An artist and scientist, Brandon Ballengée, uses his unique background to highlight the biodiversity of Louisiana’s wetland ecosystems.
Q: Please describe your work and the medium/media you use. Why do you make this type of art?
A: My work is inspired by biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as the loss of both. The medium, process, and materials are driven by the underlying idea of what I am trying to convey. The visual art itself is made from diverse mediums including large-scale light sculptures to spotlight arthropod diversity along with trans-species happenings, living plants and animals displaced in temporary enclosures to highlight local flora and fauna, large-scale high-resolution scanner photographs, monumental installations created from preserved marine life, depictions of species ‘cut’ from history because of extinction and framed to frame their absence, and many others.
Q: What is most striking or inspirational to you about the wetland landscape?
A: The diversity of life in wetlands, their variety and adaptations. Also, the relationships between species and their environments. What we can learn from these species and ecosystems.
Q: In what ways has the Louisiana wetland landscape changed in your lifetime?
A: Since my time on this planet, Louisiana has lost over 2000 square miles of wetlands, and at least 7 species of endemic Gulf of Mexico fishes (those found nowhere else in the world) have not been reported and are currently missing. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster remains the largest oil spill in modern history and the MC20/ Taylor spill has continued leaking crude into the Gulf since 2004. More so, since I have been alive we have lost over 40% of the global population of amphibians and upwards of 70% of all wildlife. These environmental challenges are both local and global in scale and often very complex. To face this milieu of issues, we need the creativity of artists, scientists and those focused on other disciplines combined to creatively address such challenges we and other species currently face.
Q: Why is it important to you to create art about Louisiana wetlands?
A: To inspire others to appreciate and protect them! Louisiana is a special biologically rich part of our world! Louisiana wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico are our “Amazon rainforest” for us in North America. We should be proud of these natural resources and work hard to protect them for future generations!
Q: In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana is important? For folks out of state, why is Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation?
A: We in South Louisiana are the Bellwether for climate change. If we adapt and survive there is hope for communities around the world. As bleak as many projections are, we should still have hope because restoration works, remediation works, conservation works. All of these scientific tools can and will help many of our coastal communities adapt. We need our collective will to bring these solutions to reality. Art is a powerful way to reach people and I believe it will be an important tool helping to lead us to adaptation.
Q: How does your art challenge existing barriers and assumptions about our environmental crisis?
A: I strive to inspire discussion and actions toward conservation. Often people feel that environmental problems are too large and too widespread for individuals to make a difference. This is absolutely not the case. All of our individual actions every day have an influence on ecosystems and biodiversity: what we chose to eat; how we live; where we live; how we travel; if we own land, what to do with it; how we discuss these ideas with others; and on an on.
We are part of a larger living community and can individually and collectively make large differences. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Following this concept, my family (my wife Aurore Ballengée and our two children Victor and Lily) and I have started the Atelier de la Nature project. Six years ago we began to transform heavily farmed land in south Louisiana (between Arnaudville and Cecilia) into a nature reserve and eco-campus. By sculpting the lands with specialized native species (helping to break-down pesticide residue and deter erosion), and are working to reestablish ‘Cajun’ prairie (ecosystems found here prior to modernity), planted over 1000 regional native trees (to regrow a forest), and created pollinator habitats from native hibiscus, swamp milkweed, and many more regional plants (to aid declining butterflies, like the Monarch which is in on the verge of endangered, native bees and others.
The Atelier de la Nature project has already yielded results in the ecological sense with many dozens of species of birds and mammals returning, many species of amphibians and reptiles currently occupying the property, countless insects, all coming back to once barren land. In the human communal sense, hundreds of youth have helped with restoration of the lands or participated in our programs. As climate continues to change and species disappear, some of us, many of us will slow down and even halt this through creative solutions. Life will persist if we let it. Life will thrive if we give it a means.
Q: Where can people view your work (displayed in galleries or links to websites)?
A: Now through January 8, The Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette has a large scale exhibition of my works. This large-scale exhibition, curated by Jaik Faulk, showcases 10 years of my work related to the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, from Collapse (2012) to, for the first time, my most recent series of Crude Oil Paintings (2020-21) and new works related to the ongoing MC20/Taylor oil spill, as well as a selection of works from the series The Frameworks of Absence (2006-Ongoing), my new series VII (2021), and the outdoor light sculpture Love Motel for Insect: Monarch Variation (2021).
We welcome visitors to the Atelier de la Nature year around. Please contact us for an appointment and list of current programs.
You can also join me for a “Fantastic Fishes Workshop and Tour of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection,” an art-science program on fish species diversity, natural history and learn to draw fish! These workshops will take place at the Tulane University’s Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection (the largest collection of preserved fishes on the planet!) in Belle Chasse and happen monthly between November 2021 through January 2023.