Meet the Woman Making Art with Termites

Polish artist Agnieszka Kurant outsources her labor to an unsuspecting insect army.

by Nicole Walsh
07 August 2015, 4:45pm

Images courtesy the artist

Polish artist Agnieszka Kurant outsources her work to a living species—desert termites—for her most recent installation. The aim of Kurant's living and breathing installation, which is currently on display at the Guggenheim, is to highlight “invisible labor,” also now known as "playbor" (the collision of play and labor), with the main focus being on the “unconscious work we are all constantly performing bringing profits to corporations such as Facebook.”

Termites, which are half-blind and certainly not gifted with the most beautiful looks, belong to the few species in nature that have evolved to form complex worker-based societies with their own class systems (farmers, soldiers, foragers, nurses, etc.). Their ability to build mounds of various shapes and sizes using almost any type of material made them the perfect creatures for Kurant's project.

“Working with entomologists in laboratories at the University of Florida, I employed an entirely unaware worker society of millions of termite specimens to produce sculptures/mounds,” explains Kurant, who supplied the termites with alternative building materials including vibrantly colored sand, gold, and crystals. The result, in her words, is “the creation of hybrid forms hovering between nature and culture.”

Kurant, who has always had an interest in the idea that termite colonies are like any other society that builds communities and monuments, adds “Perhaps all of us are currently, also unwillingly participating in a larger project being built which we are unaware of. We are all being silently exploited through our participation in global profits of corporations such as Google. We do not even know when our labour is being harvested.”

You can catch Agnieszka Kurant's latest works at the Guggenheim Museum until mid-September. Kurant will also be taking residency at MIT, Boston this fall. Read more about her work here.


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