In collaboration with master beekeeper Mylee Nordin and swarms of the honey-producing insects, artist Ava Roth develops elaborate encaustic works that literally visualize the interaction between humans and the environment. The Toronto-based artist stitches small collages with leaves, twigs, rose quartz, porcupine quills, and other organic matter before handing control over to her six-legged counterparts, who faithfully build hexagonal cells around the original piece. Once complete, the waxy inter-species works are brimming with texture and color variances that highlight the inherent beauty and unpredictability of nature.
Whereas previous iterations of Roth’s embroideries used stock hoops at the center, she now enlists the help of woodworker Bernoel Dela Vega, who custom-makes inner and outer frames in the same dimensions that are typical in Langstroth hives. “Each piece requires some kind of border that separates my work from the bees’ work,” she says. “This (change) has allowed me to experiment with different sizes and shapes and has helped to make every aspect of my work hand (or bee) crafted.”
Roth tells Colossal that although it’s possible to manipulate the hive conditions to produce a 3D honeycomb or work with artificial elements, she creates self-imposed limits to use only organic materials and engender environments that mimic those bees would gravitate toward naturally. She explains:
I recognize that Langstroth hives are not a natural habitat for bees, but neither are most of the spaces that humans find themselves occupying right now. Ultimately, this project is about exploring the ways in which humans collide with the natural environment today and finding ways to make making something beautiful from this specific time and place. This means working in cities, in manufactured hives, in the midst of enormous environmental and political despair.
Roth will be pulling multiple pieces from her hives in the next few weeks, and you can follow that progress on Instagram. She also has a few works on paper currently available at Wallspace Gallery in Ottawa.
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Although busy hives filled with honeybees tend to dominate mainstream imagery and conversations about bee populations, 90 percent of the insects are actually solitary creatures that prefer to live outside of a colony. This majority, which is comprised of tens of thousands of species, are also superior pollinators in comparison to their social counterparts because they’re polylectic, meaning they collect the sticky substance from multiple sources, making them even more crucial to maintaining crops and biodiversity.
“Whilst bee numbers, on the whole, are increasing, this is almost exclusively due to the increase in beekeeping, specifically honey bees,” wildlife photographer Josh Forwood tells Colossal. “Due to the artificially boosted populations in concentrated areas, honey bees are becoming too much competition for many solitary bee species. This, in turn, is driving almost a monoculture of bees in some areas, which has huge knock-on effects on the surrounding ecosystem.”
The U.K. alone boasts 250 solitary species, a few of which Forwood photographed in a series of portraits that reveal just how unique each individual is. To capture the creatures up-close, he constructed a log-and-bamboo bee hotel while bound to his home in Bristol during quarantine—Forwood frequently travels around the globe to document wildlife for clients including Netflix, Disney, BBC, National Geographic, and PBS.
After about a month, the hotel was in a buzz of activity, prompting Forwood to attach a camera to the end of the lengthy tubes and photograph the creatures as they crawled inside. The resulting portraits demonstrate just how incredibly unique each insect is with wildly differing body forms, color, eye shapes, and hair patterns. Every bee is in a nearly identical pose and its facial features dramatically framed in a ring of natural light for comparison, revealing how each insect truly has its own identity. Because the images only capture them from the front, Forwood says it’s difficult to estimate how many different species visited the structure considering most are identified by the shape and color of their bodies.
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60,000 Bees Recreate the Nefertiti Bust and Other Classic Sculptures in Wax with Artist Tomáš Libertíny
Tomáš Libertíny prefers to collaborate when recreating iconic busts and sculptures, although his chosen partners don’t join him in the studio. The Slovakia-born artist tasks tens of thousands of bees with forming the porous outer layers of classic artworks like the “Nefertiti Bust,” Michelangelo’s “Brutus,” and a large jug based on the “Nolan amphora” at The Met.
Encased in honeycomb, the resulting sculptures generate a dialogue between the newly produced organic material and art historical subject matter. Libertíny’s “Eternity,” for example, is based on a 3D model of the original portrait of Nefertiti and is “a testament to the strength and timelessness of the ‘mother nature’ as well as its ancient character as a powerful female reigning against the odds.” Similarly, the artist’s “Brutus” rests on a Coca Cola crate, a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, although his iteration diverges from the original as it questions “the fragility of fate and finding salvation” in modern times.
Currently based in Rotterdam, Libertíny provides professional beekeepers with a frame that the insects then colonize during the course of months and in the case of “Eternity,” two years. “I have to guide the building growth like you would with a bonsai, slowly string(ing) the workflow into places where you deem ideal,” he says. “The final result is always a surprise as it is not something you can completely predict like would with traditional craft techniques. It happens that I have to look at the finished piece for a couple of days in order to appreciate it fully.”
Beeswax as a material is inherently contradictory, the artist notes, because of its simultaneous ephemerality and durability—Libertíny’s sculptures have the potential to remain intact for thousands of years if maintained properly—a duality he’s been exploring since he began the Made by Bees series in 2005. “A beeswax candle is for me the best example of pure design. Absolutely nothing is styled about it. Everything about is a science of keeping the flame burning,” he says, explaining that the candle served as a catalyst for the ongoing series.
