as simple as a single kernel of grain that sustains a tiny beetle for a lifetime. A small undisturbed environment, where the ample heat, water and organic debris will provide one gravid female roach all she needs to duplicate ten thousand times over. The complex environments of yards and fields that support huge and intricate social colonies of subterranean termites, ants, wasps and bees. The environment of man that accommodates unbalance. Management is found in understanding and identifying the insects’ environment and needs, not necessarily the perceptions of man.

Doug Hayes
Technical Director
Watch All Pest Management

From a neurobiologist’s point of view…

In ancient Egypt, insects like the scarab were worshipped and thought to personify gods (the sun god Khepri). Although insects are not as highly regarded in contemporary society, many different species nonetheless provide important products or services for humans. Honeybees, for example, not only provide important agricultural services (pollination of plants) and transform nectar into a lovely golden fluid called honey, but importantly, they and other insects act as harbingers to predict changing weather conditions (when they stay in the hive, beware, bad weather is anticipated). Equally important, a number of insect species currently serve as useful models for scientific studies. For example, a recent study published in the Journal Science shows that serotonin, a chemical that allows brain cells to communicate with one another in both insects and humans, can transform solitary locusts into sociable groups. Several moth and fly species have been employed as physiological and genetic models for biomedical research. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been a widely used model for biological and biomedical studies for about a century. The simple genetics of this insect and its rapid generation time have permitted scientists around the world to carry out sophisticated analyses of heredity, evolution, animal development and behavior. Indeed, there have been 4 Nobel prizes in Physiology and Medicine awarded for research carried out in Drosophila, the earliest being given to Thomas Hunt Morgan, the scientific father of Drosophila genetics. Much of what we know about animal and human genetics and development is due to research carried out in this organism. Remarkably, more than half of all fruit fly genes have counterparts in the human genome. Similarly, 75% of all human disease genes have homologs in the fruit fly genome, allowing this insect species to serve as a tremendous resource for scientific studies of human development, cancer and many different neurological disorders. Unknown to many people, Drosophila has a brain composed of more than 200,000 neurons and glial cells – the same types of cells present in our brains – and the factors regulating brain development and function are similar in fruit flies and humans. As shown originally by the father of Drosophila neurogenetics, Seymour Benzer, and of personal interest for my research, fruit flies even have endogenous clocks in their brains that are biochemically similar to those known to regulate human metabolism, hormones and our sleep/wake cycle. Perhaps more surprising, the late Seymour Benzer and colleagues showed that fruit flies are capable of learning specific tasks and that they exhibit memory of these learned events for some time. Thus, this magnificent insect species also serves as a valuable model for identifying the genes and proteins underlying the complex behavioral states commonly thought of as being diagnostic of the human species.

Rob Jackson, Ph.D.
Professor of Neuroscience, Director of the Tufts Center for Neuroscience Research
Tufts University

From a biologist’s point of view…

The fireflies, twinkling among leaves, make the stars wonder.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

Anyone visiting Earth from another planet would quickly recognize that insects are by far the most successful life form that has evolved on our planet. Members of the class Insecta account for nearly 80% of all biological species: to date entomologists have identified approximately 360,000 beetle species, 170,000 butterflies and moths, 110,000 bees, ants, and wasps, and 82,000 true bugs. These highly successful creatures have radiated to occupy nearly every earthly habitat, from deserts to petroleum pools to thermal hot springs. Insects also exhibit an astounding diversity of sizes and shapes, ranging from tiny wasps less than ½ millimeter long to walking sticks that reach nearly ½ meter. Human-insect relations are multi-faceted, and insects have played important culinary, spiritual, and esthetic roles throughout human history. Ancient Greeks were avid cicada-eaters, and Romans considered cossus caterpillars to be an unusual delicacy. Fried or roasted termites are staple protein sources in many African cultures, as are the giant water bugs are sold in markets throughout Thailand. Even when insects are not directly consumed, they provide pollination services that are essential for the production of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. In many human cultures, insects enjoy spiritual significance based on their enviable metamorphic abilities, completely reshaping their form and physiology between different life stages. A deep appreciation for the beauty of insects is evident in many Asian cultures. Perhaps the most charismatic of all insects are the fireflies, whose spectacular bioluminescent courtship displays have long delighted and inspired children, poets, and dreamers. There are 2000 firefly species around the world. In Japan fireflies – hotaru – are especially revered, and people in many cities and towns gather for annual firefly-watching festivals. Clearly, without insects the world would be much less wondrous place.

Sara M. Lewis, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Tufts University

From a museum curator’s point of view…

Insects are the nightmare of Museum curators… There are thousands of them, tens of thousands, millions… in boxes that can themselves be counted by the thousands! And this holds true for every Museum of Natural History worldwide… Everyone is still allowed to collect insects, therefore collectors are still a thriving subspecies of humans. Some give up after a couple of weeks, after a summer of hunting, when they find out in December that their nascent collection has been eaten up by yet other undesirable insects incidentally called Anthrenus museorum. Some persist longer and eventually dump the collection once they move or marry a strict opponent of the insect society. But there is a small fraction of this collector population that keeps collecting for a lifetime, becomes specialized in a given insect order and belongs to a respectable Association of Entomologists somewhere in Europe, America, Africa… When a member of this sub-group, most often composed of human males, deceases, the widow faces an emergency problem: the collection has to be taken care of. And this is when the collection ends up in a Museum. Therefore Museums are swamped with so-called ‘nominal collections’, which have to be disinfected, stored, looked at regularly, analyzed, registered, advertised in the entomologist world, exhibited, etc… But insects are also the delight of Museum curators, as all these collections that have been gathered by passionate insect-lovers, compose a wonderful stock of biodiversity displaying all possible beauty, originality and geographic origins. Although I would like to stop insect collectors from collecting insects, as in the long term it may perturb the distribution of the collected species, I am thankful to all deceased collectors who have so much contributed to the enrichment of our Museums!

