I’m nerding out about these aluminum ant colonies a little bit because I’ve always wondered what kinds of shapes ants excavate for themselves to live in. My question was partially answered the summer before fourth grade, when I ripped open an Ant Farm at my birthday party. Weeks later, a small vial of sleepy ants arrived and I put them to work in the green plastic farm I kept on top of my dresser. But it wasn’t long before the ants outgrew their intended home and moved into my sock drawer.
These colonies are cast by Walter Tschinkel, who spent his career as an entomologist (more specifically a myrmecologist) studying the behavior of ants and the morphology of their colonies. To better understand their mysterious underground lairs, Tschinkel developed a way to cast their caverns using molten aluminum. It may seem cruel, but even the scientist realizes that what he’s making is more than just the shape of an ant colony.
“The majority of the work consists of making casts of the nests of as many species as possible and including the full range of nest sizes within each species. This work produces both an inventory of the diversity of architectures and a developmental sequence within each species. The casts produced in this study are objects of great beauty and interest and represent an intersection of science and art.”