She changes everything She touches and everything She touches changes (Vanessa), 2017

A collaborative research project & installation with Faith La Rocque, featuring theremin and live butterflies (Vanessa cardui a.k.a. painted lady butterflies)

documentation by Colin Miner for Moire’s Catwalk

Date: 10 September 2017

Thank you to the following for sharing their time and knowledge: Staff at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory; Cheryl Tyndall, curator of the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory; Antonia Guidotti, entomologist at the Royal Ontario Museum; Jennifer Carpenter, professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto; Clara Venice, musician and performing artist; and Chris Stopa.

Is it possible for humans and butterflies to communicate?
If a butterfly could activate a theremin, would the sound produced express something about flight (as action) or the butterfly’s experience?

How does a theremin work?

Does a butterfly have enough mass to produce a sound from a theremin?

Would a particular type of butterfly be better-suited than another (based on size/mass or flight pattern)?

What is the optimal environment for both the theremin and the butterfly to function together?

How do butterflies move?

How do butterflies behave?

How do butterflies reproduce?

What poses a threat to butterflies and how do they defend themselves?

What substances do butterflies like the most?

Is it possible to attract butterflies to the theremin or is an enclosure needed to ensure proximity?

At what range can a theremin function?

How do you calibrate a theremin?

What makes an ideal butterfly enclosure?

How are butterflies transported?

What should be considered re: butterfly safety and care for the duration of the project?

What environmental/ecological issues are associated with captive-reared butterflies and butterfly release?

What physical effect(s) might the theremin have on the butterflies?
When should the event be scheduled?
What time of day is best?

Should we serve refreshments? If so, what?

What flowers should we plant?

Who should we invite?

Will people show up?

What is the title?

How much information should be included on the invitation?

How many people can the roof support before it caves in?

Is it safe for children?

Should we make viewing shifts?

Do we leave the front door unlocked?

Are the stairs too inaccessible?

Will my landlord be upset?

Should I invite the neighbours?

What if it rains?

Will it be too hot? Too cold?

How can we provide shade?

Where do we get a theremin?

How much would it cost to rent a theremin?

Where can we obtain butterflies?

Will the butterflies arrive on time?

How should we document the event?

1)   The butterflies activated the theremin and produced sounds
2)   Over the course of the test (approximately 3 hours) the butterflies seemed to be gathering mainly around the bottom of the enclosure, rather than perching on the mesh and plants, or flying around. Perhaps they needed more time to awaken from their quiescent state, or were not in good health to begin with; perhaps the enclosure was flawed in some way; or maybe the temperature was too hot or the weather conditions too breezy for them?

3)   The theremin responded to the butterflies, however if humans came close to the enclosure their mass would override the butterflies’ interaction with the instrument

4)   Two of the butterflies escaped: one as we were transferring them into the enclosure and the other as we moved them out of the enclosure. This was accidental, as we intended to follow conservation practices that captive-reared butterflies shouldn’t be released into a local ecosystem.

5)   Since we planned to not release the butterflies, we fashioned a larger screened enclosure for them in one of Ella’s garden beds. When Ella went to check on our subjects the following day, they had been killed by a swarm of wasps that managed to find a way in.

Link to a conversation reflecting upon the event’s observations, aftereffects, and future between Faith & Ella.