Mixing Facts and Moths


St. Norbert College finished hosting “Plantbot Genetics: Mothology” on Friday, Sept. 25. The exhibit, held in Baer Gallery of the Bush Art Center, was opened to the public on Aug. 31.

The artists behind “Mothology,” Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schumki, gave an artists’ talk on Friday, Sept. 18, from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Bush Art Center.

“Mothology” came from DesChene and Schumki’s satirical biotechnology company, PlantBot Genetics. The two set up the fake business in response to their concerns over the increasing use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture without public knowledge or acceptance of its long-term effects.

Starting with Monsantra, a Monsanto GM corn plant grown on a small, remotely controlled cart, PlantBot Genetics has engineered robot-plant hybrids that sing, dance and even bounce. Some of these PlantBots were on display in the Bush Art Center as part of “Mothology”.

DesChene and Schumki started PlantBot Genetics in 2009, using their quirky fusions of plant and machine to catch individuals’ attention, get them interested in GMOs and leave them to research and make their own decision on the topic.

The artists have travelled across the country with what they deemed a new version of public art, raising awareness of GMOs and the importance of connecting with nature. Once the two recognized success in their efforts, they decided to create a new exhibit on moths.

DesChene and Schumki focused on moths due to the recent decline in the population of honeybees, the major pollinators in the wild and in agriculture. DesChene stated that without honeybees one-third of Americans’ food items would disappear. With the bees’ decline, the artists wanted to draw attention to moths so that people would get excited about all pollinators and work to protect them.

With the help of a grant of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, St. Norbert College hosted DesChene and Schumki from June 9 to 30 as part of its Greening the Bay artist residency. The artists set up moth gardens throughout the Green Bay area and worked with local residents to identify and photograph the winged insects through “the Moth Project.”

With the information from the residency, DesChene and Schumki created their “Mothology” exhibit. They also made a basic field guide to moths in the Green Bay area, “Pollinators of Green Bay,” available for download in PDF format online.

In their lecture, DesChene and Schumki also pointed out some common differences between butterflies and moths, displayed photographs of vibrant and/or unusual moths and stressed that moths are gentle, family-friendly and beautiful when noticed.

The artists ended the talk by emphasizing that each individual can and should contribute to a more sustainable world and that these contributions do not have to involve expensive technology or bioengineering.

“Everybody has a responsibility to do one small thing that has a greater impact,” Schumki said.

A reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m. followed the lecture.


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