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.

 

 

 

process

I’ve been working on my new series for a long time now, and I realize that I haven’t documented the process much, or at all. So, here’s the first installment.

This is one of the walls of my studio space–with images waiting, drying, some on the floor and others hung up.  I print my own work on a lovely, slightly translucent gampi paper. The process is time-consuming because the thin gampi won’t go through the printer on its own; it has to be lightly and temporarily glued onto another surface. Once printed, the image is immediately and gingerly removed from the backing. If I’ve added too much spray adhesive, the paper tears when I try to remove it, so that becomes a lost print! The good prints are left to dry for several days. The pigments are archival quality and killer expensive, but at least I am bound only by the limits of my printer’s dimensions (and my credit card limit for that month).

studio wall with prints hung up to dry

studio wall with prints hung up to dry

The small colored rectangles you see in the image are pollen color samples. They are done on little wooden panels and painted with acrylic. Some will be dipped in beeswax, others finished with an acrylic resin.

a beeessential plant

I’m loving the pollen collecting and because the season is short and there are a lot of flowers in bloom almost at the same time, my days quite literally fly by.  250,000 flowering plant species on this planet, and with only about 150 samples of pollen collected to date, that’s a miniscule dent in the grander scheme of pollen, eh? In all earnestness, my goal is not the 250,000, but the exploration of the flowers that are/might be useful forage resources for our native bee species.

Basically, each flower/plant requires some research – information about its flowering period, what pollinators visit, the structure of the flower; its pollen grain form and color; the food resources the plant offers: pollen, nectar, floral oils, wax, nest-building material etc.; and what the experts say about the plant.

Here’s a page of rough sketches and info. on Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). I learn something new with each plant that I collect and dissect. Sneezeweed is in the Aster family. The blossom is actually composed of two kinds of  flowers called florets: the larger, outer ring of flowers, called ray florets, and the inner head, composed of fertile, bisexual (containing both male and female parts) disc florets The pollen grain (bottom right of page) is very cool – it’s covered in spikes, like a burred seed pod, and perhaps the spikes help the pollen to stick to the body of a pollinator, just like a spiky seed does?

Sneezeweed offers both pollen and nectar to visiting bees, and it also provides a good landing platform for pollinators to stand on as they work their way through the numerous, closely packed tiny disc florets. Lori Weidenhammer, in her new book, Victory Gardens for Bees, considers it a bee-garden essential plant not only because it offers good resources for bees during the high season, but more importantly, it is a much-needed pollen and nectar source later on when resources are scarce. A bee-utiful flower with beautiful golden orange pollen!

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I’ll either photograph or scan the flower that I’m working on, as a further means of documentation. Below is one of my new “try-outs” in terms of producing a body of work based upon the flower/pollen research I’m engaged in presently. In this case, I’ve scanned the sneezeweed blossom. I love the way the petals look like wings, or a flouncy skirt. I’ve printed this on a translucent gampi paper, in archival pigment ink. I’ve also added the pollen color in a band, to the bottom of the image. The medium is powdery soft pastel, the same medium I’ve been using to document pollen colors these past 3 years. I like the thinness and delicate quality of the gampi – it feels ephemeral, like the flower that sit on its surface.

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Helenium autumnale, archival pigment ink on gampi. Total dimension: 34″ x 22″ jasna guy 2016

opening last week and culture days this

Vernissage! A great evening at the Richmond Art Gallery with the opening of two exhibitions, Cameron Cartiere’s and mine. We heard a beautiful performance by members of the renowned musica intima ensemble. The music was amazing, such gorgeous voices, and Jacob Gramit’s arrangement of Charles Butler’s madrigal was perfect. A very cool section of the madrigal was the recreation of bee sounds for 4 voices! Thank you Caitlin Beaupre, Melanie Adams, Taka Shimojima and Alvin Carpintero for sharing this evening with us.

