Cornelia Hesse-Honegger

Heteroptera – Images of a mutant world, since 1987

Installation | Insect box, 12 alu-dibond boards | 84 x 59 cm

Soft Bug, Miridae, 1988, watercolour, 42 x 29,7 cm, Zurich, CH; Head of a soft bug, Miridae from Schönenwerd, Canton Aargau, Switzerland, found near the nuclear power plant Gösgen. Aus dem Auge wächst eine Zyste und die Facetten sind unregelmässig und zum Teil zu groß.A growth out of the left eye and disturbance of the facettes are visible.

From 1967 onwards I painted mutant fruit flies and houseflies that had been poisoned or exposed to radiation in laboratories in order to cause mutations. Sie wurden für mich zu Prototypen, zu Visionen einer zukünftigen menschgemachten Naturform. For me, they became prototypes, visions of a future man-made form of nature.
In 1968 I painted my first bug heteroptera, because I found it so beautiful.
Since then, I have been collecting these insects in various biotopes, and I paint them to this day. In 1987, one year after the accident at Chernobyl, I started to systematically collect bugs in areas that had been radioactively contaminated by the Chernobyl cloud. Beginning in 1988, I examined bugs from the vicinity of nuclear plants. These insects— over 16,000—I examine with the aid of a binocular loupe. I distinguish between »morphological defects« (MD) and »all defects« (AD). MD are deformations such as wings of unequal length, missing segment in the antennae or shorter antennae, adnate or deformed abdominal segments, asymmetrical thorax, or deformations of the legs or feet. AD are dark spots, pigmentation changes, holes, deformities of the material (chitin). The defect rate in all examined areas is 22 percent for »morphological defects« and 30 percent for »all defects«. In order to be able to compare the defects, I collect 50 or 65 bugs with plastic beakers in intact biotopes, and narcotize them for the external examination. Polluted biotopes are compared with unpolluted ones. Bugs from the vicinity of Zurich where I collected 313 bugs from 1968 to 1989, from Ghana (50 bugs in 1971) and Costa Rica (63 bugs in 2005) did not exhibit any morphological defects at that time. During the field studies, I make color sketches which I later turn into meticulous watercolors in my studio. The work with bugs moves and fascinates me, and it is my contribution to the efforts to maintain and protect our nature.
– Cornelia Hesse-Honegger