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Artist Puts Ants to Work in New Exhibit

Harvester ants ate colored gels to create Brad Troemel's 'LIVE/WORK.'

by Sophia Callahan
Nov 6 2014, 8:30pm

images via

Nine plexiglass ant farms hang from steel wires that suspend from the white ceiling of the Tomorrow Gallery. Each of these futuristic ant homes are filled with a nutrient-rich colored gel that the infertile female harvester ants can eat and form into tunnels, and then redistribute at the top of the container. The color gradients of gel in each home correspond with the colors of the logos of three not-for-profit organizations: the Earth Liberation Front, Edward Snowden Legal Defense Fund, and Planned Parenthood.

This is New York-based artist Brad Troemel’s new exhibition LIVE/WORK, and unbeknownst to the ants, he’s entered each ant home into a “race” in which the group that builds the most debris at the end “wins.” Regardless of the winner, 10% of the exhibition’s profit will be evenly split amongst the three organizations.

“If the ants could fit their bodies through the drilled holes they would be able to get far enough from their homes to step back and see the names and colors of the organizations their hard works supports. You see, each team of ants is working on behalf of three not-for-profit organizations,” Troemel says in the press release. Though not explicitly stated, LIVE/WORK draws parallels between the tireless work of the ant farms and the invisible monetizing goals, and the ethics of corporate use of meta data he’s explored in previous works.

LIVE/WORK is also a tangent to Troemel’s timepiece essay, Athletic Aesthetics, that artist Paul Barsch remixed into a hip-hop tune. In the essay, Troemel discusses the emersion of artists’ hyper production of work as an ‘aesthlete’ and validation of the audience. He states, “To maintain the aerial view necessary for patterns to emerge, one must cultivate a disposition of indifference. To be indifferent is to believe that any one thing is as important as any other.” In LIVE/WORK, the worker ants feverishly make tunnels with an invisible collective motive that could be concurrent with the visual recursion of internet production as a mode of survival and proof of existence.

Dig into Troeme's ant farms, below:

Learn more about LIVE/WORK at Tomorrow Gallery open till November 30. And check out Brad Troemel work

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