The butterfly transformation metamorphosed from an exploration of identity and migration.
Raised in Oklahoma, there were always monarchs passing through the fields in the backyard, although like them, I never was aware of their destination. It was not until I started the butterfly research that I found the hidden magic of their extensive journey.
The big question was how this small being could transform itself and fly instinctively to an unknown destination. The answer came from something that is within us all, the DNA, nature's mysterious language, our body's literature that tells the story of who we are.
Although is it possible to continuously read and understand this scientific language, to understand the language that drives our bodies to the enigmatic paths we take?
I wanted to research this natural intuition to change, mutate and fly far away without really understanding or questioning. Turning to science, I found the monarch butterfly, who in the end is hidden within all along.
I've always felt drawn to butterflies, my father even had a large butterfly collection when I was growing up. The monarch seemed to stem from my first identity.
Cultural and natural integration, innergration exhibition view, Under Construction Gallery, Paris. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele
Historia, book made of monarch butterfly wings, leaves and petals found in the forest in Mexico.
The Danaus plexippus takes an incredible journey from their point of departure all the way to the heart of Mexico in the state of Michoacan. Each path is unique and their journey varies, but each journey is about 5,000 miles.
Their starting point can vary from Canada to the northern part of the United States. Their journey can take between four and five months before arriving in the enchanted forests. Their wintering spots do not vary; not only are the same pine forests inhabited each year but the same trees within the forest.
The Monarchs arrive around October and stay until around March before they embark on their return journey. To truly understand their migration, and to be in touch with my own DNA, I needed to become as natural as possible, to allow the pages of my personal story to take flight.
I therefore decided to let my body be free, and the transformation instinctively took place. I metamorphosed into a monarch in the cocoon of my studio in Paris, then flew to meet them in the heart of their secret meeting place in Mexico.
The monarch community at the Cerro Pelon Reservation
The colony at the Sierra Chincua Reservation
Once I arrived on Mexican soil, I was able to discover the Monarch through the eyes of the locals and through their culture. I arrived in a little village, on the side of a mountain with an abundance of nature. The most emotional moment was climbing up the mountain.
After a while, I wondered if I would ever arrive or if it was all just a dream. I didn't see any butterflies, I followed my shadow which fell before me when suddenly the shadow of a small butterfly flew into mine. This was the moment that I knew I had found home, my community, and the true self.
When I arrived in the colony I was overwhelmed, they were everywhere and all around, and I tried to communicate with them by dancing among them. It took a lot of studying to understand how to appropriate their movements. I learned about their connection with temperature, and especially with the sun.
They use the sun like a guide or compass for their unknown voyage and the sun is what provokes their communication, their body language, and how they communicate together. When the sun falls on their wings, it is the message that they should flutter. When the temperature is too low, they sleep and are literally paralyzed, clustered together on the trunks and branches of the trees.
This became the focus of the research when I was in their sanctuary, how to understand, translate and speak their language in order to communicate in harmony within their community.
By the end of my time with them, I truly was able to fluidly dance among them, communicating peacefully with them. Through learning and integrating their dance, I had found the key reading the DNA and its poetry.
In flight at the Cerro Pelon Reservation
Being an artist begins with a scientific exploration. I conduct research like a scientist. I dissect, and examine my subject from all angles with curiosity. Unlike a scientist, who would transmit findings to the world, I invite the world to discover my secret imagination and translation.
This exhibition and project was about understanding my own migration and DNA. It was about allowing classical dance to become natural, to confront myself with nature and the nature within.
By transmitting this experience, I hope to inspire others to look inside themselves, to find the scientific, yet poetic code, that lies within us all.
The film, Innergation, tells the story of the dance with the butterflies, while the exhibition tells the story of my journey along the way, from the concrete scientific research to the real shift in space to arrive in their forest.
I called the project Innergration because I wanted to talk about the inner migration, immigration, and integration that took place during my butterfly transformation.
Scientific and artistic research wall. Innergration exhibition view, Under Construction Gallery, Paris. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele
In the heart of the forest, Innergration exhibition view, Under Construction Gallery, Paris. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele
Metamorphosis was a performance that was done in conjunction with the exhibition for the Night of the Museums at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. I started as a caterpillar dressed with point shoes of coloration reminiscent of the Monarch larvae and a green transparent tulle- all to talk about not only my physical transformation but also the transformation of the dance from classical and structured into something natural.
As I built the cocoon that hugged my body, a cellist played the piece, Metamorphosis, by Philip Glass, which mimics the repetitious gesture of the caterpillar in nature forming its cocoon. I metamorphosed inside, and came out completely free, with wings, and danced within the courtyard of the museum.
Before the metamorphosis as a caterpillar, performance metamorphosis, musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, European Night of the Museums
The monarch butterfly transformation allowed me to understand DNA, to read its pages, I learned that one has to let go and allow the language to speak for itself. The mystery will always be present within nature and within the nature of knowing and understanding oneself.
Scientists still haven't discovered the reason monarchs migrate so far to the pine forests in Mexico or how exactly they find their way. Although it is this mystery that lies within nature that can describe the beautiful connection between art and science.
Leaving the cocoon, performance metamorphosis, musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, European Night of the Museums
Rachel Marks is an American artist, performer and dancer living and working in Paris. Her background in dancing with the Oklahoma City Ballet transposes into her performances, using dance as an artistic medium in her work. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art (2010) in Drawing and Painting from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Fine Art (2013) from l'Ecole Supérieure d'Art et Design of Grenoble, France.
Rachel's work looks at the relationship between nature and language by investigating identity through integration. Her practice includes drawing, painting, sculpture, installation and performance.
Interview conducted by Alexis Gambis, Executive Director at Imagine Science Films