I’m reading a book called Buzz: urban beekeeping and the power of the bee, by Lisa Moore and Mary Kosut (2013). The authors read the practices of beekeeping through a sociological lens, and call their study an “api-ethnography.” Yes, they have a sense of humour–bees can’t be interviewed or participate in the same way that human research subjects can, but the authors created their own research strategies to successfully manoeuver through the social territory of the honeybee.
One major area of exploration for the authors is our tendency to anthropomorphize honeybees–they are “cute and fuzzy” and lend themselves to cartoon-like renditions rather easily. These characterizations make bees less threatening and more accessible, but we also load heavier baggage onto bees: “Bees are described as industrious (“busy as a bee”), helpful, driven, purposeful, cooperative and smart.” (p.126) Certainly these attributions reflect our cultural expectations and values, and perhaps tell us more about ourselves than they really do about bees. When I read the above passage, I recalled a similar description in Charles Butler’s book of 1609, The Feminine Monarchie. Last year, I used Butler’s bee proverbs in an art piece; I was so taken by his charming collection of phrases. Interestingly, Butler’s descriptions of bees are: profitable, laborious and loyal, swift, bold, cunning…” We haven’t changed that much apparently since the 1600’s in our relationship to bees, or at the very least, in our descriptions of them.
A visit to the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens recently proved to be a real treat–my first honeybee sighting of 2015! The intrepid bees ventured out between downpours in search of nectar and pollen. This busy little worker was in the process of loading light yellow pollen onto her hind legs from a hybrid honeysuckle bush (lonicera purpursii).
In a different part of the Gardens, the scent of Sweet Box (Sarcococca) blossoms was intoxicating. Thought there’d be lots of bees there, but the skies darkened, the air became chilly as the sun disappeared behind the dense grey clouds. No bees, sadly.
I photographed my own Sarcococca ruscifolia plant, a small one, at home. No consolation for the disappointment at the Gardens, but a useful reference and resource for drawing, nontheless. Here’s a close-up of the male flowers spilling creamy pollen over the leaves.
The tiny amount of pollen provided me with the impetus to record this anther pollen color in a drawing, as part of my self-appointed work to explore and learn more about the plants that bees love. Dorothy Hodges (Pollen Loads of the Honeybee) lists 20 very early blooming plants and trees, but Sarcococca is not part of her record. So, although I could not use Hodges as a guide here, I started the pollen work with the Sarcococca.
Detail of pollen drawing in encaustic
Sarcococca ruscifolia 24″x 36″ graphite, soft pastel, encaustic on mylar
I haven’t been very diligent in posting updates on the progress of my big project on bees, (entitled “not by chance alone”) for the most part because it is difficult to share the endless bouts of self-doubt, but also because the documentation that I have been doing (consistently) has produced iffy photos often taken under poor lighting conditions. Stitching together images of varying exposures is tedious.
.A couple of months ago, I decided that I really needed to lay the entire project out to see how the parts fit together and to give me a better idea how to proceed towards completion. It would be the first time I would see the entire project together.
My friend, the artist Elizabeth MacKenzie, helped me with the huge undertaking of putting together the 300 or so puzzle-like sheets that I had completed. I got permission to use the gym at my partner’s school (the administration and staff were very kind to allow me the freedom to do this). Sitting on the bleachers and working from a master diagram, Elizabeth would yell out the number and letter code of each sheet and give me directions where to lay a particular section. Here’s s shot of the “installation’ – it really does help to show the scale of the work.
Elizabeth was also the official photographer for this session, so I am very grateful to her for the images, her GPS and puzzle-making skills (:-) and the wealth of knowledge and experience in art-making which she so generously shares with me!
We still weren’t able to get the complete piece in one shot without massive distortion, so here are sections of the work: this one is the left side.
Last Saturday was a super drawing day in Vancouver. Thank you to the DrawDown organizers, to Cyndy Chwelos, Gary Cho, and the Vancouver Parks Board for creating this event; to my student volunteers who helped to facilitate the art making at Creekside Community Centre, and most of all, to the wonderful, talented participants who created stunning designs for the mandala!
Even the weather cooperated (well, somewhat). We had some fantastic visitors to the workshop – some very young participants indeed, everyone happy to try out the felts and stamps. There were bees and printing ink and flowers on the drawing paper, but also on hands and clothes and other places! Hey, whoever said you have to stick to paper only, eh?
The designs were very beautiful and each one unique!
We almost managed to finish the entire 40-part mandala, just short a few pieces, but with the sign created by my student volunteers in place, the forager mandala looks super!
I haven’t been consistent in posting my progress on the large bee project, “not by chance alone.” This is a new section that I have been working on recently. It incorporates one of the large “Flora/Melissa” images.
And some close-ups of the smaller figures. Final image, the paint-covered stamps piled up and ready for washing.
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!
We even got to witness a new drone bee emerge out of its cell. Very cool indeed.
I’m back to the bees, making a little progress daily, but running out of room quite literally. Here’s a new section that I’ve almost completed; it’s close to 24′ long, and of course, I can only put it together virtually since my studio wall is 12′. I’ve added a figure (about my height) to give an impression of the scale.
I found a beautiful book of poetry by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, called The Bees. Here’s one poem from that wonderful book. (I stole a phrase from this poem for my previous blog post, “shadowed busy heart.”)