FRED TOMASELLI

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THE MONTH OF JULY 2013

— While some might know me for my fixation on birds, I’ve also explored, from time to time, the world of insects. This started over 20 years ago while working in an old barn in the buggy woods of Upstate New York. In this new environment, my curing epoxy resin inadvertently acted as a giant glue trap for errant bugs and a number of my works were ruined by collisions with them. I eventually decided to embrace these new conditions by hauling my canvases outside into the night where I would aim bright lights at them in order to draw the insects to the work. When the cloud of bugs was at it’s peak, I would pour resin onto the surface of the work, where they would stick and die in random formations.

It was a collision between nature and technology and a kind of snapshot of the nighttime atmosphere. These “chance operatives” (Thank you, John Cage) formed the beginnings of pictures that I would deliberatively work on during the rest of the summer.

Shortly after my period of buggy, upstate summers, I was able to get an old house in Brooklyn that came with a feral backyard. For years I’ve been struggling to turn its gray, dead dirt into something resembling a garden and some of what I grow ends up in my artwork in the form of dried and pressed plant material. Gardening has taught me to appreciate the benefits of spiders, ladybugs, moths, butterflies, worms and fireflies. These creatures pollinate the flowers, aerate the soil, and eat pests. It may be a somewhat dysfunctional urban ecosystem, but I do the best I can, and it can be a great place to hang in the heat of the summer.

There is, however, a fly in this particular ointment, and it has come in the form of the invasive Asian Tiger Mosquito. These aggressive daytime biters first arrived in the US through a shipment of used tires into Houston in 1985. They then began to spread through the southeast, finally arriving in NYC in the late 90’s or so. They seem to love my body chemistry, swarming me mercilessly and delivering painful, super-swelling bites. They’ve turned gardening from an activity of pleasure into an activity of total Darwinian torment. Due to our new warmer winters and hotter, soggier summers, the conditions for mosquito proliferation have only increased year by year. I had to do something to fight back.

After considerable internet research, I eventually purchased a Sentinel Mosquito Trap from an entomological research supply company. This device, which looks a like a cross between an IKEA hamper and a Noguchi lamp, uses a chemical attractant that works mostly on mosquitoes and has a small fan which then sucks the hapless bloodsuckers into an escape-proof bag.

Every couple of days or so, I remove the bag of angry insects and place them in the freezer in order to kill them. I then dump the contents of the bag onto a paper towel and arrange the mosquitoes into a grid in order to count their corpses. I write the date and a body count on the paper towel and take a picture of the day’s total. The following photo’s are for the month of July, 2013. The 466 mosquitoes I killed that month are just a fraction of the thousands I continue to annihilate.

A lot of my artwork has been influenced by my non-art hobbies. Drugs, utopianism, music, literature, birding, sociology, and gardening are among the many interests that didn’t start out to be part of my work, but they got in there anyway. Counting my mosquito kills might be the first time a hobby has been influenced by my art or about the history of art. While this endeavor may share some of the impulses that led to my insect works of the 90’s, and it has a passing resemblance to the flat-footed procedures of 70’s conceptualism, I still consider it just a hobby. Funny thing is that my friend, Lawrence Weschler, has linked this daily activity to the daily quality of my ongoing NY Times Project. And he might be right. While I don’t make a NY Times work every day, it comes out of the daily ritual of reading the paper. If it’s a nice day, I might be reading the paper in my garden. When I’m finished, I usually stroll over and see what’s in the trap….


Fred Tomaselli was born in 1956, in Santa Monica. He has had numerous solo exhibitions including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2014) and the University of Michigan Museum of Art (2014); a survey exhibition at Aspen Art Museum (2009) that toured to Tang and Brooklyn Museums (2010); The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2004) toured to four venues in Europe and the US; Albright-Knox Gallery of Art (2003); Site Santa Fe (2001); Palm Beach ICA (2001), and Whitney Museum of American Art (1999). His works have been included in international biennial exhibitions including Sydney (2010); Prospect 1 (2008); Site Santa Fe (2004); Whitney (2004) and others. Tomaselli’s work can be found in the public collections of institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art; the Brooklyn Museum; Albright Knox Gallery; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, LA.

www.jamescohan.com