Love Motels for Insects

McColl Center Environmental Artist-in-Residence Brandon Ballengée’s contemporary art sculptures for the Brightwalk community in Charlotte will intrigue you in three, maybe more, different ways.

First, the name.

“Love Motels for Insects came from a version [of the sculptures] I made in South Korea in 2004,” says Ballengée. “During a public field trip to the sculpture, one of the participants said, upon understanding the concept, ‘Oh, a love motel for bugs!’ The name stuck.”

Second, the concept.

Each sculpture is powered with ultraviolet LED lights that attract insects—simple nocturnal arthropods like beetles, moths, and caddisflies—to the enormous sculpted canvas, and creating an opportunity for public interactions with these insects that are not often seen. (Rest assured: No mosquitoes or ticks will be attracted to the sculpture.) 

Conceptually, the Love Motels for Insects create opportunities for the public to focus on pollinator species, such as Honeybees and Monarch butterflies, which are essential for our ecosystems – they are responsible for the survival of numerous plants, animal and even us, as the majority of fruits and vegetable produce depend from insect pollination.

By inviting people to bug watch, Ballengée hopes to show them an essential side of urban nature that many have never paid attention to, using art as a means to engage them in a larger dialogue on the environment and species conservation.

Third, the sculptures.

Ballengée modeled the two sculptures on two native species of North Carolina butterflies: the St. Francis Satyr and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. They’re up to 18 feet tall, 10 feet wide, and weigh exponentially more than the butterflies they’re inspired by.

From Central America to Charlotte

Ballengée has been creating Love Motels for Insects since 2001. The first structures were made from battery powered black lights and bed-sheets placed in the Costa Rican forest floor. Within hours, flying moths, beetles, caddisflies, ants, lacewings, and other arthropods descended on the installation.

Over 20 Love Motels for Insects installations have been mounted across the globe since then, like the one in South Korea in 2004, although each one has been temporary. 

The sculptures at Brightwalk are Ballengée’s first permanent installation of the works and are located in the medians at 2313 Woodward Ave in Charlotte.

Love Motels for Insects hopes to spark and engage the community in citizen science projects, such as doing bug counts to track how the insects change in type and number over time. 

Also, the variety of native plants in the landscape will support both the diurnal and nocturnal pollinator population, providing plenty of residents for the “motels” for years to come.

Next time you’re looking for things to do in Charlotte, head over to Brightwalk one early evening and visit the Love Motels for Insects.


+ Join us on Saturday, May 9 for Eco-Palooza, a free and family friendly big bug block party in the medians of Brightwalk to celebrate the lighting of Love Motels for Insects, with food, games, and fun for all. Click for more info.

+ Summer 2015 Artist-in-Residence Matt Horick fabricated the aluminum and steel sculptures here in the Spangler Family Sculpture Studio at McColl Center, to Ballengée’s CAD drawing and specifications.

+ Austin Canvas and Awning came on board to help when they learned the sculptures were being modeled on butterflies. They helped with the canvas portion of the sculptures. Owners Josh and Shari Albertson started Rachael’s Gift, a research fund for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, to honor their daughter who died of mitochondrial disease. The fund’s symbol is a butterfly.

+ Love Motels for Insects was made possible through a collaboration with ArtPlace, Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, Austin Canvas and Awning, United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, and McColl Center for Art + Innovation.