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Live from BugFest – Ants and Art

September 16, 2017

By Hannah Bonet and Kyndal McClain, Teen Newsroom producers.

Artist Gabrielle Duggan

Artist Gabrielle Duggan working on the scultpture (credit:

On the third floor of the Nature Research Center of the Museum of Natural Sciences hang approximately 50,000 dead ants. These 50,000 ants were buried alive as a part of an artistic collaboration between Adrian Smith, the head of Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Research Lab, and Gabrielle Duggan, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas. The project’s name is “Ants, Arts, and Science,” and is a ten-foot dental plaster structure of a harvester ant colony from Hoffman, North Carolina. This piece is a connection between art and science because of the creation of new information and the sharing of it from different perspectives.

Full view of the ant colony art piece, about seven feet long.

Full view of the ant colony art piece, about seven feet long. Photo by Hannah Bonet

Gabrielle Duggan attended graduate school at North Carolina State University from 2007-2010, and The News and Observer describes her as a “blend of fine artist and fashion designer.” She says her experience with art and weaving goes back to childhood. “My mom would take me to a fabric store sometimes and I just remember that my senses would just be totally heightened. It’s kind of like how I feel when I go outside and I haven’t been outside in a while. It wasn’t just the colors you know, it was definitely the textures. What I really like is that they can be applied to almost anything and they can change the experience,” she says in the N&O articleDuggan’s experience with animals is also important to her as it connects her to her works.

Adrian Smith is a scientist at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. He takes pride in his work, saying “Our work brings itself to the public. There is an interconnected core overlap between art and science. That’s why I make an effort. It’s a glass science lab, why not put something cool in the window for people to see?” When asked about his interest in ants, Smith responded, “Ants are cool; you have a whole society in a shoe box. They are social, they react to an environment and to each other.”

Adrian Smith, head of Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Research Lab.

Adrian Smith, head of the Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Research Lab. Photo by Hannah Bonet.

This art piece hangs from the ceiling suspended by 3D weaving made by Gabrielle Duggan. Brought together by Rob Dunn, Duggan and Smith created a project that would connect art and science. Smith explained that “there is a lot of overlap between what an artist does and what a scientist does.” Art is an original view on the human experience and the world, while science is about the exploration of that world. Essentially, there is a similar goal of communicating the unseen view on the world. Gaps in the sculpture are representative of how much we don’t know. Artificial pieces of colonies form branches and tunnels, string woven in intricate patterns connects the entire piece, while sand from the site in Hoffman weighs everything to the ground. It took months for Duggan to complete the suspension process while the casting took about a day.

Latex ant tunnels

Pieces of latex tubing represent ant tunnels connecting the sculpture. Photo by Hannah Bonet

To learn more about this project and art piece, visit us at BugFest today. Duggan and Smith will also have a Science Cafe at the Daily Planet Cafe on November 16, 2017.

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