Marie Meister, Ph.D.
Museum of Zoology, Strasbourg, France

From a neuroscientist’s point of view…

A scientist looks at insects and vice versa No stereotypes here. Insects have bug eyes and chitinous exoskeletons, but there are a lot of different ones. Scientists all have organized curiosity but there are a lot of different ones. Scientists work with insects because they are simpler than we are and because they resemble us closely under the skin, or exoskeleton. Insects look segmented, like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and people look smooth, like Christie Brinkley, but we are all segmented — look at your backbone – and we all use the same genes to differentiate front from back, brain from abdomen etcetera. Scientists who study insects relate to them differently. Seymour Benzer who helped found the modern discipline of neurogenetics, using fruit flies, empathized with new flies as they emerged from their pupal cases — like newborn babies, he said. Alfred Sturtevant, who helped found the modern science of genetics using fruit flies, used to eat the pupae – they tasted like grape-nuts, he said. I work with fruit flies too, and when I stare down at a bottle of them under a microscope, crawling over each other, I am horrified with the mindlessness and the impersonality of their interactions. No stereotypes, though. A bug-eyed creature from Alpha Centauri, staring down at us through a telescope, say at Dachau or Darfur, would be similarly horrified with more reason.

Chip Quinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Neurobiology
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Massachusetts institute of technology

From a psychiatrist’s point of view…

This work bugs me. Neither nightmare nor wish, it is nonetheless like a disturbing dream. The sheer size of the fly distresses me, so I welcome the containment of the mat border and the fixity of each ink stroke. This fly is going nowhere, certainly not at me. I’m forced to contemplate it, though, in the company of a black abstraction which, in its glowering eye-like shapes and severed or floating appendages, seems a destroyed or destroying version of the fly, and simultaneously the mask of a Kabuki villain. On the paper is frozen aggression. The work appears, in its orderly, stamped form, a certificate issued on my unconscious, stratified as Freud imagined with the known above and the unknowable below in archeological layering, or a snapshot of the relationship that Lacan emphasized between the signified and signifier. The work is also an inverted Rorschach: here, the conscious association is suggested before the inkblot, instead of elicited by it. The diptych is thus a specimen of directed association instead of psychoanalytic free association. Continued gazing desensitizes me to fear, as it would in an effective cognitive-behavioral treatment for an insect phobia, leaving me to explore the almost compulsive care invested in the sepia strokes of the fly. This rigidity thoroughly contrasts with the fluidity and happenstance of inkblot images, which Rorschach used to invite fluidity and individuality of thought.

Scott N. Wilson, M.D.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School

Special thanks to the authors of the texts: Jane Goldman, Marie Meister, Sarah Lewis, Diane Jaquith, Rob Jackson, Scott Wilson, Doug Hayes, Chip Quinn;

and to Ada Reichhart, Brigitte Bouvier, Jeanne Koles, Anne Braun-Egles, Marie-Cecile Mathonnet, Jerome Menet, Jerome Clasadonte, Christophe Egles…

– • –

Exposition à la French Library Alliance Francaise of Boston

du 06/06/2010 au 26/06/2010

Alain Eschenlauer, Rorschach’s Insects

Pairings of insect drawings and inkblot paintings.

Alain Eschenlauer est un jeune artiste français résidant à Strasbourg dont le travail s’inspire principalement de la Nature et de ses variations. Dans cette exposition, il présente des tableaux qui juxtaposent des dessins d’insectes aux détails entomologiques et des taches d’encre symétriques rappelant les tests de Rorschach. Par ce va et vient entre figuration et abstraction, entre vérité zoologique et suggestion psychiatrique, l’artiste nous invite à porter un regard nouveau sur les insectes et le monde qui nous entoure. Tout au long de l’exposition, les multiples facettes de nos relations avec ces créatures sont également illustrées par des textes présentant les points de vue de personnes d’horizons divers (généticien, psychiatre, désinsectiseur, enfants).

Cette exposition a été réalisée avec le soutien de la « Boston-Strasbourg Sister City Association », du Consulat de France à Boston, la French Library Alliance Francaise de Boston et de la Mairie de Strasbourg.

Alain Eschenlauer is a young artist who lives and works in Strasbourg, France. His work is mostly inspired by Nature and its variations. In this exhibit, he presents artworks juxtaposing entomologically precise drawings of insects and symmetrical inkblots reminiscent of the Rorschach’s tests. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, between zoological truth and psychiatric suggestion, the artist invites us to have a new vision of the insects and our surrounding world. The multiple facets of our complex relationships to these creatures are also illustrated by texts presenting the point of view of various people (geneticist, psychiatrist, pest controller, children).

This exhibit is made possible thanks to the support of the Boston-Strasbourg Sister City Association, the Consulat de France in Boston, the French Library Alliance Francaise of Boston and the Strasbourg’s city hall.

– • –

Exposition à l’Hotel de Ville de Boston


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