shadowed busy heart

The exhibition closed today. After all the bustle and excitement of hanging work, of opening night and then days of visitors–nothing now but whiteness of empty walls. It was wonderful to share this space with the other artists, from Sharon Kallis and her beautiful bio-netting installation; to Robin Ripley and the ethereal maple seeds and pennies; to Holly Schmidt’s elegant living room of duck weed, and Joy Witzche’s woven masterworks–these are but a few of the varied and engaging works here that in one way or the other, addressed contemporary issues on the environment.

I don’t have photographs of all the installations in this exhibition, but here is a small selection:

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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.

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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bee-ing progress

The project of mapping a bee colony of 40,000 or so bees is progressing, and at this point, I’m at about 6,000 bees! So far, the piece is 9′ x 12′. The final completed piece will be about 8 times this size. I have a ways to go!

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I am including the predators and pests that bees encounter in nature – from wax moths that destroy combs, to bee diseases like Varroa mites, to mice, wasps, skunks, birds, ants, bears, and of course, humans. We are, arguably, the bees’ worst enemies, even though we consider ourselves indispensible to the “domesticed” honey bee. We destroy the delicately balanced biodiversity of our planet. And, instead create food production practices based on megalithic monocultures that rely heavily on artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides. Urbanization, concrete and manicured lawns take the place of fields and meadows.  All of our pollinators are in trouble, not just the honey bees.

I saw two very interesting documentaries recently – “Queen of the Sun”, and “Vanishing of the Bees.”  Both films investigate the plight of the honey bee from a slightly different perspective. Both are informative and engaging to watch!

self as cento

Cento: a patchwork, a poem created entirely from lines quoted from other poets.

The other day in conversation with a group of women friends, I brought up the question of identity and the role that appropriation plays in the construction of self. My view was that we quite literally produce an every-changing sense of self through and in the work of others (books, the arts, conversation, etc.). In my case, I feel there is nothing of my own in this ‘self’, (ie. original) but that all of it, all of it comes from others. To me this is clear from the way I create my drawings. They are quite literally drawn from the writing of other authors and the image making of previous artists. That is, the production of self, both individual and shared, is a becoming, through and with interactions with others – choosing, acting, living—composing a life within a social context, an inextricably social context. Even if most of my work is produced in isolation, its source is always dialogic.

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passage of time

My friend, Cyndy Chwelos photographed the inscribed rose petal maple leaf a week after it was made, and sent me the photograph, very kindly allowing me to post it here. It’s interesting to see the transition as the rose petals shrivel, get blown away by the wind,  and the stems dry out. That’s the pleasure of ephemeral projects, the cycle of return continues on and their being slowly becomes memory.

Canada Day!

The festivities at Sunset Community Centre were fantastic, and despite the iffy weather, the day was very well attended. From face painting, to jungle gyms, to performances, to food, to a fantastic mapping project by “Something Collective,” there was something fun to do and see for everyone in the family.

Our ephemeral maple leaf project went very well. We had lots of interested participants, and it was a pleasure to engage our visitors in this drawing project.The tiny drawings and messages are absolutely stunning! I’m posting a few of rose petals here and some images of our participants working intently on their designs.

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By the end of the day, our fantastic assistants, Bal and Gourvir, had placed well over a thousand inscribed rose petals into our giant maple leaf (10′ x 10′ without the stem).

Many thanks go to the incredible Arts and Culture Programmer, Cyndy Chwelos for her unfailing support and amazing willingness to try different things. Thanks are due also to my partner, Victor Guy for being so helpful and welcoming to everyone who passed by our tables. Thanks also to our young volunteers for giving their time. And last of all, thank you to everyone of our participants who helped in creating this maple leaf.