A digital artwork created by Reynier Leyva Novo
Commissioned by El Museo del Barrio, New York
With generous support from VIA Art Fund
In late summer and fall, millions of monarchs in southern Canada and the northern United States embark on a two-month trek south to seek a warmer climate. This migration is essential to their survival during the winter months, when they stop to hibernate in the remote fir forests (oyamel) of the mountains of central Mexico. In February and March, they awaken and begin the return home, laying millions of eggs along the way before dying. Methuselah virtually reproduces the 6,139-mile (9,880-kilometer) migratory journey of a monarch butterfly, tracking its travel during its annual reproductive cycle. The epic journey is hosted and reproduced in real time on this website, which was designed for the project. Here, audiences can monitor the route of a single monarch butterfly. Working with butterfly experts, taxidermists, animators, computer modelers, and software designers for over a year, artist Reynier Leyva Novo translated the methuselah monarch butterfly from an analog specimen into a digital animation. The virtual avatar can be observed 24 hours a day during a one-year cycle. Seen moving against a black backdrop, the butterfly flutters, flies, feeds, and rests with the ease and delicacy of a real insect. At any given time, the software program determines the butterfly’s movements in space, drawing upon numerous data points related to monarch migration patterns. No single observed motion is the same. This presentation offers viewers a privileged and unprecedented look at a day in the life of a single monarch butterfly, a phenomenon that until recently was impossible to observe or track.
The title of the work refers to the generation of monarchs that is able to complete the transcontinental journey. Weighing less than one gram each, and living only two-to-six weeks, monarch butterflies engage in an astonishing north/south migration that takes four generations of offspring to complete. Methuselah refers to the fourth generation of monarchs in each annual cycle. Born furthest North, this generation lives longer than the other travelers born further south. With this extended life span, the methuselah generation is able to return furthest north, enabling the species to survive and complete the epic transcontinental migration each year.
In solidarity with nearly 20 international cultural organizations, the High Museum of Art is pleased to support the launch of artist Reynier Leyva Novo’s Methuselah. The project follows the transcontinental journey of a single monarch butterfly, as it migrates across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, as part of its annual reproduction cycle. Echoing the butterfly’s international pathway, the Methuselah community aims to bring greater awareness to the inspiring life cycle of monarch butterflies, whose journey is accessible to all audiences via this open-access website, which launched on September 22.