If you’re in Amsterdam, “Eternity” is currently on view as part of Libertíny’s solo show at Rademakers Gallery through January 30. Otherwise, follow the artist’s sculptures that explore contradiction and ephemerality on Instagram. For a similarly collaborative project, check out Ava Roth’s honeycomb-encased works. (via designboom)
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When Ava Roth adds the last stitch grasping horsehair or porcupine quills to her embroidered artworks, she passes the fibrous material on to her black-and-yellow counterparts. The Toronto-based artist collaborates with bees to encase her mixed-media pieces in waxy honeycomb. What emerges are organic artworks that consider interspecies interactions and the beauty that such meetings can garner.
Since 2019, Roth has been expanding the wooden frames of her works to twice the size as previous projects. She receives help from master beekeeper Mylee Nordin, and together, they vertically stack hive boxes, which are known as supers, and insert large, custom-made structures. The artist also has developed a more detailed practice in recent months. “Because this project has required so much trial and error, I was still experimenting with materials last season, trying to find substances that the bees would consistently respond to positively,” she writes. “I was trying to find organic substances that would not harm the bees but also that the bees would not eat or otherwise destroy.”
When the bees finished wax production in late October, Roth says her understanding of the species and confidence in her choice of raw matter had grown. “I spent the winter weaving and embroidering beeswax, porcupine quills, horsehair, and other organic material into embroidery hoops, and then fixing them onto my new custom made frames,” she notes.
Roth’s projects also have a sense of urgency through their connection to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that’s killing colonies and threatening the species’ population. “Honeybees are often considered a harbinger of the health of our planet, and CCD is interpreted by many environmentalists and scientists as a clear indicator of our current environmental crisis,” the artist says.
I consider the bees to be my co-workers, collaborators in every sense. I take cues from their needs, design the project around their capacities, and work in sync with their seasons. Ultimately, this art that we make together is essentially hopeful at a time when we are overwhelmed with despair at the state of the environment, and our role in its destruction.
During the winter, Roth plans to refine her project further after reflecting on another season of interspecies collaboration. Follow the latest updates on her encaustic works on Instagram.
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The World's First Bee Influencer Uses Social Media to Raise Funds for Lifesaving Pollinator Research
We can only imagine the job description: Science Foundation seeks expert visual effects designer to create robust social media presence for imaginary insect influencer. B., billed as the world’s first bee influencer, reports from Instagram-friendly locations like Montemartre in Paris and beachfront lounge chairs. Channelling trends among young female influencers, B. flaunts her figure, does yoga in pretty places, and hosts Story A.M.A’s, answering queries about her favorite musicians (Beethoven, the Bee Gees, Beeyonce). B’s captions are a blend of educational and quippy—a “photo” of her rowing is captioned “I have only one flaw… (LOL) I don’t know how to swim!”
Following in the footsteps of other scientific non-profits like the California Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum in Chicago, Fondation de France seeks to meet people where they’re at—which is, by and large, on social media. Humor, au courant language, and memes have become powerful tools to convey important messages about our past, present, and future world.
But whereas other institutions use strong voices on social channels to indirectly raise funds through increased museum attendance and perhaps larger sponsorships for exhibitions, the foundation is channeling income directly from their in-house influencer. Companies and organizations who feel that their brand identity aligns with B. can pay the rising-star insect to promote their products in the same way that a #vanlife influencer might pose with a brand of potato chips or shampoo. The fees that a company pays for exposure with B. go directly to Fondation de France’s BEE FUND, which the 50 year-old foundation created “to fund the actions considered as the most fundamental and urgent in the protection of all species of bees.”
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Artist Ava Roth loves working on collaborative projects. But her studiomates aren’t fellow two-footed friends. Rather, Roth pairs with her backyard honeybees to create mixed media collages combining embroidery, beadwork, fabric, tree bark, and honeycomb. The Toronto-based artist builds artworks inside the comb frames, and the bees complete the pieces by encasing them in organic honeycomb patterns. “This project is a collaboration in the truest sense. It involves careful listening, respecting the bees, and cooperating with them entirely, from the choice of materials, size, timing and scope of design,” Roth tells Colossal. “My intention is to celebrate the extraordinary work of the honeybee and match it with sewings that invoke their delicate and ephemeral comb.”
The artist explains that she had been working in encaustic, a painting technique that incorporates wax, for several years, and decided to start collaborating with her bees as she learned more about Colony Collapse Disorder and sought to uplift and honor the bee’s work.
The threadwork in this collection mirrors the fragility and beauty of the honeycomb in which they are encased. By placing the embroideries in hoops, I am also giving a nod to a tradition of women’s work. Since the working bees are all female – and not making ‘fine art’, the finished pieces are very much in the tradition of marginalized women’s work, and sewing in particular. Because both the bees work and traditional women’s work have been largely functional, their beauty and significance have been easily overlooked.
Roth tells Colossal that it took a great deal of trial and error to solve for the variables like what materials the bees respond to instead of destroying, how long to keep the pieces in the hive before honey is deposited, and conveying to the insects which areas they should or shouldn’t build comb. The artist shares that she worked closely with Master Beekeeper Mylee Nordin on strategizing and implementing the project. Shown here are works from her abstract series; Roth also works in this mode with more representational images, which you can see on her website.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.