Ballengee and Jeremijenko: Amphibian Rescue Mission



Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected British Petroleum's claim that it had wrongly been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in claims to businesses whose losses were not caused by the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, for which they accept responsibility.The justices' refusal to hear the case was a resounding defeat for the embattled British oil giant which has paid $28 billion in claims and cleanup costs. This defeat came on the heal of a September ruling by a federal judge that found BP grossly negligent in the spill, subjecting the multinational corporation to another $18 billion in civil penalties.

This news coincides with the announcement of an exhibition that represents an artist's response to this disaster. Brandon Ballengee will be exhibiting "Ghosts of the Gulf", organized by Amy Lipton, at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries. A public reception will take place on Saturday, December 13 from 5 – 7 pm.

Both Natalie Jeremijenko and Brandon Ballengee are artists who apply their extensive training in the sciences to the critical declines in amphibian populations. Jeremineko manifests this mission in a work entitled "Salamander Superhighway", 2012. The ‘highway’ is actually an enclosed tunnel made of cast iron pipe, a material chosen because it is strong enough to withstand the weight of cars, trucks, and buses. It is laid in an orientation that matches the treacherous path of migrating salamanders as they cross a road. This occurs each year in early spring, on a rainy night, when they emerge from hibernation and assemble to search for the moist, wooded habitats they require for spawning. Because roads fragment forest habitats and interrupt their migration pathways, mortality rates are staggering. Salamander Superhighway not only provides safe passage, it ensures that that salamanders’ trip will be pleasant by piercing the pipe to resemble a summer solstice star map.

Ballengée focuses his artistic and scientific inquiry on the rapid decline of amphibian populations around the world and the occurrence of developmental deformities among amphibians.

As in Jeremijenko’s project, his amphibian rescue mission has broader significance by pointing out that amphibians are bio-indicator species. In a press release for his upcoming exhibition at the Beacon Institute in New York he states, “Understanding amphibians at this point in history is very important as they are suffering from rapid wide-spread population declines at over 40% in less than half a century.” His ‘Ghosts of the Gulf’ series consists of stark and brilliantly colored images of  marine species collected in the Gulf of Mexico directly following the deadly 2010 Deep Water Horizons (DWH) oil spill disaster, one of the world’s worst environmental calamities. Each is based upon an x-ray revealing the complex and beautiful anatomy of these endangered species. They were created by injecting dead specimens that Ballengee found washed up on the beach with red and blue dyes, and then scanning the fish using a high-resolution scanner. Each specimen is transparent, highlighting the fragility of the organisms whose habitats are being destroyed by industrial contaminants. Ballengee notes that this is very unsettling because “we don’t know what the long term impacts of the spill yet will be, on these species or even our own”.

 “Collapse” is another work related to the  Gulf’s fouled waters. Ballengee and his collaborators collected more than 25,000 samples representing 370 species that were displayed in glass jars arranged in an enormous pyramid.

Thus, Jeremijenko invents the means and constructs the infrastructures to enhance the survivability of amphibian species.  Her astute remedies are presented as works of art. Ballengee contributes to this goal by intensifying the public’s awareness of the magnitude and urgency of amphibian jeopardies.