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Arts & Culture

Latest Housing Built In Brightwalk Are 'Love Motels' For Insects

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Greg Lilly
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Courtesy of The McColl Center

We hear a lot about the need for mixed-use neighborhoods in Charlotte. Well, we have a story about a new neighborhood that includes motels.They’re called Love Motels. And they’re full of bugs. It’s an example of public art intended to encourage urban ecology. 

Electrician Greg Lilly is usually working on houses when he visits a new neighborhood. Not butterflies. 

That’s right. Butterflies. Specifically, two car-sized white butterfly sculptures on your way into the new Brightwalk neighborhood, just north of Uptown.
Lighting is key to these sculptures being a success.

"The hardest part about this project was mounting the lights inside of the sculpture - took a lot of creativity," says Lilly.

These glow-in-the-dark butterfly sculptures are the design of artist and biologist Brandon Ballengee. He calls it “Love Motels for Insects.”

"We’re looking at two love motels for insects sculptures. They’re large, outdoor light sculptures that use ultraviolet light to attract insects at night. Which gives this opportunity for the community to understand a little bit about the urban zoology," says Ballengee.

Ballengee calls the project “Love Motels for Insects” because bugs are attracted to the glowing blue light and will come to mate here.Things like beetles and moths, not mosquitoes or ticks. It’s kind of like those old bug zappers but in reverse.

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Credit Lucy Perkins / WFAE
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WFAE

"For us [humans] we’re going to see kind of blueish. We’re already seeing some insects that’s good. Because this material bounces light anyway. So we’re creating a little nature reserve/wind guard for some of the flying insects, too," he adds.

He designed the sculptures to look like two butterflies native to North Carolina. One is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. The other is a St. Francis’ Satyr, which is endangered.

"[The sculptures] have these different sight lines. So if you’re approaching them from different directions, one looks like the butterfly is taking off, one looks like its sitting down. I guess I was also inspired by the way they fly," Ballengee says. 

Being a biologist and an artist is how Ballengee’s identified for the majority of his life. He’d study animals in his room, and draw them in the barn outside his parents house when he was growing up in rural Ohio. At one point he had so many aquariums in his room they moved him into the basement because they were worried the floor would fall through.

Ballengee got the idea for the love motel project from a UV flashlight. He brought it on night hike in Costa Rica over a decade ago. He set it on the ground and within a few hours it attracted hundreds of insects. After that, he began experimenting with LED lights in different shapes and sizes.

He’s installed temporary UV projects in other cities and countries. But this project in Charlotte is his first big, permanent installation. Ballengee is able to do this project as an environmental artist in residence at the McColl Center in Charlotte. The McColl Center has been working with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership to incorporate art and environmental initiatives in the community.

"Globally, we realize that we’re in this incredible acceleration of extinction where it’s called the sixth great extinction and we’re just seeing wildlife populations disappear at an incredibly fast rate. So the question is how we can reverse that, or how we can slow it down and have a potentially positive impact."

Ballengee hopes his work will help people feel like they’re taking part in doing good things for the environment. The butterflies’ neighbors will know what the sculptures do. But to someone driving by, it might just look like a park with enormous glowing butterflies.