Collaboration with meat ants and a dead rabbit, 2017, Jill Sampson

Collaboration with meat ants and a dead rabbit, 2017

Collaboration with meat ants and a dead rabbit,

plaster, charcoal, conté
2210 x 310 x 75mm
photos by Jill Sampson

I am an observer of the cycles of life, growth, death, disintegration,
decomposition, compost, regeneration, birth.

Over eight days I observed and recorded the effect on a dead rabbit as meat ants harvested every part of it and removed it piece by piece, into their nests. I intervened on day eight, claiming the tiny rabbit skull as the ants began to take it apart for removal. These low plaster plinths each carry the image of part of the process of disintegration of the rabbit’s body. Like the meat ants taking all of the rabbit underground, these plasters absorb the charcoal and conte drawings, taking the rabbit into their layers. While the shaping of the plaster plinths suggest an inverted representation of the meat ants nests.

Meat ants at the farm have thrived and multiplied since the cane toad arrived there only twenty-five years ago.  These ants have built large nests around the walls of the dam, enabling them to capture baby  toads as they emerge from the water during daylight hours. Interestingly, native froglets emerge from the water at night. The meat ants have had an observable impact on reducing the cane toad population at the farm.

Rabbits are feral pests in Australia, extremely damaging and detrimental to the environment. They spread to this farm in Queensland during the 1990’s. Due to biological control of released virus’ the rabbits build up in numbers then die off again. We see them for a time and then periodically we find their bodies; as the Calicivirus hits its stride in a cycle of life and death played out in their blood streams.

In Queensland it is illegal to keep rabbits as pets and doing so can attract fines of $30 000.

From 2010 to 2015 I lived back on the family farm with my Husband and our two young children. There were periods of time when our children were finding baby rabbits and wanted very much to keep them as pets. It was a difficult dilemma as while we explained to our children that keeping rabbits was illegal, they were distraught with the idea of releasing or destroying such cute animals.

Collaborating with the meat ants meant keeping dead rabbits that I found, in the freezer, until I could make the time to lay them out on the ants nests and document them day in day out over eight or so days. During the period when the dead rabbit was on the meat ants nest I would take photos and film at various times through each day. When I wasn’t photographing or filming, I had to carefully cover the rabbit carcass to reduce the possibility of it being taken by a wedge-tailed eagle, goanna or dingo. I lost at least two rabbits that I hadn’t secured well enough.