My name is Tasha Lewis and I want to share with you the story of my global collaborative street art project Swarm The World. For the past two and a half years I have been working full time as a visual artist. In my sculpture and installation art, I create new hand-made versions of natural specimens. Starting in July of 2012, I began making butterflies from cyanotype photographs that I released into the world with small magnets sewn to their bodies. Because of the power of magnets, this swarm is able to alight on metal objects, totally transform them and then leave without a trace. As the swarm grew in number, I developed a practice of ‘guerrilla sculpture’ where I created ephemeral public installations of these blue insects all over the country.
This past spring I realized that I would never be able to travel as far as I wanted the butterflies to go, so I organized this project— Swarm the World — to engage similarly-minded strangers all over the globe to shepherd my creations in their home towns. My 185 collaborators represent 50 countries and span every continent. Each one of them will add a totally new flavor to the project with their installations. I selected these students, parents, teachers, artists, and non-artists from over 700 applicants who emailed me this spring and summer. Everyone with whom I will be working is dedicated to the project and many of them have amazing personal connections to the symbol of the butterfly. I trust them fully with my art and know that they will go on to do things with the swarm that I could have never imagined.
My part in this project is shifting from creator to organizer. After having made 6,000 unique magnetic cyanotype butterflies over the past two years, I will now manage the logistics of the shipping and digital presence of the project. It is a little scary to take this leap, but I am so excited that all the uncertainty of travel doesn’t bother me. The travel, indeed, is actually where you will take the lead because we need your help. I will divide the thousands of butterflies into 16 separate swarms. Each swarm will travel in a padded envelope with a journal, how-to guide, and first-aid kit. It is important to me that while all the participants’ blog and tweet about their installations they also keep a handwritten diary that will be shared across each route. Each swarm will travel for about a year around a subsection of the globe, stopping 10-18 times depending on the route. All this geographic diversity comes at a very real cost: postage.
As it stands now, the project involves about 200 shipping actions. In general, the most expensive legs of the journey are at the beginning and end when they are leaving or returning to New York City. However, the team of collaborators across the continent of Africa also have very high shipments costs. Each of the legs of the journey cost totally different amounts and it would not be fair for some to have to pay much more than others. This Kickstarter campaign will allow me to fully fund all of the shipments and pay for the supplies in each packet. It will also provide the most efficient travel to allow each collaborator to have more time with the butterflies. It is important for you to know that while each dollar you give is literally going to cover shipping costs, what it is providing is the opportunity for people all over the world to bring a novel kind of art to their communities.
The physical end-result of this project will be thousands of images, but it will also be hundreds of new connections, friendships, and seeds of inspiration scattered around the globe. Each of my 185 collaborators have their own network of friends whom they will engage directly in these butterfly interventions; as they install the butterflies, passers-by will see the work, perhaps even interact with it. Those strangers will take photos, post them on the internet share them with their friends and the impact of the project will continue in a positive feedback loop. It is my hope that this project not only changes people’s perception of public space and public art on a local scale, but that it will also show how one idea and one little hand-sewn insect can unite people on a global scale.