Hundreds of ants industriously eat away at a map of the world in Rivane Neuenschwander’s video work, Contingent (2008) (below). Made of honey, the map slowly disintegrates into nothingness as the formidable continents shrink into smaller islands- mere specks of their former grandeur. This insect frenzy is a metaphor for the poignant and fraught relationship between consumption and the environment; it queries the consumptive habits of humankind and the detrimental consequences such consumption wreaks upon the natural world. While nourishment for ants is a necessity, the reasons for our environmental extortion might not always be deemed essential.
Part of The World Over, a group exhibition curated by Scott McLeod currently on view at Prefix Institute of Contemporary art in Toronto, Neuenscheander’s video thematically links the first work seen upon entering the exhibit, Cuban artist Glenda León’s photograph Between Air and Dreams (2003), with Donna Conlon’s video and photographs of ants, installed in the main space of the gallery. León’s work comprises an image of clouds, assembled into a map of the world while Conlon’s series Coexistence (2003/2008) depicts leaf-cutter ants carrying near-microscopic pieces of various national flags. León’s cloud continents, those fickle and ever changing bits of the atmosphere, speak to Earth’s future as contingent rather than immutable while the harsh borders of nationality are imagined as collapsed, again by the industry of ants, in Conlon’s film and photographs. In all cases, nature reigns supreme while the constructed borders humankind ironically fall prey to the whims of the natural.
These and other works on view in The World Over at Prefix Institute of Contemporary art in Toronto from May 2 through June 22, 2013.