17 April 2010

Requiem for the Butterflies

Requiem for the Butterflies

A dead female Leopard Lacewing floats in a pond at a Butterfly Farm

As the controversy over the installation art piece featuring 109 pristine butterflies at the Singapore Art Museum begins to wane, but not forgotten, we would like to feature a final commentary with regard to the use of intentionally killed butterflies for the sake of art.

A torn and tattered Red Spotted Duke at a Butterfly Farm - and it's not even at the end of its life yet!

Much has been said and done by the members of ButterflyCircle to highlight to like-minded nature lovers regarding the repulsive display featured at the SAM. The feedback on the TODAY online news article reflects the number of people who had chastised the artist and also the Director of SAM who had cluelessly repeated what the artist had told him - that the butterflies were acquired from an insect farm and that "these were insects collected at the end of their lives..." - thereby justifying the use of "already dead" butterflies in the art piece.

Thus far, this blog has featured butterflies at their best - pristine, vibrant and healthy. Unfortunately, this is not how butterflies will look towards the end of their natural lifespan - usually on an average of 2 - 4 weeks. The butterflies - even those in flight cages at butterfly farms, would be tattered, faded, scales on their wings scratched off. Free-ranging butterflies would face even more perils as they are targets for predators and even if they get lucky, the daily wear and tear would make the butterfly look worn out and unlike the day it eclosed from its pupa.

For those who continue to believe or think that butterflies can repair their wings, or remain pristine throughout their natural lives, please take a little effort and check out the many sites and literature that describe the biology and physical attributes of butterflies - invertebrates with exoskeletons, and which do not grow in size nor able to rejuvenate its wings.

Once the butterfly ecloses from the pupa, it pumps fluids into its wings, which then harden before it makes its maiden flight. From here on, the daily wear and tear would continue and the wings will deteriorate, fade and become tattered as the butterfly goes about its daily business of feeding, finding a mate, ovipositing and fleeing from predators. It is battered by strong winds, heavy rainstorms, harsh sunshine, all of which will continue to take its toll on the pristine wings from the day it is 'born'.

Over a casual conversation, I was told that an associate who is with the museum/art circle continues to justify the art piece and even said that in her experience, she had seen "numbers of butterflies" that died in pristine condition - like those which were featured in the art piece.

I wish that these clueless individuals would stick to their area of expertise (whatever that may be) and not continue to spread their ignorance about butterflies to others. I am very sure that these individuals who cannot even tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth, would continue to believe that they are right. There is probably nothing that any lepidoptera expert nor community of nature enthusiasts like ButterflyCircle who have studied and observed butterflies - some of whom had been doing so for more than four decades, can do to change the closed minds of such individuals.

A quick check with the Director of a reputable butterfly farm in Malaysia yielded this comment : "Generally, we agree with you that they are not collected at the end of their life. There is no way they can repair the wings..." He added that "To conceptionalize butterflies by arranging pinned specimens on dinner plates, in bowls and wine glasses laid out on a dinner table is certainly DISGUSTING to many nature lovers".

Enough said. We do not have anything against the art pieces of the artist FX Harsono, particularly those that do not require the killing of any living thing to portray his message. None of us know the artist personally but it is hoped that this controversy would wake him up to the fact that what he has done is cruel, unethical and unacceptable in today's world of art. Perhaps the artist will carry on what he thinks is perfectly fine. What next then? An art piece with 200 pristine dragonflies that were "collected at the end of their lives"? 400 starfishes? 600 seahorses? 800 birds?

Such work like his "Bon Appetit" is not welcome in Singapore and definitely not amongst those of us who love nature and butterflies, and we are sure the work is not welcomed in other civilised countries in Asia either.

This blog article is accompanied by shots of butterflies that face their natural wear and tear in the course of their lives. Many have been shot at butterfly parks and farms. They have not yet lived their full natural lives, and are definitely not in the pristine condition that the Director of SAM and the artist FX Harsono believes them to be, when they drop dead at the end of their lives. The 109 butterflies in the art piece were definitely killed within a day or even shorter, after they eclosed from their pupa - never even given a chance to live - for the sake of art?

We are glad that Prof Tommy Koh, the Chairman of the National Heritage Board, responded positively and said to the ButterflyCircle member who cared enough to write to him - "You have, however, made an important point, and, going forward, I will request all our museums and curators to keep in mind the ethic that we should treat all animals with respect."

Food for thought? Bon Appetit !!

Text and Photos by Khew SK