Why You Should Care


Human beings do one thing very, very well. We kill stuff. We are very good at killing other humans. Pretty damn good at killing other species, killing our own supportive, life-sustaining planet. So what’s up with our blind spot about our humiliating failure to kill mosquitoes. To fix this disaster has to be the ultimate, maybe even the terminal task of art today. 

Mosquitoes kill more people annually than people do (including wars). Google comes up with an extraordinary of what these deadly insects can infect us with: malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, hemorraeghic dengue fever, West Nile fever, encephalitis and open-wound staph. Dogs, when bitten, can succumb to canine heartworms. 2000 people die each day from malaria in Africa alone. That’s one death every thirty seconds, that adds up to 1,000,000 (one million) dead people – all preventable deaths each year on a single continent. 


Each mosquito “bite” is a very personal event and a true risk with potentially deadly effect. So why do we call them “skeeters”, “pests”, “annoyances” when they can be killers. By using euphemisms we attempt to marginalize their lethal powers. And, for the record, they do not bite, they inject, they penetrate, they enter the bloodstream like a bullet from a rifle shot and just as deadly.  

The Gates Foundation, with Buffett, Bono and Clinton have made and are making great and admirable progress in the fight against mosquitoes. My role as an artist is simply to advocate focused creative attention to all mosquito eradication. Can an artist do anything less? What good are we when mosquitoes rule?  

Three summers ago I was in Maine making paintings. I worked on large canvases in the morning and hung around the rest of the day watching the paint dry. Most of the time I would be battling hostile bugs and mosquitoes away. (Later I learned that only female mosquitoes “bite”.) One sunny day I took an early morning walk to the dock to watch someone else do work – the lobstermen. By about noon I was an itchy welted mess. I counted 29 wounds on my body. My immediate thought was “Who puts up with this shit? NOT ME.” 

The next morning, after a torturous sleepless night of scratching I decided to stop watching paint dry (a dumb sport at best). I started to think “How can I kill these things?” 

After some computer research I wondered why is it that these 30-million year old 2 milligram disease vectors with only a ten-day life span exist? They are not useful as pets and no one considers them a good trophy like a moosehead to hang on a wall, no species likes them, no species needs them for survival but there are, at this very moment, about 7 billion people who hate all 3000 species of mosquitoes.  

In the late 1980’s I was interested in certain new scientific advances and made paintings based on DNA analysis so the strangeness of genomic innovation is seldom lost on me. About 3 years ago, some thoughtful soul sent me court documents from a fascinating case. In Holland, where a man was convicted and jailed for grand auto theft because his DNA had been found in a mosquito located in the stolen vehicle. I had found the only two professions in the world that liked mosquitoes – cops and prosecutors. 

I remembered that case now as I scratched the inflamed bites from yesterday’s walk. As an almost involuntary response I decided to kill as many mosquitoes as I could by myself, by art alone, and quickly became obsessed, almost deranged about the project. Survival of the fittest? Whoa! Are we really going to let mosquitoes beat us at it? Is it even possible that we are going to let them suck off our reputation as the world's best killers?  

In the fitful and sleepless nights followed, Any Warhol’s quote came to me, “The mosquito is the state bird of New Jersey”. Remember what Hitchcock did to birds?  

I started making killing devices with materials reclaimed from my studio, from the beach, from the woods, and abandoned parking lots. I soon recognized that I was a painter making sculpture but I thought “Fuck it, that’s a small detail. I am on a quest to kill mosquitoes and I am not stopping.” Serra, Andre, diSuvero, Judd, Heiser, and deMaria all have made great work in 3D. Also I had considered the 7 billion people on the planet, each of whom, has probably had the personal experience of being “bitten” by at least one mosquito and they could be a rather large audience for my work. I continued working on and refining the traps for two more years. 

DO THE TRAPS WORK? Yes, of course they do! At the bare minimum, these traps are to mosquitoes what piss is to Duchamps’ urinal. Or, for that matter, what hot air is to those terrific Koons’ balloon puppies. As art they don’t need to work or do anything in the conventional sense. They are sculptures intended to be provocative in any way possible. So let’s not have any of these dipshit questions about whether my traps work.  

It may take a year or two of focused attention for each kill but life is short and art is eternal so we have the time and god only knows we all need to take a step back, slow down, watch, wait, be cunning, and to do something with art other than to pimp celebrity. 

Mosquitoes are an ugly and lethal species that have been around for 30+ million years. Time gets distorted by this extreme fact. Time is long and mighty wide. Let’s all give it a shot and kill every one of these hideous bastards.  

Dennis Ashbaugh