Chantel Schultz, Denise Flaman, George Glenn, Hanna Yokozawa Farquharson, Jeff Meldrum, Judy McNaughton, Kelly Litzenberger, Last Birds, Melanie Monique Rose, Nicole Charlebois-Rinas, Sylvia Thompson, Tim Moore
curator: Sandee Moore
January 18 – March 4, 2023
What lies between us?
In the case of the artists in this exhibition and their mentor, vast prairie distances lie between them. In the fall of 2019, internationally renowned artist Aganetha Dyck proposed mentoring Saskatchewan artists to create artwork with honeybee collaborators. Although Dyck resides in Winnipeg, she became an artist while living in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Working with gallery contacts in Prince Albert, Swift Current, Estevan and Yorkton, Art Gallery of Regina curator Sandee Moore invited twelve artists and collectives from across the province to learn from Dyck.
Keeping something between us is an idiom for keeping a secret. Although Dyck has a store of knowledge and experience gained from over two decades of creating her artworks with honeybee collaborators, she asserts, "There are no secrets, only surprises."
Honeybees surprised Yorkton-based Kelly Litzenberger with their lavish additions to his LEGO sculptures: a replica of the skateboard shop he once owned and operated and a miniaturized self-portrait with a beehive. A shared affinity for modular construction (LEGO bricks and honeycomb cells) may have inspired the bees' exuberant and excessive building: they repeatedly packed the tiny store with wax and honey and, ignoring the plastic flowers, enshrouded the LEGO figure in honeycomb.
Bees do not construct their golden frills of wax honeycomb according to artists' plans. Human artists must adapt to the confounding constructions and singular apian logic of their other species collaborators.
Artist Tim Moore and beekeeper Louise Yates shared an immediate affinity when Yates pointed out that honeybees (whose social groups are called colonies) are colonizers from Europe. Recognizing the opportunity to address settler culture's commodification of land and a nourishing relationship between honeybees and the local environment, Moore, a Métis artist, began by offering a green sphere to create a world dominated by honeycomb. He also placed a handful of stereotypical, commercially-produced Indigenous souvenirs from the not-so-distant past into the beehive. The bees entombed these harmful reminders of our racist past in honeycomb, partially sealing off these stereotypic depictions and making them less visible than before.
Working independently of the bees, Moore created a complex sculpture called Hive. Made from metal wire sealed with a thick coat of beeswax, the artist studded his ersatz beehive with bottle caps and medallions from souvenir spoons and papered the base with maps. Souvenir spoons and maps trace a renaming procedure to effect the displacement of original inhabitants and legitimize the annexation of these lands. In its shape, Hive recalls the Imperial State Crown. In this case, the pillowy form is crowned not with a jewelled cross but with a problematic, totem pole-shaped bottle opener. "The desecration of cultural and religious symbols," the artist writes, "is a tool colonizers use to trivialize Indigenous peoples and beliefs. They have turned spiritual beliefs into a trinket."
Negotiating interspecies collaboration was the subject of Jeff Meldrum's project; he created a contract that laid out the terms and responsibilities of artist and honeybee collaborators, then placed the document inside a beehive for signing. While the bees marked the signature line with their wax comb, they unexpectedly edited the agreement by building a thick line of wax from margin to margin, effectively crossing out a clause.
While the artists' methods of producing work for Between Us were, for the most part, the same — placing objects within a beehive for honeybees to transform with the addition of their comb — the resulting work is as varied as the artist themselves.
Denise Flaman came into the mentorship and production phase of Between Us as an oil painter but quickly adapted her methods to working with bees. She first made wire sculptures inspired by kitchenware. The network of open spaces between the wires is ideally conceived for the bees' contribution, resulting in such absurd constructions as a wire knife with a blade of soft wax. Next, Flaman embraced pottery, also strongly redolent of the domestic. The bees augmented her ceramic vessels with lobes of wax, like wings, allowing these objects to transcend the practical and soar as artworks.
Human collaborators Judy McNaughton and Nicole Charlebois-Rinas empathetically inhabited the world of bees to create their work. The duo engaged with art making within the confines of the honeybee production facility, producing drawings on the wooden feeder boards that form the top of a beehive. These boards carry an accumulation of marks that tell of human and bee activity over time:
A waxen tube suggests the shape of a larval bee,
A bee-shaped insignia molded by human hands from bee propolis gleams from the darkened lumber,
Splinters evidence the beekeeper's use of a J-hook to pry open the hive,
Everywhere feathered edges of honeycomb started and abandoned dot the surface.
What is common and what is uncommon between us?
It is not just bees' creativity, consciousness and logic that have no human analog. A bee's entire body acts as an ear; likewise, they do not use mouths, throats, and vocal cords to make sounds or manipulate instruments with their limbs but flutter wings over sphericles (holes in the bee's abdomen). The folk music duo of Last Birds recorded and reshaped honeybee songs of food or warning. Last Birds voice their apprehension approaching the hive with vibrating guitar strings. Their song spins a musical tale of reciprocal comfort as hesitancy and alarmed buzzing lapse into harmonic hums of contended industry.
Self-taught textile artist Hanna Yokozawa Farquharson gently communed with bees through her sculptural gifts. Raised among animist Shinto and Buddhist beliefs that resist ranking insects below humans, it is not surprising that the artist experimented with materials like wood, string and sugar, seeking to discover a common language of geometry, colour, scent and taste between humans and bees.
