Nicholas Mangan’s exhibition Termite Economies (Phase 1) examines how global capitalism puts nature to work. The starting point was a failed investigation from the early 2000’s in which CSIRO had researched termite behaviour in the hope that the insects might one day lead humans to gold deposits. Upon hearing this proposal, Mangan began engaging with research on eusocial insects as metaphors for human social and political structures - as has been explored in various fields from biology to robotics. Mangan set out to utilize this allegorical framework and the scientific discourse surrounding it and recontextualise it as a sculptural installation.
Exhibited at Sutton gallery with low hanging lights, the works visually echoed scientific experiments in a lab and took the form of table-mounted sculptures. Elaborate 3D prints of re-imagined workings of internal termite mounds and mining infrastructures hybridised to form speculative termite mining architectures. The human/machine made sculptures were dusted in muddy soil patina, mimicking the insect nests – the cross sections exposing their mechanical elements and material truth. Termite Economies (Phase 1) reveals the dark nature of capitalist structures and imagines the relationship between termite colonies and economic gain.
Included in the Taipei Biennial “Post Nature”, 2018, the work was discussed as a success of the Biennial in prominent international art magazine Frieze. The work was then exhibited at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore for the exhibition Climates.Habitats.Environments. which had an accompanying catalogue published by MIT Press. Termite Economies (Phase 1) was co-funded by Creative Victoria and was acquired by the Michael Buxton Collection. Mangan gave a public lecture about the artwork at the Australian National University in Canberra and at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts – where he also exhibited the work in a solo show.