Butterfly Room

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Butterfly Room

 Damien Hirst’s Butterfly room on display at the Tate Modern delights and amazes. The walls are lined with large white canvases on which, butterfly pupae are glued, ready to hatch. Emerging butterflies fly around the room landing on spectator’s shoulders, heads or arms. Individuals stand quietly as they anxiously signal a guard for the creature to be carefully removed.  The room is humid and the smell of rotting fruit and flowers engulfs the room. Feeding butterflies light on bowls of oranges and apples for a quick snack. I have always loved butterflies and have several collections of the beautiful creatures. My reaction to Hirst’s room evokes an entirely different response from the life cycle of a fly shown in the same exhibit. I am fascinated by the abandoned pupa still attached to the walls as rarely do you get to see those delicate chrysalises at close range. Naturally colored in cream, gold and pink – they deposit fluids that drip down the boards. Some visitors wonder if this is butterfly blood. The only thing missing from the exhibit was a magnifying glass, as I would have loved to look closer at the intricate detail of each species. Not only was there variation in size and color, some seemed to be carefully dotted with gold leaf and glistened in the light. Hirst's butterflies are common tropical species, such as the owl butterfly and the heliconius, a family of striking broad-winged butterflies. These are supplied by Natural History Museum's butterfly house, and are chosen for their colors, longevity. The Butterflies die after a couple days and are carefully collected for the next stage of their life, which is to be carefully applied to Hirst’s butterfly paintings. Is it cruel to have spent the few days in a room to eventually become part of a painting? That can be debated but we do know that Hirst's butterflies encourage us to reflect on how ephemeral life is for every insect – and even for their human spectators.