Artist-Biologist Brandon Ballengée Examines Animal Extinction and Calls for Change
Brandon Ballengée finds historic prints and slices them up, extracting images of extinct animals from their habitats. Sometimes his works function as an environmentalist call to action; other times, they seem stronger as a visual exploration of symbols or an investigation into how scientific data is processed.
As is the case with RIP Rabb’s Fringe-Limbed Treefrog: After J. Alison and B. Wilson (2008), an academic article is juxtaposed against photographs of the described species, posing an interesting interplay between text and image. The subject is a new species of frog found in Cocle, Panama, and four images of different animals appear, each cut sharply from their environments, leaving silhouettes behind. The curvature of each frog’s foot webbing and the angles of each tadpole’s sides excised from the bottom right of the page seem especially significant as visual elements. There is a pronounced tension between positive and negative fragments of space in this work that relates directly to the presence and absence of the species and the destruction of their environments.
In a work named with a similar mournful tone, RIP Hazel's Treefrog and Adler's Mottled Treefrog: After David M. Dennis (1970), Ballengée presents an illustration of five frogs. This time, instead of homing in on each individual organism from the work, he leaves three frogs untouched. This may have been as much an aesthetic decision as a political one: to show the extent to which this particular species of frogs has been disturbed by ecological upheavals.
As Ballengée so eloquently explains, his work “re-examine[s] the context of the art object from a static form (implying rationality and control) into a more organic structure reflecting the inherent chaos found within evolutionary processes, biological systems and nature herself.” As a visual artist, biologist, and environmental activist, this assessment perfectly encapsulates what his transdisciplinary work intends to provoke.