February 16, 2014 - Museum Het Domein - Brandon Ballengée
February 16, 2014

Brandon Ballengée

Brandon Ballengée, Touch of Light in the foggy Night that reverberates the Desire calls Death, Madness, Motionless…Voluptuousness rounded in an arch bombed…, 2010/2012.*

Brandon Ballengée
Seasons in Hell

16 February–29 June 2014

Museum Het Domein
Kapittelstraat 6
Postbus 230
NL-6130 AE Sittard
The Netherlands

www.hetdomein.nl

The work of American artist, biologist and conservationist Brandon Ballengée (b. 1974; Sandusky, Ohio, USA) provides prominent and striking proof of the fruitful fusion of art and science. Central in his artistic and scientific research is the global decline of animal populations, and how species adapt and evolve in particular ecological systems in order to survive. Ballengée has a background in both art and science and is currently finishing his Ph.D. as part of a transdisciplinary program at the University of Plymouth, England with the Züricher Hochschule der Künst, Switzerland in which both interests meet. Seasons in Hell—the title is inspired from a poem by Arthur Rimbaud—is Ballengée’s first solo museum exhibition in the Netherlands. It features paintings, photos, installations, sculptures, and videos from 1996 through present and can be considered as a concise retrospective.

Ballengée is internationally acclaimed for his continuing research project Malamp (Malformed Amphibian Project): a scientific and artistic study of anatomical deformities in frogs and other amphibians. This project has taken him all over the world since 1996. Amphibians are important indicators (“sentinel species”) of water and air quality. Although there have been reports of such deformities in amphibians as far back as 250 years ago, the massive increase in reports from 1995 onward has alarmed the scientific community. Up to 40% of the approximately seven thousand known species of amphibians are currently endangered or already extinct. One of Ballengée’s most recent works in the exhibition brings attention to the fate of the Fire salamander, a critically endangered species which, in the Netherlands has declined by up to 96% since 2010 and is found virtually only in South Limburg.

Lesser known are the works by Ballengée, devoted to avian species also in decline. Frameworks of Absence: The Extinct Birds of John James Audubon (2006–ongoing), for instance, is based on the engravings from the famous publication Birds of America (1827–1838) by the celebrated French-American naturalist, ornithologist and painter. Of the over four hundred bird species in Audubon’s portfolio, Ballengée selected historic prints of those that have become extinct or are in severe decline.  Ballengée then cut out the bird images from actual historical works creating an absence. In the site-specific installation Apparitions (2014), historic taxidermy specimens of declining bird species are displayed looking out a window with their back to the viewer, representing how some of the most beautiful and beloved birds of yesterday have disappeared and many are on the path to extinction right before our eyes.

Another group of works in the exhibition addresses the ecological degradation of marine life. The video Committed (2012), for instance, juxtaposes the publicity campaign which BP launched after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to clean its reputation with the grim reality. Commercials showing sunswept beaches with white sands and blue water are countered by scientific analyses and interviews with Gulf residents about the devastating effects of the most severe oil spill in North American history. Similarly, the large-scale pyramid sculpture Prelude to the Collapse of the North Atlantic (2013), built from stacked jars of sea animals in ethanol, draws attention to the rapid loss of species in the Northern Atlantic Ocean and the impact of such losses on the larger marine food web.

The artist has also developed a large-scale, site-specific new installation for the exhibition. During the evening hours, the museum’s many windows will be lit up with UV lights, turning the exterior of Het Domein into a giant Love Motel for Insects.

During the month of May, the artist/biologist will be in Sittard to conduct exhibition tours, take school groups out on nature excursions, and lead field trips for youths and adults. Anyone who wants to contribute to the study of malformations in amphibians in and around Sittard is welcome to join field trips on May 11, 18, and 25 at 11am. This is likely the first time since the early 1960s that field research into deformities in amphibians has been conducted in the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.hetdomein.nl.

Special thanks to Domaine de Chamarande (Essonne, France), Ronald Feldman Fine Arts (New York City), Nowhere Gallery (Milan), and RAVON (Nijmegen, Netherlands).

*Brandon Ballengée, Touch of Light in the foggy Night that reverberates the Desire calls Death, Madness, Motionless… Voluptuousness rounded in an arch bombed…, 2010/2012. Unique digital chromogenic print, 217 x 178 cm. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York. In scientific collaboration with Stanley K. Sessions with titles from a poem by KuyDelair.

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