When you visit ZooLights at Smithsonian’s National Zoo this winter, you won’t just see glowing animals and trees: You’ll also get a chance to check out some pesky invasive insects. Luckily, the bah-humbuggers aren’t alive; they’re hand-drawn and displayed in CulturalDC’s SPACE4 mobile art gallery at the Connecticut Avenue entrance of the park.
The exhibit, “Adaptation/Migration in the Anthropocene,” is the second to be shown in the gallery, a 40-foot crate equipped with lighting and temperature control. It’s only fitting that it’s displayed at the zoo, as the content is centered on global transportation of invasive insects. The drawings depicting creepy crawlers like the stink bug and the European gypsy moth hang on the wall in frames, and onsite experts from the zoo and CulturalDC will explain their stories.
The artist, Maggie Gourlay, says much of her work focuses on the “dichotomy of comfort and confinement in the home,” which led her to think of “home” in a larger, global context. With the concept of a traveling crate as her starting block, Gourlay’s vision began unfolding into a piece about international commercial exchange and its complicated relationship with nature.
Each insect depicted in the show is a species that has come to our region in a shipping container and subsequently affected local agriculture. While the economic growth that comes from globalization is a modern progression, Gourlay feels we need to look at the unintended consequences it has on the Earth, our home.
The renderings were created using watercolor pencils and splashings of coffee, because Gourlay didn’t want total “perfection.”
“I like the idea of being precise, but not too precise,” she says. “Bugs are beautiful microscopically, but then they’re messy.”
Visitors will not only have the chance to learn about invasive insects, but can also create their own bug prints at a stamp station. The installation also features air-purifying plants that represent a positive way to affect environmental change and a visual projection with sound to immerse visitors in the creatures’ migration experience.
The mobile gallery is part of CulturalDC’s SPACE4: Visual Arts initiative, made to enhance enthusiasm for the arts in DC by bringing the interactive structure all around the city. New exhibits are scheduled through Fall 2018; its next stop is Union Market in January.
“We found that, sometimes, either perceived or actual, people think that there may be barriers to accessing the arts,” Tanya Hilton, executive director of CulturalDC, says. “We wanted to remove all barriers by actually bringing art to the doorstep.”
Gourlay’s installation complements the work of ecologists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Currently, they’re studying the invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetles that destroy endangered ash trees. So, while there is no apparent holiday theme to the exhibit, its focus on conservation runs parallel with the “season of giving.”
The bug portraits are on display now through January 1. Just like ZooLights, there is no admission fee.