Bees perceive materials in ways inconceivable to humans: for instance, bees will chew up and spit out paper and flowers, while fuzzy items may remind bees of predators like skunks, causing distress.
Artist Melanie Monique Rose encased her offering of felted wool flowers in a glass-fronted frame, rendering it safe for bees. Other oval-shaped frames, suggesting portraits of venerable ancestors, were added to the hive, which the bees inscribed with new images of interspecies kinship. Rose also addressed kinship of material by inviting the bees to embellish a pysanka, an egg resist-dyed with geometric patterns traced in beeswax, with wax designs legible only to themselves.
While Rose recognized bees as kin, other artists took responsibility for instructing and encouraging bees as they would their students. Prince Albert-based artist George Glenn placed his faith in the bees' artistic vision. As he has done for hundreds of human students, including Aganetha Dyck, Glenn sought to inspire bees with his still-lifes composed from thrift store finds. Just as the human reimagines bees as artists, the bees reimagine assemblages of vases, orange crates, mirrors, reproductions of renaissance paintings and tea sets with their fanciful sculpting that turns nature morte into nature vive.
Often, artists transform materials in mysterious ways, seeing potential in broken discards and cheap trash. Artists Sylvia Thompson and Chantel Schultz redeem what has no value by echoing Aganetha Dyck's thrifty reinvention seeking the bees' cooperation to mend and beautify.
Thompson creates human and animal figures from a jumble of clockwork parts. When placed on a tower of beehive boxes, they appear like little steampunk gods on altars to be anointed by the bees with their honeyed tribute.
The clean, spare lines of minimalism and futuristic materials are not what first springs to mind when imagining recycled waste and interspecies collaboration. Yet, a shared preference for form and material emerges from the bee's work with Shultz's sculpture. Schultz suspended a shocking pink mesh produce bag between two transparent slabs of plexiglass: the bees then duplicated the flaccid plastic web with flaps of soft amber wax.
Seeking to demystify and provide new insights into the production and consciousness of honeybees, the curator has adapted stacks of honey supers for display. The stories written on the weathered surfaces of these makeshift pedestals are many: they tell of the creation of the works in the exhibition and bear traces of human/bee interactions and climate events.
Bees fill gaps with honeycomb. Between Us uses honeycomb to bridge gaps in our understanding of ourselves, other people, histories, land and other species. A fragile and luminescent compassion has been built between us, joining artists, beekeepers, honeybees and audiences in a shared process of learning and wonder.
Learn more about this multi-year interdisciplinary, interspecies collaboration on our Between Us community-engaged project page.
Official exhibition sponsor: Harvey Linnen Associates
Mentorship project funded by the Canada Council for the Arts
The Art Gallery of Regina acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. We are grateful to the local bees and beekeepers, who were essential to the Between Us project:
Andrew Hamilton, Hamilton Apiaries
Louise Yates, Living Sky Honey
Jake Dingman, Wendell Estate Honey
Joe Kletchko, St. Joseph's Honey
Kevin & Brenda Epp, Prairie Field Honey
Nicole Charlebois-Rinas, Sandhills Honey
Sasha Howland, Howland's Honey
Stan and Tricia Reed, Reeds Bees
Sarah Simison, Charlee Honey
Our deepest gratitude is extended to Aganetha Dyck for her visionary notion to mentor artists in interspecies collaboration. We recognize the advice and support of Amber Anderson of the Estevan Art Gallery and Museum, Heather Benning of the Art Gallery of Swift Current, Marcus Miller of the Mann Art Gallery and Jeffrey Morton of the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery.
About Canada Council for the Arts
The Canada Council for the Arts contributes to the vibrancy of a creative and diverse arts and literary scene and supports its presence across Canada and around the world. The Council is Canada's public arts funder, with a mandate to "foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts." The Council's grants, services, initiatives, prizes, and payments support Canadian artists, authors, and arts groups and organizations. This support allows them to pursue artistic expression, create works of art, and promote and disseminate the arts and literature. Through its arts funding, communications, research, and promotion activities, the Council fosters ever-growing engagement of Canadians and international audiences in the arts. The Council's Public Lending Right (PLR) program makes annual payments to creators whose works are held in Canadian public libraries. The Council's Art Bank operates art rental programs and helps further public engagement with contemporary arts through exhibition and outreach activities. The Council is responsible for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which promotes the values and programs of UNESCO to contribute to a future of peace, reconciliation, equity, and sustainable development.
Exhibition Audio Tour
Exhibition Audio Tour Transcript
Beatty, Greg. "Buzzing Collaboration: Bees and artists team up with help from a Winnipeg friend." Prairie Dog, January 12, 2023, p. 8. https://prairiedogmag.com/2023-01-12/
Dyck, Aganetha, et al. "Between Us: an art collaboration between people... and honeybees!." Saskatchewan Weekend, hosted by Shauna Powers, CBC Radio One, January 14, 2023. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-205-saskatchewan-weekend/clip/15960025-between-us-art-collaboration-between-people...-honeybees
Rose, Melanie Monique, et al. "Beauty in the eye of the bee-holder." Morning Edition - Sask, hosted by Stefani Langenegger, CBC Radio One, January 18, 2023. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-66-the-morning-edition-sask
Moore, Sandee, et al. "Une exposition d'art spectaculaire modelé avec de la cire d'abeille." ICI Saskatchewan, Radio-Canada Saskatchewan, January 19, 2023. https://fb.watch/iaPVwwR7ce/