Laurie Toby Edison


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Are Insects Artists?

Laurie says:

I found this project by artist Huber Duprat beautiful and conceptually interesting.

The quotes are from Cabinet Magazine:

The images above illustrate the results of an unusual artistic collaboration between the French artist Hubert Duprat and a group of caddis fly larvae. A small winged insect belonging to the order Trichoptera and closely related to the butterfly, caddis flies live near streams and ponds and produce aquatic larvae that protect their developing bodies by manufacturing shea­ths, or cases, spun from silk and incorporating substances—grains of sand, particles of mineral or plant material, bits of fish bone or crustacean shell—readily available in their benthic ecosystem. The larvae are remarkably adaptable: if other suitable materials are introduced into their environment, they will often incorporate those as well.


The project … began, he has said, after observing prospectors panning for gold in the Ariège river in southwestern France. After collecting the larvae from their normal environments, he relocates them to his studio where he gently removes their own natural cases and then places them in aquaria that he fills with alternative materials from which they can begin to recreate their protective sheaths. He began with only gold spangles but has since also added the kinds of semi-precious and precious stones (including turquoise, opals, lapis lazuli and coral, as well as pearls, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds) seen here.

From a conversation with the critic and philosopher Christian Bessonand the artist conducted in the late 1990s:

Is the caddis worm’s precious case the work of the insect or the work of the artist? This is not the right question. The contradiction can be resolved by the differing viewpoints. According to the first view, the caddis worm owed nothing to the artist (who is simply the author of one noise among the thousands of other noises in its environment). According to the second view, the caddis worm is merely the executor of the artist’s project. The artistic statement plays on the confusion of the two levels by overlaying the two perspectives. The aesthetic result (at once natural and artistic) turns the caddis worm’s case—which is more than an assisted ready-made or a diversion—into a doubly exposed object.


This a link to a YouTube interview with Hubert Duprat that includes the caddis cases and film of the insects at work on the jeweled cases (it’s in the second half of the video).

I decided to look at some of the ordinary cases made by the larvae.





It seems to me that Duprat took a natural circumstance that produced art by chance, and by restricting the larvae to materials he supplied limited the chance. He also framed the aesthetic by supplying only materials people perceive as both precious and beautiful.

I think that the caddis larvae cases made with unrestricted materials can also be quite beautiful. These shell and stone cases are as aesthetic in their way as the jeweled ones. (The ‘natural’ cases are a result of a 2 minute Google search.)

Limiting the chance aspect of the case construction perhaps makes him the producer but hardly the artist. His intention is that the insects produce work with his materials.

The collaboration he refers to usually implies some shared intent. The intention that impels the caddis larvae is to transform into a butterfly-like winged creature. (I wonder if the caddis larvae he used were allowed to transform and fly away.) Living creatures with their own absolute imperatives are not an artist’s tools.



This is what the caddis larvae intended. And serendipitously, it happens to be beautiful.

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