P r e t t y : u s e f u l

Penticton Art Gallery, Penticton, B.C.  July 5th-September 15, 2019

I have the great pleasure of having an exhibition at the Penticton Art Gallery with my friend and fellow bee-enthusiast-entomologist, Lincoln Best.

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Botanical images, graphite drawing of lomatium, and “Summer” display of bees and herbarium specimens.

The title of the exhibition, “Pretty:useful”, hints at the language that we use to talk about plants, and I ask how that use of language reflects our relationship to the plants themselves?

Beautiful, useful, native, exotic, introduced, edible, nutritious, medicinal, noxious, aggressive, lucrative, rare, productive, keystone, endemic, passive, decorative, weedy, extirpated, healing, messy, restored, ornamental…

I question our relationship to plants, and wonder if we can move beyond seeing them as objects for our own use, to a less privileged, less-human-centered perspective to one where we can appreciate plants for themselves, with no question of value or worth to us? As Robert Harrison writes in his book, Gardens. An Essay on the Human Condition: 

We historically have lived as if the earth was given for us

…a privileged environment…with no sense of responsibilities towards its care. We saw ourselves as consumers and receivers.

 

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Yarrow, Twin Flower and a Larkspur seed sit next to Small-Flowered Blue Eyed Mary rendered in graphite

Two interconnected projects are presented in this exhibition– a large-scale installation of photographic images of closely observed native flora, printed on paper and dipped in melted beeswax.

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Walking onion. Archival inkjet print, melted beeswax

 

And as a counterpoint, over 200 little pollen colour drawings, rendered in powdery, soft pastel.

Pollen-wall

A wall of pollen

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Details of Pollen samples

 

To this, taxonomist Lincoln Best, adds a third thread, a selection of entomological specimens, collected from the myriad diversity of native bees that inhabit this unique region of our province, the southern interior.

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Lincoln Best’s “Spring”: herbarium specimens and bees from the early season.

The exquisitely mounted native bees, the pollen studies and the botanical images, represent a mere fragment of the diversity of the native flora and fauna found in the Southern Okanagan Valley, but scientist and artist hope that this limited representation will inspire viewers to explore the wonders to be found in our beautiful, but diminishing natural environments.

 

 

 

bee-ing (a)part

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Just last week, the Richmond Art Gallery held the final piece of public programming related to the present exhibition. A panel discussion, entitled  Bee-ing Part of the Solution, was the centerpiece of the event for me.

Highlights: 

Our high-powered bee expert, Dr. Elizabeth Elle from Simon Fraser University gave an engaging and informative presentation on native pollinators.  Her advice, “Plant Flowers” offered the audience an easy and practical way to help all pollinators. Even pots of pollinator-friendly plants on the front porch or deck are helpful, she stated emphatically and showed us a slide of her small but blossom-packed front garden!

Insight: Dr. Elle suggested that we do not have to focus primarily on native species of plants, but to be wary of invasive species–these plants (however helpful they seem to be, like Himalayan blackberry), eventually create a monoculture, crowding out other species of plants. And of course, monocultures are part of our larger agricultural and environmental problem.

Whenever I think of planting flowers, I think of Brian Campbell – garden expert par excellence and bee teacher! Brian’s presentations are always interesting. He has a gentle way of talking, always full of seriousness and humour at the same time; and I invariably want to stop and to listen.

Insight: Brian gave a considered response to a question from one of the audience members, Lori Weidenhammer. She wanted to know how we might switch our intensive focus on “saving the bees” away from the honeybee and onto other pollinators without upsetting beekeepers. Brian said that historically we have asked far too much of the honeybee, and if she were to be returned her to her rightful place as one player, one part, within the complex web of pollinator diversity, we would be helping not only the honeybee but all pollinators and the environment in general.

Professor Nancy Holmes, (writer, poet and creative writing educator), involved with diverse pollinator projects through UBC, at Okanagan, began her presentation with a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson, and brought the tone of the event around from the realm of science to that of art-making. I am taking the liberty of reproducing this lovely little poem here:

“TO make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, —

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

The revery alone will do

If bees are few.” 

It is the ‘reverie’ which art appeals to, I think. Certainly it is for me. For to create something, whether it be a meadow, a poem, a visual art piece, or a  cleaner environment, we require imagination. This is our singular ability.

I had the privilege of being part of this panel discussion too, and my presentation was related to the artwork I have on display the gallery at the moment: “not by chance alone,” the large bee project; the small Charles Butler piece, “profitable as a bee,” and the “gilded, golden, glad,” pollen tribute to Dorothy Hodges. Brian Campbell has very graciously posted my presentation on the blog portion of his website, (www.thebeeschool.ca) so instead of reprinting it now, I will discuss my ideas on pollinators and the role of art, in future posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

golden, gilded, glad (2)

Yesterday I went to the UBC Farm market to purchase their wonderful vegetables, herbs and flowers as I often do. Yesterday’s super treat was the Honey Extraction and sale by Jenny Ma of Vancouver Honeybees http://www.VANCOUVERHONEYBEES.com.

After the recent articles on pesticides and the dire problems with disappearing bees, it was so refreshing to experience something beautiful and joyful. Jenny uses “top bar hives” for her bees. She brought a demonstration hive for the participants to see; a hive which she actually made herself! She says the top bar hive is the least intrusive method of managing her charges. The bees form the wax comb themselves to the sizes that they naturally need, so the final honeycomb is more freeform in shape than the foundation-based Langstroth hives that are widely used in beekeeping. The bees have to work harder to make their own wax comb, but it is fantastic to see their own architectural creations.

It was great fun watching Jenny go through the extraction process and to bring home jars of honey and pollen still in the comb. The honey is so fragrant, it’s amazing!

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“Golden, gilded, glad (2)” : last year, I posted a poem “Bees” by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, from her book entitled “The Bees”. Couldn’t resist using her work again as title to this post. Here’s an extract of the poem:

Been deep, my poet bees,

in the parts of flowers,

in daffodil, thistle, rose, even

the golden lotus, so glide,

gilded, glad, golden, thus –

 

wise – and know of us:

how your scent pervades

my shadowed, busy heart,

and honey is art.

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




 

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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Inscribed in Memory workshop

Last week I did a workshop at the Roundhouse Community Centre as part of the Memory Festival. We worked with the red rose petals, and participants were asked to inscribe a memory, draw a design of their choice, or use a piece of text from the exhibition as the starting point for their own idea. All the inscribed petals were then placed into a labyrinth made of rose stems and leaves, on the floor of the exhibition hall. It was a fun afternoon with participants of all ages. Some amazing work was created on the petals, including text inscribed in various languages.  I heard some wonderful stories and memories too!  Here’s a sampling of the beautifully inscribed petals.