Lorenz's moths featured in downtown Brooklyn, commissioned by BRIC for the New York City Department of Transportation Street Seats Program. Hilary Lorenz

Brooklyn Printmaker Hilary Lorenz Celebrates an Overlooked Pollinator: the Moth

By Patrick Rogers

The winged insects of artist Hilary Lorenz's Moth Migration Project come from Lithuania, Turkey, Bermuda and across the U.S. Made of ink and paper and hand-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes, they aren't real moths and they aren't, strictly speaking, the artist's: Early last year, Lorenz, a printmaker and professor of art and media arts at Long Island University in Brooklyn, put out a call on social media for people everywhere to make prints of the moths that live in their locales and to send their creations to her.

The response was overwhelming. Inspired by the request, schoolchildren in New Zealand sent boxes of paper moths, and a museum in England held moth printmaking workshops and shipped the results to Lorenz's Brooklyn studio. Hand-blocked prints inspired by aboriginal traditions arrived from Australia, and STEM students in Arizona replicated moths native to the American West.

Installation of the Moth Migration Project at 516 Arts in Albuquerque, New Mexico.Hilary Lorenz

By the time Lorenz's Moth Migration Project debuted at 516 Arts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last August, she had received more than 10,000 submissions. Arranged in thick skeins on the walls and ceiling of the gallery, the streams of paper moths join together in swollen columns, then break apart before trailing off against the white background. Lorenz imbued the static installation with a sense of living, welcoming motion. "There were so many moths, I worried people would feel swarmed," she said. "Instead, they're just sweeping the viewer along in a very gentle way, as if you're being carried through the night."

Commissioned by the Albuquerque gallery for Cross Pollination, a 2017 group exhibition focusing on the Earth's endangered pollinators, Lorenz's crowd-sourced moths evoke both the beauty and the vital function of the insect. Like bees and butterflies, moths play an essential role in the process of fertilization for a vast number of plants, and yet their numbers are dwindling globally as a result of loss of habitat and food sources, especially along their migratory routes. (They also, for the record, have a nasty reputation that's overblown, since the larvae of just a tiny number of the estimated 160,000 species of moth feed on the fibers in clothing and other fabric.)

Lorenz, whose art projects in the past have been inspired by the natural scenery of the Hudson Valley and the birds of Brooklyn, was drawn to moths by the visual potential presented by their nocturnal flight. She was also intrigued by a fascinating fact she once heard. "A ranger in one of the western parks told me that a grizzly bear waking up from hibernation can eat 40,000 of them" in 24 hours, she said. Nevertheless, she was unprepared for the pride and attention that project participants poured into their printed creations. "People make just breathtakingly beautiful moths," she said.

Behind the scenes, the Moth Migration Project—which travels to Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre in St. Andrews, Canada, this fall and to Bundaberg Regional Galleries in Queensland, Australia, in 2019—has fostered a network that continues to grow. With every moth she receives, Lorenz posts a photo of it on the project's website, plots the source on an interactive map, and sends certificates of participation to every printmaker.

Entomologists and educators have adopted the project as a means of spreading the word about the moths' shrinking numbers. "People are using it as a way of honoring the moths of their particular location, and they are using it to teach the importance of moths as pollinators and how they affect the environment," said Lorenz. At last count, there were 15,000 moths in the database and Lorenz is currently photographing each new entry.

As the project has grown, Lorenz said she has been gratified to see it take on a life of its own, a dynamic that, in a sense, mimics the moth's crucial role as a communicator between species. As one participant, Joyce Stewart of Dripping Springs, Texas, wrote, "In a world of divisiveness, it was humbling to be a small part of a project that had the potential to create a spirit larger than any single community."

Said Lorenz, "People are incredibly hungry for connection, maybe because of the state of the world right now. I feel humble saying this, but people have thanked me for starting the project by saying, 'You are the light, and we are the moths.' It's an incredible compliment."

To learn more about Hilary Lorenz's Moth Migration Project, click here.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

Show Comments ()

Those Little Produce Stickers? They’re a Big Waste Problem

By Dan Nosowitz

Those little produce stickers are ubiquitous fruits and vegetables everywhere. But, as CBC notes, they're actually a significant problem despite their small size.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners

Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

EPA Sued Over Failure to Release Correspondence With Heartland Institute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Aerial photo of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability

Trump Administration Seeks to Gut Water Pollution Safeguards, Putting Communities at Risk

By Mary Anne Hitt

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't make this up. One day after new data revealed widespread toxic water contamination near coal ash disposal sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced a proposal to repeal the very 2015 EPA safeguards that had required this data to be tracked and released in the first place. Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening.

Keep reading... Show less
Impossible Foods

Impossible Burger Executive Grilled at Sustainable Foods Summit

An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.

Keep reading... Show less
Elephant family in Kenya. Nzomo Victor / Flickr

Why Trump’s New Trophy Hunting Council Is a Disaster

By Elly Pepper

In early November—the same week the Trump administration announced its disastrous decision to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia—the administration decided to create an advisory committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), to advise Trump on how to enhance trophy hunters' ability to hunt internationally.

Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council's mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn't want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.

Keep reading... Show less
A robot bee from a season three episode of Black Mirror on Netflix

Walmart Files Patent for Robot Bees

With the mass die-off of bees spelling trouble for agriculture, the world's largest retailer has filed patents for the use of "unmanned vehicles," or drones, to aid with pollination and crop production.

In U.S. Patent Office documents made public last week, Walmart has applied for six patents on drones designed to identify pest damage, spray pesticides and pollinate plants.

Keep reading... Show less
The iconic moai of Easter Island are threatened by erosion caused by rising seas. Aupaelfary / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Climate Change Threatens Easter Island

Easter Island has long served as a reminder of what happens to a civilization when the environment it depends upon collapses. Now, the iconic remains of that civilization are under threat from a new environmental challenge: global climate change.

Easter Island, Rapa Nui in Polynesian, is surrounded by statues called moai situated on top of ahu, or platforms. But according to an in-depth report for The New York Times published Thursday, the moai are now at risk from erosion caused by sea level rise.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!