bee school

This past weekend, I attended beekeeping classes, given by master beekeeper Brian Campbell (Blessed Bee Apiaries).  The course was interesting, informative and engaging. Brian is an excellent instructor. He’s exceedingly knowledgeable, has a gentle and  respectful manner for his students and his charges (the bees), and he has a great sense of humour! A weekend well spent with theory and practice. We still have the practicum to look forward to, more first hand experience on handling honeybees!

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We even got to witness a new drone bee emerge out of its cell. Very cool indeed.IMG_0581




 

all pollinators

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I attended a wonderful workshop yesterday given by artist Lori Weidenhammer. Lori’s workshops are part of the CULTIVATE exhibition at the Roundhouse.

Lori has been researching honeybees and native pollinators for more than 6 years. She knows about bees, she knows about gardening and plant species. She has an incredible aesthetic sense and a serious commitment to community education. This is the second time I’ve participated in one of Lori’s workshops (cf my post here August 4, 2013 “free fall”). I enjoy learning about the environment from Lori and I enjoy the art making that is an integral component of her workshops. Yesterday we made handmade paper into which we embedded flower petals and seeds. The paper will be made into little cards that can be given away as gifts. They are beautiful on their own.  More importantly though, the embedded seeds can be planted in the garden–a small encouragement to help our native pollinators!

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Lori spoke about the need for evidence on the relationship of honeybees, our native pollinators and the availability of forage. How much forage do honeybees need? Is there aggressive competition between honeybees and other pollinators? Are we favoring honeybees to the detriment of solitary bees and other native pollinators that are also in serious trouble? Should honeybees be treated like pigs and chickens, ie. food sources, or should bees have a different status?  Important questions.

opening night

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What a great evening it was! My thanks are due to the Roundhouse Community Center and especially to the  Arts Progammer and Curator, (and dear friend, gifted artist and educator) Cyndy Chwelos for her dedication and support of the arts, and her willingness to explore varied artistic practices.  I’m so glad that Cyndy included me in this exhibition! Thank you Cyndy for this opportunity. It takes a great deal of hard work and time to put together an interesting and engaging exhibition, especially one that includes so many artists and different artistic forms. From the initial stages of coming up with ideas for an exhibition, to seeking out artists, to making numerous studio visits, to writing plans, contracts; organizing workshops, making bookings, arranging for advertising, sorting out technical issues involved with installation, preparing for the opening night, overseeing the exhibition during the time the gallery is open, dealing with problems and issues over and over again; then taking care of de-installation — the amount of work it takes is immense, the orchestration complex. And what I see (as a participating artist) and what visitors to the gallery and workshops see, are the finished products–the beautiful exhibits, the smoothly running workshops, the buzzing opening nights.  We see none of the hard work that has gone into preparing an exhibition like this. So Cyndy, a big, full “Brava!” to you. (If however, you were to ask Cyndy about this, she would say that this is her passion, her work, her practice now!)

I also wish to add that without my friend, (eminent artist and art educator), Elizabeth MacKenzie, I would have been too afraid to participate with my bee project. Elizabeth is very generous with her time and her thoughtful insights are much appreciated. Thank you Elizabeth!

I want to thank the 4 young performers from UBC and Cap College who took up my invitation to interpret a 17th century madrigal for this opening night. The piece was written by the polymath, Charles Butler.  Butler was one of the first persons to recognize that the Queen bee was in fact female–and not male (the accepted patriarchal notion of the day). Butler wrote a book on bees and beekeeping called the “The Feminine Monarchie,” and for the 1623 edition, he added this madrigal which he himself composed to the glory of the Queen bee.

upcoming exhibition

RH13_Cultivate_eflyerI have the privilege of being part of an upcoming exhibition on environmental art at the Roundhouse Community Center Gallery in Vancouver. My bees will be there! Well, not all 50,000, but the 17,000 (or so) that I’ve completed to date. I am very excited about the show, about having the opportunity to exhibit this work in progress and about sharing the space with so many wonderful artists and artistic practices.  I’ll be spending these final 2 weeks before the installation joining the image sections together and working out the logistics of display.

14, 440 or so

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.

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in free fall 2

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.

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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.

free fall

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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.

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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.

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