Insect Art

Matthew Brandt at Yossi Milo is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: Matthew Brandt gets dead bees to depict themselves

This is a photograph – yes, a photograph – of a bee, composed entirely from the crumbled parts of dead bees, apparently victims of “colony collapse disorder”. For the portfolio of insect pictures in his show at Yossi Milo gallery in New York, the young L.A. artist Matthew Brandt uses a vintage technology called gum-bichromate, in which the photographic print is created when light from an enlarger hardens a resin (instead of causing a chemical change in a silver emulsion, as in most analog photos). Brandt simply mixes bee bits into his “gum”, so that wherever it hardens the insect parts remain trapped, thus forming the “blacks” in his printed image. (The unhardened gum, with its unexposed bee bodies, gets rinsed away.) There’s a lovely circularity in this work, as though the bees were determined to leave a record of their passing. Some medieval icons were described as “not made by human hands” (acheiropoieta, in Greek) because the image of Christ was transferred direct from his body to their surfaces. (The most famous ones are the Mandylion of Edessa, the Veronica and the Shroud of Turin.) The bees’ self-made images seem to descend from those ones.

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