I’ve created a virtual composite of the work I’ve done so far. Over 14,000 bees here out of the estimated 50,000 that will make up the complete colony. I”m just under a third of the way through the project. My studio space is not large enough to put the entire piece together, even in these early stages ( it’s 18′ x 12′ in size and growing), so this image is very cut-and-paste looking, although it still does not show the individual sheets of silk tissue (18″ x 24″) on which the bees are printed. All the sheets will be dipped in melted bees wax and then joined together to create the final work.
Last week in the Vancouver Sun paper, I read an article on the decline of swallows in the Metro Vancouver area. (Tuesday, August 6, 2013). Apparently, swallows have been decreasing in numbers for decades, both regionally and nationally. The article cited several causes for the distressing situation, including the reduction in the numbers of insects through the widespread use of insecticides, the increase in pollution in urban areas, loss of traditional nesting sites and of course, climate change. Reduced access to food. No where to nest. Toxic chemicals. That’s quite a line-up of stressors.
The statistics are dismal—barn swallows, the most common species in Metro Vancouver, have declined by 70%, cliff swallows and purple martins by more than 50%:
“And there is little hope for recovery in the absence of decisive action,” said Derek Matthews, chair of the Vancouver Avian Research Centre.
I’m noting this article, not only for the fact that I’m interested in the birds that form part of the ecological environment of my community, but also because my project on bees includes the animals, insects and other predators that count bees as part of their food sources. The interconnection between various creatures is complex, and singling out just one from the many, would not address the reality of existence for those creatures. When I read this article on swallows, I realized that there before me, lay the evidence, a reciprocal, interdependent line of connection between the bees and their environment. Alas, interdependency means either life for all, or death for all.
Bees have been in the media quite a bit in the last few months, both on the television news and in the papers. Just the other day, I read an article in the Globe & Mail on the plight of bees and monarch butterflies (“Honey bees and monarch butterflies: why their numbers are in free fall”). The article cites several possible reasons for the decline in populations of bees: neonicotinoid pesticides, varroa mites, unfavorable weather conditions, etc., but no reporting agency is able (or willing) to say “definitively” this is the cause, or better, these are the causes for bee population decline. The situation certainly is not a simple one, but I get the feeling from reading this article (and others) that the bottom line is always the dollar. For example, in response to a call from Canadian beekeeper associations to ban the use of systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids, (an action that was already taken by the European Union) the Ontario Grain Farmers association CEO protested that such a “knee-jerk reaction” would jeopardize 2%-13% of their annual gross income from crops such as soy, canola and corn. The same CEO goes on to say that we mustn’t base our decisions on emotions, but on science. So, would this same CEO say that Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency does not function as a “science-based” agency? The HCPMR Agency noted that bee deaths in Southern Ontario and Quebec coincided with the corn-planting season. Was this a plain and simple emotional reaction from them? No scientific basis? Further, would this same CEO say that the European Union’s moratorium on pesticide use was also based on hearsay and anecdotal information?
I’m glad that important environmental issues, like that of the bees, are in the media, but I get frustrated when reading about the workings of corporations and about our consumer-based economies. This is an emotional reaction, without a doubt, but I search for ways to make changes, even small ones, starting with myself.
I attended a fantastic workshop yesterday, led by two Vancouver-based artists, Lori Weidenhammer (aka Madame Beespeaker), and Rebecca Graham. The workshop was called “Tapestry of the Senses.” Using natural materials—flowers, reeds and grasses, we created designs on the pavement in front of the Roundhouse Community Centre with Lori, and learned how to weave with willow, ivy and flag with Rebecca. The experience was enriching and beautiful on its own, but the intention of the artists was to encourage the participants to consider our environment and to protect the biodiversity of our communities. Both Lori and Rebecca are very knowledgeable and it was a delight to learn about plants, and to receive practical information that would help us to encourage the proliferation and flourishing of our pollinators and to protect the environments of the creatures with whom we share our planet.