Sorting through piles and piles of old work, more precisely the cast off sheets of imagery on gampi from the large bee-themed work from 2015, I started to play with the materials; exploring, in a sketchbook, the idea of collections, of possessing nature. Specimens, both botanical and entomological, are instrinsic parts of my new work, and I am reflecting upon my own need to see nature as a collectible entity.
This past week I have been looking back, returning to and re-encountering work that last year I had packed and stored, tucked away from visibility and memory. This image below is part of a much larger project on bees called “not by chance alone,” which was exhibited at the RAG in the fall of 2015. After the show came down, I started to rework parts of the project, turning the work’s initial impetus and focus away from honeybees, and solely towards native bees and pollinators. Although native bees were already a large part of the original project, I wanted to reconfigure the content with native pollinators as the dominant thematic.
I extracted this section from the motifs of the big project–it represents an interpretation and conflagration of several mythical figures: she is Flora, Persephone, Cloris,and Melissa. Metaphorically, she is spring, abundance, fecundity and renewal. I based her face upon Botticelli’s Primavera.
“And April in your face,” relief printing on gampi, beeswax, ink, graphite., collage. 12’x13′. 2015-2017 jasna guy
She is composed entirely of tiny bee imprints created on 45 sheets of translucent gampi paper. Each individual sheet is 18×24,” making the completed work, 12’x13′. The warm tone of the paper is enhanced by dipping the sheets into melted, unrefined beeswax.
The text which surrounds her, celebrates the arrival of springtime. It is taken from a beautiful Italian madrigal, for 5 voices, called “Ride la Primavera,” . The first line is usually translated as “Spring is smiling,” although ridere in contemporary Italian means to laugh. But hey, the language gurus know their Renaissance stuff! The music was written by Heinrich Schütz in 1611; lyrics by Giambattista Marino.
A rough translation of the madrigal here:
“Spring is smiling, for beautiful Clori is returning, Listen to the little swallow, look at the grasses and the flowers, But you Clori, more lovely in this new season, Keep old winter, for your heart is girded by eternal ice. Will you, cruel Nymph, for kindness, hold the sun in your eyes, And April in your face?”
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.
One of the first little flowers to bloom in the spring is the delicate snowy-white galanthus nivalus, appropriately called, “snowdrop.”
You can see the bright yellow-orange pollen dusting the inner surface of the petals in this close-up. Peter Lindtner, in his book, Garden Plants for Honey Bees (2014), ranks the snowdrop as a good source of pollen (3 stars out of 5), and a fair source of nectar (2 stars). Haven’t seen any bees yet at my little clumps of galanthus, but then I’m not standing guard all the time.
Galanthus has medicinal uses (according to the Kew Botanical Gardens website) One of the chemicals it contains is called galantamine, and it’s used to treat moderate memory impairments. Apparently snowdrops and their bulbs are poisonous to humans and can cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten in quantity. Well, I will leave the pollen to the bees and the bulbs to the squirrels. They made short work of my bulbs last fall. Basically they waited until I had finished planting and then gleefully dug them up again.
My interpretation of the snowdrop and its pollen:
24″ x 36″. Graphite and encaustic on mylar. I am using Dorothy Hodges’ pollen load color swatch for snowdrops (Pollen Loads of the Honeybee). As she has only one color recorded, I also added the pollen color in Kirk’s book (A Colour Guide to Pollen Loads of the Honeybee, IBRA, 2006), and I am using my own approximation of the anther colors from the snowdrops I collected in my garden.
Close-up of the encaustic work on Galanthus nivalus.
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.
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.
I 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.
Working with stamps and linocuts is very addictive – repetition, the basis of the process, allows for large areas to be produced within a relatively (that’s relatively) short space of time (compared to hand drawing, of course). I’m up to 9,000 bees to date and counting!
At the same time, I can cut new stamps as the muse strikes me, thus maintaining some of the individuality inherent in hand drawing. The repetition involved in creating the patterns contributes to the unity of the total piece, but further, each act of stamping or printing produces a unique imprint – the pressure applied to the paper, the amount of ink on the stamp and even accidental movements and slips of the hand create a variation in each print. From clear impressions to strange blobs, I never quite know what I’m going to get!
After almost a year, I am back to working on the bees again. (cf post from August 5,2012) A few months ago, a friend of mine, artist Elizabeth MacKenzie came for a studio visit. I showed her my wax bee drawings from last summer and said that I wanted to continue working on the bees, but that I had not yet found the form and the media that suited my purposes. My problem was to do with how I was approaching the bees – tiny little individual drawings that took a great deal of time (basically it would take me about 10 years working everyday – to complete my appointed task of drawing a colony of 40,000-50,000 individual bees). My subsequent attempts at creating groupings, swarms, etc. with more stylized shapes did not satisfy me at all. A bust! ( cf post Aug. 9 &15, 2012).
Elizabeth said that we understand bees not as individuals but rather as a very large mass, a community that has little or no differentiation. And she was right! She suggested I look to the lino cuts of Nancy Spero for inspiration. This I did, and yes, I found my path!
Lino cuts and stamps give me the pleasure of actually drawing bees, but at the same time, it is easier to create vast numbers of multiples. And further, each act of stamping creates a variation in the image – the amount of ink and the pressure applied add to the differences between each impression.