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Steven Spazuk and Danielle Delhaes have launched the Monarch Project, the first venture of the REVERENCE series. Reverence is a unique collection of works of art based on the traces left by living creatures, symbolizing the precariousness of animal and plant life on Earth. Rooted in the biophilia concept, REVERENCE has as its core purposes to stir viewers’ emotions, to surprise, to raise awareness, as well as to cultivate a sense of respect and wonder toward the natural world. Spazuk and Delhaes are exploring a collaborative, community-based artistic and creative process as a means of connecting Humans and Nature. Their combined artistic and educational approach brings participants in close proximity with Nature. The experience of beauty, awe, a sense of belonging, a personal connection and an emotional understanding all lead to REVERENCE for Nature.

The Monarch project is born of a passion for this extraordinary butterfly and the urgency to act to save this species. Threatened all along their annual migratory path through Canada, the United-States and Mexico, populations of Monarchs are currently declining at an alarming rate. According to the latest World Wildlife Fund report on the area occupied by Monarchs in the forests of Central Mexico during the winter months, the area of trees covered by hibernating Monarchs has declined by 94% in the last 10 years! The threats to this amazing butterfly are numerous. Monocultures of genetically modified crops, such as soya and corn, are managed with herbicides to which these engineered plants are resistant. But the milkweed, on which the Monarch solely depends to lay its eggs and feed during the larval stage, is destroyed along with all indigenous nectar-producing flower that would feed the adults. Illegal logging in the Monarch winter habitat is also a threat, as is climate change. With a decreasing number of trees buffering the areas where Monarchs hibernate, these are now exposed to increasing extreme temperatures and climatic conditions during their hibernation. Creating and protecting Monarch habitats becomes the obvious choice to take action for the survival of this beautiful and iconic insect.

The Monarch Project involves the collaboration of more than a hundred volunteers across the North American continent to create a “self-portrait” of a Monarch butterfly. Using soot on cardboards, the traces left by thousands of Monarch butterflies were respectfully collected, within their natural winter habitat in Mexico. The resulting printed traces, or entomograms, were cut into pixels of varying shades of grey and assembled with pins to create a 150 X 215 cm “self-portrait” of this majestic and symbolic lepidoptera.

Inspired by the insect’s astonishing annual migration across the American continent, this creation brings together two collaborating universities and a high school along the Monarch’s migratory route.
Under the leadership of Spazuk and Delhaes, Hélène Trottier of theEscuela Popular de Bellas Artes and her students from the Faculty of Arts of Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo in Morelia have participated in the collection of Monarch entomograms in February 2013 at the Sierra Chincua reserve in Mexico. The team was joined by a researcher from the Sierra Chincua Biosphere Reserve who acted as a guide.

Back in Canada, students at St. George’s School of Montreal were tasked with cutting the entomograms into very small squares and sorting them according to the various shades of grey scratched into the soot by the thousands of Monarch tracks. A team from the Université du Québec à Montréal then assembled the scratched pixels to create the final work. The resulting “self-portrait” of a Monarch butterfly has a companion film directed by Jean-Nicolas Orhon.
The artwork and the film were displayed at the Insectarium of Montreal for the summer 2014 season. The culmination of this exhibit was interactive artwork creations with the public. These engaging and creative workshops aim at developing an awareness of the plight of the Monarchs and the solutions to help conserve this species and its spectacular annual migration. Anchored in the concepts of biophilia and biodiversity preservation, the workshops invite participants to make a commitment to protect the Monarch by creating naturalized garden habitats as part of the Insectarium’s “Oasis for Monarch” program. These are gardens of milkweed and nectar-rich flowers where the Monarchs can lay their eggs and feed.

In sharing their creative process and their unique approach to fostering an intimate connection between humans and the natural world, Spazuk and Delhaes aim at contributing to the protection of our natural world. The duo has plans to continue the REVERENCE series with projects on the polar bear and the snowy owl in Northern Quebec, endangered plant species in Ecuador as well as an inspiring collection of human facial prints of individuals who have contributed to a positive change in the world. But for now, they are working on telling the story of the Monarch, reaching out and touching one person at a time in a collaboration for life.
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