Patience is a primary color on my artist’s palette. I often wait for a plant or animal to hatch or sprout, to eat, grow, molt or mate. But, with “The Leafcutters” project my work for the first time has been subject, at every stage, from concept to production, to the vagaries of climate.
Our expeditions to Costa Rica have all been during the dry season. It rains between 200-300 inches a year where we were on the Osa Peninsula and a dry season simply means it rains less in this period, but it still rains.
Not this year. It had not rained since December. Many plants were visibly suffering - dusty, wilted, shriveled or dead. I’ve never seen so much brown in the middle of what is supposed to be green.
Had I started my ant project this year, I would not have known the range of narrative possibilities. Leafcutter ants harvest from a wide variety of plants, yet what they take when I’m there establishes not only the aesthetics of the video, but more significantly, influences the formation of the storyline. I watch the ants and respond and experiment and adjust. Through this process the video emerges.
For example, the cornucopia of colorful flowers the ants carry in “The Chosen” did not blossom in abundance this year. There were not enough of them for me to have collected day after day, for six weeks, to shoot the video. Without flowers there would be no offerings to the golden idol.
Last year the ants lusted after a spotted plant that became the heart of the “Antworks” video. This year the plant was withered and dull. Not a pulse of moisture was flowing though its veins and the ants rejected it. I did manage to find a few healthy specimens to complete the video, but not enough to have started it.
I am fortunate to finish shooting the four videos of “The Leafcutters” series. My timing with the weather worked out, but barely. Was this year’s unusually parched dry season a random variance? Or is it a harbinger of harsher seasons to come? I would love to return year after year to see the how the interplay of plants and ants evolves in a capricious and changing climate.