Not many people come across a dead insect and think, Hey! Art! But that's exactly how Florence Samain and Dave Monfort view the world. The couple met nine years ago, fell in love, and founded The Darwin Sect (get it? Like "Darwin insect"?) in 2014. They live in Brussels, Belgium, and compose intricate insect displays housed under glass bell jars. The idea started from a desire to draw attention to the beautiful, fascinating, and complex physiology of bugs.
The Darwin Sect sources their insects from breeders all over the world, with beautifully curated installations featuring everything from a kaleidoscope of iridescent butterflies (side note: "kaleidoscope" is the collective noun for a group of butterflies!) to remarkably camouflaged leaf insects. The duo don't have a brick and mortar store (yet), but customers are always welcome inside their workshop to have a closer look at all the incredible species they've collected. We had a chance to visit Samain and Monfort in their fantastical workshop and talk to them about the first insect they ever fell in love with, and what's next for the curio collectors.
How exactly does one get into the business of collecting bugs?
Dave Monfort: Florence found a huge dead bumblebee on a street in Brussels. She brought it home and looked up information on how to spread his wings to pay him one last homage—he was so fluffy, so perfect! We marveled like kids and realized it was the first time we really paid attention to the details of what a bumblebee looks like.
Florence Samain: Dave suddenly had the desire to make a sculpture with thousands of them in flight under a glass dome. So for the next two years, as we walked around Brussels, we kept our eyes on the ground to try and find more dead specimens, but we only ended up collecting six in two years! We still had the sculpture idea, however, so we looked for other species that are easier to collect, and found plenty of insects, each one crazier than the next. We came to the conclusion that nature is the greatest artist of all time and we wanted to become its agent. Suddenly everything became clear to us, and the Darwin Sect was born.
How do you describe your job to people you've just met?
Samain: "We work with insects and jellyfish as forms of art. Yes, we know it sounds strange! Just wait, let us show you."
What does the process of putting together an installation entail?
Monfort: There are lot of preparation steps before showcasing insects under the glass dome, the first of which is finding the dome. We only work with antique ones, so it takes a lot of time to collect them. We then prepare the insects, which involves moisturizing them for a few days to make them flexible so that we can then carefully spread them out, using needles and tracing paper. Once they're in a position we like, we let them dry, then place them under the glass.
Samain: Dave loves Coleoptera, Dynastes Hercules, and Phalacrognathus beetles for their high-tech characteristics and amazing colors. I'm fascinated by moths for their velvet wings and antennae that look like feathers. The best part about our job is discovering new species, observing people's reactions, and watching them turn to us with childlike wonder asking questions like, "Are they real?"
What is your favorite installation?
Samain: It's impossible to choose a single piece as our favorite. Bumblebees stay number one in our heart, but we can't resist the magnetic blue of the Morpho Didius butterfly, the delicacy of the Actias Dubernardi moth, or the militant rigor of the Chrysophora chrysochlora beetle. And then there's the Darwin Tank! We have one in our living room and can spend hours watching the jellyfish shadows on the walls—sometimes we even forget we have a television!
What's next for the Darwin Sect?
Monfort: A few exciting projects, including a high-tech terrarium called Vivarium 2.0. It will link to your smartphone where you'll be able to join a community and learn about how to breed your selected species.
To learn more about the Darwin Sect, see darwinsect.com.