Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Bee's Underbelly and The Dark Side of the Hive

Aganetha Dyck: Collaborations at the Burnaby Art Gallery

I highly recommend that you make a special trip out to Deer lake Park to see Aganetha Dyck's work at the Burnaby Art Gallery. I attended her artist talk today, which was truly inspiring. I first fell for Aganetha's work many years ago when she did an artist talk in Regina at a CARFAC conference. Here was an artist I could relate to: a sculptor who shrunk sweaters and canned buttons in mason jars. Her work with bees was enchanting. I was lucky enough to work with Aganetha at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. She was showing a work called The Extended Wedding Party and I was asked to work with her to create a performance inspired by the work. With the help of Raymon Montalbetti and some fine performers, we created a piece called Cleaning the Hive.

Aganetha's son Richard is a media artist. When she saw the scans he did of a horse's mane it reminded her of a landscape. She asked Richard if he could scan her bees. The photos in the Collaborations show are the result of these scans. It was a tricky process, working on a warm day, carefully edging the scanner into the hives without squashing any bees. The result was photos that show a side of bees that we rarely see: their bellies. Young female worker bees create wax flakes with glands in their undercarriage. Because the bees are moving while they are scanned, their bodies appear stretched, sometimes into lines and squiggles that represent their movements. One gets a feeling of the oppressive atmosphere inside the darkness of the hive. Some of the photos have so much depth, they remind me of lenticular images. The bees leave traces of wax on the surface of the scanning bed, and Aganetha says the scanner gets so mucked up she is tempted to put it in the washing machine.

Other works on the first floor of the show include drawings and pieces of fabric that are left in the hive for the bees to work on. The fabric and paper are pinned in the hive with miniature clothespins. The hive box is above the queen excluder and above the comb filled with honey because the artist does not want larvae or honey in the work. If the comb does fill with honey, she leaves the object outside to be robbed by the bees in front of the hive or she takes it home and lets the wasps rob the honey in her back yard. Once the bees have worked the fabric, Aganetha embroiders into the patterns they have left behind.

The work upstairs includes signs made of metal with words made from backlit honeycomb. Aganetha said she wanted to name and acknowledge all her collaborators and the people and bees involved in the process of creating the work. On the facing wall, there is a beautiful poem by Di Brandt, printed in braille as well as French and English text. Aganetha's husband and studio assistant made a series of boards that each contain a part of the poem in braille that were put into the hives. Some of the pieces contain fragments of drawings by the artist. Aganetha invited members of the CNIB to read the pieces with their fingers and they laughed at the text because the dots that bees lay down to begin a comb are the same size as braille dots and they made the text nonsensical.

The works in this show are lush, whimsical, mysterious, and beautifully crafted. Once again I urge you to see the show, but I warn you--you may become hooked on honeybees!

From the gallery website:
"Free Family Sunday Program: February 22, 1:00 - 3:30pm, (Every half hour). Join us for a free hands-on studio activity for the whole family. This interactive experience will combine the current Aganetha Dyck exhibition with your participation in drawing bees and honeycombs. No registration is required."

Burnaby Art Gallery
6344 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby.
Info Line: 604. 604-297-4422.
Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.,
Saturday & Sunday 12 – 5 p.m.
Closed Mondays. FREE ADMISSION

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