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members of musica intima ensemble performing Charles Butler’s madrigal, “The Feminine Monarchie,” new arrangement by Jacob Gramit. Photo by Laurence Trepanier

photo by Laurence Trepanier

photo by Laurence Trepanier

Detail of

Detail of “not by chance alone”. Photo by Scott Massey

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“thistle, rose, gilded, golden, glad: to Dorothy Hodges,” installation of pollen work. Photo by Scott Massey

This weekend, the Richmond Art Gallery and the Richmond Art Centre are presenting two days of Bee culture: Buzzworthy! On Saturday there will be a super variety of fun and interesting workshops for visitors to participate in. Just to mention a few: my bee buddy, Madame BeeSpeaker, Lori Weidenhammer, will be giving visitors tips on how to plant a pollinator garden in their backyard. Don’t miss that one. Lori is amazing! Master bee-keeper and all-around bee and garden expert, Brian Campbell and I will be presenting a pollen-based art-making workshop for visitors of all ages. On Sunday, the RAG is presenting a screening of the superb documentary on bees, “More than honey,” followed by a discussion led by Brian Campbell. (Yes, he gets around!).

perhaps a why

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This summer has been a busy one–completing the large bee project, (I feel like I should say this in capital letters and with arms waving); I have the great privilege of being part of an exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery next month. So there are many things I have neglected in order to focus completely on preparations for this upcoming show.

But I’ve also been peering very closely at little blurs of bees in my immediate neighborhood. This project is with the Environmental Youth Alliance and the Citizen Science Bee Survey (which has been a fantastic experience). I’m learning more and more about our native bee species every day, and loving every minute of it. This project too, is soon coming to an end.

And I’ve been invading the private parts of wonderous flowers, anxiously looking for that lovely dust, pollen; and seeking out nectar-and-pollen rich bee plants with my friend and bee-master, Lori Weidenhammer. (And now that the flowering season is winding down, I realize just how little pollen I’ve managed to collect–ha, the work will have to wait for next spring). I’d make a shameful bee.

I know that many artists are able to reflect upon their work while in the process of working, (some are highly articulate) and yes, I have scribbled notes and scratched drawings in sketchbooks and in various other places, but to stop, to step back, and to consider what this bee project has really been for me these past 3 years is another matter altogether. It requires a sense of detachment which I do not have at the moment. Perhaps I will start with this then, the crux of the matter–that art is not detached–not from life, not from our relationships, not from our modes of being, of thinking and of doing.I am like the Harvester in the image above (detail from my bee project, not by chance alone). In the midst of activity, every encounter, (tiny or substantial) brushes against me, and I with it; and it leaves its mark.This is existence, this is art for me, not autonomous, but deeply relational (even though I do so much of my work alone). I recall Cheryl Meszaros, a beloved teacher and mentor, defining the work of the artist– she said the artist pulls, withdraws something from the social imaginary, transforms it, allows us to see it in a new way, and then puts it back into that imaginary. Each perspective adding to the ones already there. Cheryl was doubtless quoting the work of a philosopher, for she loved philosophy. My encounters with Cheryl are endless, despite her passing; her work has affected me deeply.

a family resemblance

I’ve been collecting pollen from lupin and wisteria; both have similar flowers–typical of the pea family–blossoms with wings, a banner petal and a keel! Very cool. It seems that not every bee can readily access the special floral shape, but bumblebees can. They’ve got enough size and heft to pry their way into the bloom’s center.

Lupin-close-up

Intense orange pollen from this species of lupin.

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This leaf-cutter bee had no problems getting into blossoms of my Japanese white wisteria. She’s been foraging on the flowers right along with the bumblebees.

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The pollen from the wisteria anthers–a lovely pale grey-brown.

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The exquisitely shaped and detailed wisteria blossom. The tip of the keel is lavender and the banner spot is almost a lime green.

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Bluebells

Bluebells-comp Bluebells have appeared in my garden faithfully every spring since we first moved into our home. They came gratis. Originally I thought they were the native bluebells famous in English countrysides, but no, my bluebells, and white bluebells and pink bluebells are Spanish hybrids and therefore have no claim to fame. They are beautiful nontheless, and the bees enjoy them too. Apparently, the true English bluebell (Scilla nonscripta)  has creamy colored pollen.  You can see the yellow to creamy-yellow swatches on the bottom left of the image below. The swatches represent the various tones of pollen loads collected from honeybees that have foraged on English bluebells. Garden-Bluebell-with-pollen-colors-copy   The blue-green swatches on the right represent the colors of pollen loads collected from bees that have foraged on Spanish bluebells. Quite a difference! The blue-green dust in the image above is the anther pollen I collected from the Spanish bluebells in my garden. Although the pollen loads from honeybees will always be different in tonality from fresh anther pollen (because honeybees mix nectar or honey with the pollen thus resulting in tonal changes), there is still quite a similarity between the pollen dust and the lightest sample in the swatch.