Flies are annoying and they spread disease, but one of the good things about them is that you can't see their poop. You know it's there, of course, when they walk on your bread and land on your hand, but absent a diarrhea outbreak in your neighborhood, fly excrement stays comfortably out of sight and out of mind.
That is, unless you have a quarter-million flies in one place. And their poop is dyed neon. This may not sound like the recipe for beautiful art, but in fact it is. Painter John Knuth of Los Angeles has created a series of paintings called "Made in Los Angeles," where the verb "made" is used the way my grandmother used it, as in, "Did you make in the potty?" Knuth, who created the series for the Museuem of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, takes hundreds of thousands of maggots and places them in a screened-in box that has a canvas for a floor. The maggots hatch into flies, and Knuth feeds them a brew of water, sugar, and watercolor paint. The canvases are painted in neutral, monochromatic colors and the watercolors are bright reds, blues, and greens. For three months, Knuth lets the flies buzz happily around their enclosure, emitting little specks of color and creating inadvertent art (to them) as they go.
The final product is not immediately recognizable as fly art, and fits with the minimalist aesthetic of contemporary art. But when you approach the art knowing the method behind it, the paintings start to feel thicker and grungier, assaultive like an oppressively humid day. There's something empathic about it, too, as if the poor, mute fly has been misunderstood all these years.
Images courtesy of John Knuth.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.