drawing from the herbarium

I have been collecting botanical specimens for some time now. The idea of ‘collection’ as a form of knowledge is of interest to me. What happens when one attempts to recreate nature by bringing as many objects as possible into one space? How can renmants and fragmentary things represent the whole or the real?

 

All in the family: 2 cherries, a plum, a pear and a quince

As March progressed and passed, and April followed–our city in full bloom with the flowers of thousands of ornamental trees– already tiny white and pink petals swirl in the wind and gather in the gutters–still a delight.

I’ve selected a few samples from those multitudes of glamorous, ephemeral blooms to peer at and study: 2 cherries, an ornamental plum, a pear (I believe) and a Japanese flowering quince. These plants all belong to the Rosaceae family which has more than 3,000 species under its wing, including representatives from some of our favorite food crops, like pears, apples, peaches, almonds and strawberries.

Kirk & Howes in their book, Plants for Bees, state that cherry is considered second only to apple trees as a nectar producer, and as such, is an important food resource for pollinators. The authors are, of course, speaking of the fruit-producing orchard trees. However, they state that even the ornamental trees are of similar value as bee plants, both for their nectar and for pollen.

Ornamental-cherry

Ornamental cherry. This particular cherry has a delicious sweet nectar in the cup of each blossom. The tiny drops taste almost of cherry liqueur. Quite amazing!

 

This sample below is from a wild cherry from my neighborhood. The leaves of the cherry have tiny red extra-floral nectaries on their stems that look like little bugs at first glance, but they are not, and their purpose has to do with defense against the plant’s enemies, herbivores. Apparently this sweet substance attracts ants, and they in turn, protect the plant from other insects in return for the sweet payment. An interesting symbiotic relationship!

cherry

Wild cherry (Prunus avium) The leaves have tiny extra-floral nectaries on the petioles.

 

The blossoms of this tree are very fragrant. I think it’s a plum tree – the leaves are coppery purple, and there are no horizontal lines on the trunk, like cherry trees have.  Kirk and Howes state that bumblebees, honey bees and mason bees gather the plum’s nectar and pollen.

plum

Very fragrant blossoms. Ornamental plum, I think!

The white blossoms of this tree are pungent indeed, and not favorably. Quite smelly actually. I think this might be a Pyrus calleryana? The anthers are a beautiful magenta/purple, but as they mature and dehisce their pale golden pollen, the anthers become dark little ragged ends.

pear-blossoms

Strong smell, described by one author as akin to rotting fish, but I didn’t find it quite that obnoxious.

 

Gorgeous red/salmon tones of Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica). Apparently bumblebees, honey bees and early solitary bees harvest pollen and some nectar from this shrub.

quince-blossoms

Amazing number of stamens: 40-60 stamens in each flower, and 5 partially fused styles with 5 stigmas.

 

 

 

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

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.

I'd-like-to-do-this-justice-copy

what then 3

I’ve been reading Nancy’s Being Singular Plural these past weeks and was struck by his argument for understanding ourselves as beings together, always beingsthat before anything else, before individuality, before being in the world, there is plurality. The very essence of existence is plurality. There is no such thing as one, alone, existing in the world, in any form of life.  I am of course, reducing Nancy’s complex ideas of relationality and ontology into a form that I can grasp, so my apologies here, but, this fundamental concept of our existence gets to the very ground of relationships. We view ourselves as separate individuals, and so we are, but at the same time, we are inextricably bound to one another through the very fact that life is always already together, and without that, there would be nothing, no world, no life.  We try so hard to remain separate, I and you, we and they, one and others, my country, your religion, their class, her gender, his appearance, etc., the list is long. And at the same time, we try to negotiate togetherness within the perceived separations. A tricky balance.

What then

I’ve been working on a new series recently. It’s going through various permutations, so basically I am at the exploration stage. Here are 4 images from the first permutation. Still rose petals, still Nancy texts, but dark petals arranged in doubles. They remind me of leaky lungs. (The petals have always alluded to body parts). The Nancy text fragments speak about existence and time – well, to me they do.

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.

stuck to the tongue

I’m putting together and arranging images from my most recent drawings. Still working with fragments of text from Jean-Luc Nancy, stuck as they are in my imagination, I begin with one image and then build around it, working on a narrative and expanding the initial  text-idea. I’m borrowing from my Withdrawn:scribing Nancy series, from the Greek images, and from the even earlier drawings of birds. What is this? Drawing as a daily process and an eclectic search for form.

until

How much of one’s everyday life remains silent, that time-in-between?

I’ve changed the scale of these new drawings. I like the way that working on larger images engages the body differently, not only in the process of working, but also later in the viewing. Text fragments borrowed from Nancy are still here in these drawings. His words continue to engage me, and I find that as I continue to read, new ideas from outside, from other authors, attach themselves. But, I always feel that I have to go further, that until I finish this book, or that book, I won’t really have understood anything. And so it is with drawing, until…