where are we headed?

Toxic-flowers-cartoon

Recently I came upon this cartoon in the Globe & Mail; I laughed at the cleverness of the illustration but at the same time I was struck by its sad truth. The Globe has had a rush of articles this summer on the neonicotinoid pesticide debate and its effects of bees. (I found 7 articles to date, but there might be more; and I have not checked other papers).  Some of the articles came from the Business section of the newpaper, presumably because pesticide restrictions would hurt the profits of the big pharmaceutical companies that produce the chemicals. The companies deflect the argument by claiming that restricting the use of “neonics” (short form of the neonicotinoids) would endanger food production. Big agricultural growers are also claiming that they need the pesticides in order to maintain food production, and they further claim that if they didn’t have neonics, they would have to return to the use of the older and more toxic organo-phosphate pesticides. What a abysmal impasse for the environment.

The flurry of arguments and counter-arguments resulted from the request from concerned Ontario environmentalists, scientists and bee-keepers for a moratorium on the use of neonics. These debates are predominently about honeybees, but if managed honey-bees are in danger, then native bees suffer too. Pesticides are not choosy about their victims, sadly.

Where are we going?

tattered, torn

Observing the bees that visit my garden is such a thrilling experience – noting the various foragers that alight on blossoms with such concentration and determined focus, learning about the floral preferences each species of bee has, and watching the bees zoom away loaded with pollen and drunk with nectar enthralls me!

The other day, I came upon a new and intriguing sight – two bees, one a bumble bee and the other, a honeybee, both with tattered wings. I had read that bees work and work until they literally die from exhaustion and that one can see on the bee’s body evidence of wear-and-tear. I came upon this bumblebee in the centre of a blossom. I thought she was taking 40 winks, so I gingerly picked her up – but alas, that was not the case. The honeybee on the right was still actively foraging on Culver’s Root when I noticed her, but she too had torn and tattered wings. How many days did she have left of her short little life?

tattered-wings

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




 

beauties

One of the most fascinating aspects of my work on bees is that I have become much more aware of the kinds of bees and other insects that appear in my garden. I’m on the lookout all the time and dash about with my camera in the hopes of capturing the little creatures at work. I must add that this awareness is also thanks to Madame Beespeaker, Lori Weidenhammer, who has widened my interests immensely with her passion for plants, for pollinators and for helping people understand the importance of maintaining and enhancing our natural environment.

Here’s a busy honeybee, sunk deep in my pitiful-looking hellebore, searching for nectar.

Honey-bee-on-Hellebore

 

What a beauty! An orange-rumped (?) bumblebee queen digging in my pink pieris blossoms.

Orange-Rumped-Bumblebee-queen-on-pink-pieris-blooms

 

Another bumblebee queen on my white pieris.

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Look at the color of the pollen this lovely honeybee is carrying on her back legs. She’s been foraging on my Buttercup Winter Hazel.

Honeybee-with-yellow-pollen

progress

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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.

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!

paper-seeds

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.

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.

swallow

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.