In memory of a cherished friend and mentor, Cheryl Mezsaros. The force of time, almost ten years have passed.
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?
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.
Recently I attended a native bee identification workshop at Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island given by the wonderful entomologist and bee specialist, Lincoln Best. (Instagram: @beesofcanada). Just close by our classroom, there were gardens, hedges and some wild areas. In the wild part, there was a small bush of Lesser Burdock–a new plant to me–which my bee-buddy, Lori (Madame Beespeaker) said was Burdock. Sadly, Burdock is an invasive plant, but that negative aspect notwithstanding, Burdock is very generous in the pollen and nectar it offers its visitors, and that plant was buzzing with activity.
Every day of our workshop was a fantastic learning experience, but if I had to choose one experience only, I think it would be the delight, awe, sadness and beauty in the intense observation and exploration of a tiny black bee, a Dianthidium species, and the life and death that I witnessed on one of its floral resources, this very same Burdock, Arctium minus.
Note the frayed edges of this little bee’s wing. She must have been working very hard provisioning and building her nest. Bees in your Backyard states that Dianthidium collect various materials for their nests, including pebbles, soil and resin, and that it might take up to 1000 trips for a female to build, provision and conceal one nest. No wonder her wings are in tatters!
The females do not lose their attractiveness to males after mating, rather, the male continues to pursue the female because he wants to be the last male to mate with her before she lays an egg, to increase the likelihood that his genes will get passed on to the next generation.
Working on the next generation: The female just goes on with her foraging and nest building after her encounters with the male. Note in the photo above, the female has very light-coloured pollen on her head, probably the pollen from these disc florets she was foraging on before the male accosted her. Dianthidium belong to the Megachilidae family of bees, which means that the female carries her load of collected pollen on special hairs under her belly.
Lori and I did not manage to find any of the Dianthidium nests, sadly. That would have been fantastic!
And finally, the same plant that offers food and a mating-bed also brings death with it! The cycle of life.
Part of the thrilling process of learning about native pollinators and their relationship to flowers is moving beyond my immediate surroundings and exploring environments that are further afield. One of my most favorite parts of this province is the Okanagan-Similkamen region with its fragrant desert hillsides, the Ponderosa Pine forests, the orchards and of course, the wineries. But even getting there is a rich experience as roadsides are often full of wildflowers that color the dusty banks with splotches of red, blue, purple and yellow and white. Some of those colors come from native plants, like the lupins, yarrow and Indian Paint brush, but sadly, some also come from invasive species like some thistles and knapweeds, Dalmation toadflax, sulphur cinquefoil and oxeye daisies.
Sometimes a blossom that I am studying has so many astounding structures that taking it apart and understanding its beautiful components becomes a total obsession for days. And so it is with this little native wildflower, Menzies larkspur, Delphinium menziesii, from the family Ranunculaceae. It produces nectar in its amazing little nectar spurs, and sheds pale creamy pollen from its numerous anthers.
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.
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?”
A print of an enlarged dissection of a Cranesbill Geranium blossom. One of the tricky aspects of printing on this thin gampi paper is that the printer does not like it, and the inkheads of the printer tend to clog and splotch, often resulting in a totally messed up and unusable print. You can see the bottom edge of the image has black spotches.
Close up detail of the bottom left section of the larger print (above). I’ve tried to rescue the print by creating little drawings around the ink splotches. Not sure if this is successful, but I am going to use the image anyway as evidence of this inevitable part of the printing 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).
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.
Just returned from a fantastic week of bees and flowers and study and wine touring in the stunning interior of B.C. What an enriching experience it was to peer at bees in the lab, to learn more about our native bee species and then to go out into the field (literally) amidst the flowers that are the nutritional resources for the bees. (Ahem, the wine touring was not part of the course).
Our native bee ID course was led by super-star bee expert, Lincoln Best. We were at Thompson River University in sunny Kamloops; hosted by the Master Gardener’s Association and organized by master gardener and artist, Elaine Sedgmen.
I must say that one of the funniest highlights of our course was watching our fearless instructor, Lincoln Best, demonstrate how to “tumble dry” bees in preparation for pinning. Fluffing up wet bee fuzz is hard work! And listening to him describe how he had to shave the hair off a tiny bee’s face in order to find those oh-so-important identifiers, the “subantennal sutures,” was hilarious! Yup, that must have been one tiny razor!
Just a few of the stars I had the pleasure of photographing: