DIGITALIZATION OF THE BUTTERFLY

…every artistic production is none other than the continuous verification of the great confrontation in which, from the beginnings of creation and forever after, are man and his environment . Wassily Kandinsky (Concerning Spirituality in Art, 1912)

When I decided to digitalize these butterflies, I never would have imagined all that was behind their amazing colors. All the archetypal symbolism. All the mythological history. All the fascination that man has always had for the butterfly; from those carved in the tombs of The Egyptian Pharaohs, to the ones we can see today on a plasma TV.

Neither would I have imagined that these colorful butterflies sold in different markets in Lima had been meticulously crafted by the hands of artisans. After catching the butterflies and killing them by suffocation, the hunter sends the dead butterflies from the Peruvian Amazon Jungle to Lima. These butterflies arrive in large quantities and are sent to different workshops throughout Lima. Once they arrive what I call the “Folklorization of the Butterfly” takes place. This process consists of the dismemberment of the animals body and the ensuing reconstruction by the artisan in order to make the butterflies look as if they were alive, with the wings wide open and in a flying position. Upon its death a specific reflex causes the butterfly to shut its wings. The artisans then open the wings of the butterfly by cutting them out and separating them from their bodies. Later they stick them back to the body using a strong glue. They may even use the body of a different butterfly. They also extract the interior of the abdomen and then they fill it with black cotton. The antennas are replaced by brush hairs and the legs are taken away. I would have never imagined such a precise labor, like that of a neuro-surgeon, transforming the butterfly on such a minute scale.

In other words, I would have never imagined that these butterflies, half natural and half artificial, half organic and half technological, were really some kind of cyborg worthy of a science-fiction movie. They are bodies that have been mutated in order to be sold and exported (shipped) in containers to countries of the First World. This is just a small example of what the human being, thanks to the use of his technology, does to nature: he invades it, he destroys it, mutilates it and finally annihilates it.

What I did imagine was the ideal way of digitalizing those transformed butterflies. And the answer was to put them directly onto a high-resolution scanner, without using a photographic camera. Traditionally, from the beginning of photography, any photograph that is made without the intervention of a camera is called a “photogram”. But these photograms are different from previous ones because they are totally digital, from the scanning to the digital output of the prints.

I decided to enlarge the butterfly’s size and I was able to look at them closely for the first time. Then I could see their arquitectonic structure, their defects and their virtues, their muscles and their heads, their details and textures, their scales (please do not confuse them with pixels!).

The content of this body of work is as much documentary and conceptual as it is artistically expressive. It is a registration of a series of butterflies from a specific place in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle, which were meticulously selected for this project. The subjective digital manipulation of the color in these butterflies has been a powerful tool, not only on an aesthetic level but –and over all- in the level of the expression of abstract sensations and emotions.

Almost all the specimens of butterflies that I have selected for this show are males. This is because the hunting of male butterflies is totally legal and even promoted by the government. The killing and commercialization of every invertebrate Amazon species is allowed by law since “they are not in danger of extinction”, like the INRENA says (a government institution which is supposed to protect the Peruvian Natural resources). The INRENA not only allows people to hunt and sell these butterflies, but also charges a tax for each butterfly that every legal (registered) hunter kills, making a profit out of the killing of these animals.

I think that the concept of “not being in danger of extinction” is relative and vague, since it does not consider the possible alterations in the biological chains of the different ecosystems. The butterflies are not only a link in the food chain, but they are also important pollinizing agents. The extreme hunting of butterflies could cause an imbalance in the ecosystem, which could negatively affect a much larger number of species. Also, it is important to ask ourselves a question: ¿How many populous species have become endangered species? And now, with global warming, the situation is even more dangerous than before: the butterflies are dying because of the excessive heat in certain regions of the Amazon jungle and they are migrating to colder regions towards the Andes.

Among all the male butterflies in this body of work, there is one female (in this case, a Morpho didius). It is illegal to hunt and/or sell female butterflies. But the presence of a female butterfly in this exhibition proves that, besides the legal hunting, there is a black market for these animals, which obviously ignores the ineffective conservation laws of the government.

Everything that happens to these poor butterflies is only a small example of a much bigger problem, which is the continuing destruction of the Amazon jungle, from the hunting of wild animals, to excessive deforestation, to the dangerous pollution, which is a consequence of the activities of the powerful mining, oil and natural gas industries. The butterfly is just a small species –though extremely beautiful- that in this project symbolizes the progressive extermination of nature carried out by human beings. In this project, the images of butterflies represent nature raped by man. It is also a call to protect the Amazon jungle in any way possible, as soon as possible, before it is too late.

If you asked me what would be the best solution for this problem, my answer would be very simple: I do not now. I am just an artist with a critical and expressive purpose. Mi mission is to call attention to this issue.

I hope that an unknown somebody, after seeing the show, could figure out a way to help, like creating, for example, a web page called www.savethebutterflies.com, or developing creative ideas that would begin with the education of the tourists, asking them to not purchase those butterflies. But there is also a need to make the essential interventions in order to change the current legal system in respect to the hunting and commercialization of invertebrate species from the Peruvian Amazon jungle. We need more effective and sophisticated protectionist laws, like the ones in Brazil for example.

In this body of work my vision is both poetic and descriptive, is expressive and informative; it is an art production and at the same time a document. But, above all, it is a call: a call for the protection of the native species of the Peruvian Amazon jungle. It is also a testimony that I leave to you about my experience with these wonderful butterflies and with all the magic that surrounds them. In Greek they use the same word (psyche) for naming both the “butterfly” and the “soul”.

Finally, I leave you with an utopic vision: Imagine a large green field, a bucolic and idyllic scenario, an untouched rainforest, the height of a pantheistic. In the fields, under the blonde sun that tenderly caresses the flowers, hundreds of butterflies of every color fly widespread everywhere, each one of them showing off its iridescent wings, as if they were scattered pieces of a broken mirror reflecting the extraordinary turquoise, blue, green and purple of the sky during the privileged sunsets of our Amazon jungle.

Santiago Bustamante Mujica

Lima, Peru, May 2007

© Santiago Bustamante 2015