30 000 butterflies & moths migrate to GOMA


Carlos Amorales’s Black Cloud 2007/2018 (illustrated) is a sublime and surreal gathering of 30 000 black paper butterflies and moths in sculptural formations. Alighting on the walls, ceiling, and light fittings, the flight of insects is both wondrous for its unexpected arrival in the Gallery and foreboding in how it darkens and crowds the space. Moments of concentrated intensity are balanced by smaller, sparser groupings creating a teeming mass which rises to envelop the viewer.

Watch | Installation of ‘Black Cloud’

Watch | A Curator’s perspective

Carlos Amorales ‘Black Cloud’ 2007/2018

The installation Black Cloud 2007/2018 brings the raw beauty of untamed nature, taking inspiration from the grand annual migration of the Eastern monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), which travels up to 4025 kilometres from the United States and Canada (where they breed) down to the mountainous forests of central Mexico (where they hibernate). Although the monarch’s migratory pattern is one of the most highly evolved of any species, it is under threat from climate change. The darkened forms of Amorales’s butterflies in Black Cloud raise the spectre of their extinction, referred to by the artist as a ‘plague’, the butterflies’ uncanny beauty suggests a fragile ecosystem profoundly out of whack.

Black Cloud is a careful and labour-intensive production, with each laser-cut iteration of the 30 species folded and glued by hand. During the installation process, the butterflies and moths are loosely dispersed along lines to create an organic swarm. Affixed at different heights and orientations, thousands of winged insects encircle viewers in an experience that fluctuates between evoking a sense of calm and intimating a looming calamity.

With its striking visual language and eerie beauty, Carlos Amorales’s Black Cloud invites us to confront the escalating devastation of invertebrate populations due to climate change, the butterflies’ charred wings a dire portent of things to come.

Carlos Amorales, Mexico b.1970 / Installation view of Black Cloud 2007/2018, ‘Air’ GOMA 2022 / 30 000 black laser-cut and handfolded paper butterflies (30 different butterfly and moth species in five sizes with a wave wing pattern), ed. 1/3 (+ 1 A.P.) / Purchased 2022 with funds from Tim Fairfax AC through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Carlos Amorales / Photographs: M Campbell © QAGOMA