BOLD: A Cryptic Species Complex
Discover the science of DNA barcoding and how it is being used to discover and catalog the world's vast – and threatened – biodiversity.
Things are not always as they seem, in art or nature. Artists and scientists are charged with seeing the world around them: for the 21st century, technology is a powerful force to both disciplines. In Joseph Rossano's innovative work, the closer you move, the harder the specimen is to discern, and the letters of the DNA barcode uniquely represent the species and open the future of bioliteracy.
Bring your smartphone to read the QR codes and learn more about this new genetic tool and the diversity and cryptic species it reveals. Or simply open the curved edge on the hinged QR code panels that bookend the sculpture for more information.
Joe Rossano's BOLD series of artwork vividly and powerfully depicts how technology is influencing our still nascent understanding of the natural world. This has great value to organizations such as ours who are working on the front lines of biodiversity protection in the tropics.
Wikipedia defines a cryptic species complex as: “….a group of species which satisfy the biological definition of species—that is, they are reproductively isolated from each other—but whose morphology is very similar (in some cases virtually identical). …Such groups are being discovered as DNA analysis is applied more widely." These true species are different than mimics: Mimics are species trying to look like, or act like something else: a fly that at first glance looks like a bee, but is still a fly.
My "Cryptic Species Complex" is a group of seemingly identical butterflies, all with similar origins, the same appearance, but which in fact with isolation have developed into unique species over time. The installation, an interactive sculpture, leads the viewer on a journey to realize the depth of Biodiversity in what appear to be identical individual butterflies. Each of these blue butterflies, despite their conspicuous similarities, is a unique species. Each subsists on a host plant that will not sustain another. Each flourishes in habitat where others do not prevail.
Only when the viewer sees an image of the larval caterpillars--the juveniles of each species--so very different in color and form, is the diversity revealed. Yet that depth of life history is rarely known even to the most experienced biologists.
My glass, acrylic, and polyurethane foam depictions of colorful butterflies are the medium employed to illuminate the power of DNA barcoding technology to examine species diversity hidden for centuries in plain sight. Using a common smart phone application, a web address, or simply reading the texts hidden beneath each of the two dimensional codes, the viewer is brought to understand how DNA barcoding deciphers these mysteries of the natural world. How does my work speak to a new generation? Global biodiversity is the ultimate source of regeneration: as human activity in the Anthropocene Era destroys diversity, we lose the raw material of generations. Evolution put at risk; opportunity lost. And these beautifully cryptic species, with their genetic subtleties, reveal that the extent to which we diminish future generations well beyond what already seems visible at first glance. My BOLD installation applies technology of this moment's generation to expand and deepen understanding earned by now- vanishing generations of taxonomists who toiled to comprehend the world around us. How will the new generation learn to read the natural world, to become bioliterate? When they hold a tool that allows them to read nature. What will they do with it? What do second graders do with their futures when given the reading key to the library of human knowledge? They explore and find their way and build their own and our collective future in ways we can't begin to imagine. Each butterfly is constructed from foam originally used to manufacture composite components for US fighter aircraft, both recycling and trans-generational irony: from the wings of war are generated a delicate symbol of peace. In addition to the salvaged foam, the glass frit, the acrylic boxes, their backs, and most of the accompanying texts are themselves recycled. Only some of the paint and the glue are not on their second use. A Cryptic Species Complex was first displayed at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA), then at The South Australian Museum, Adelaide, 2011-12.
BOLD: A Cryptic Species Complex was created with the support of Kyoto Prize Laureate, Dr. Daniel Janzen (U. Penn.), Dr. Winnie Hallwachs (U. Penn), Dr. Paul Hebert (U. of Guelph, Ontario), and The Ontario Genomics Institute (OGI), Canada.