I can't believe I've only got one more week of my artist in residency at the New Art Gallery Walsall. It really has flown by.
Its been such a gift to be given the time and space to explore new ideas and test out techniques, with the generous support and encouragement of the Gallery's staff - especially Zoe, the curator.
Below, I share some of the ideas I've been exploring and pieces I've been working on.
I read the report 'Pollinating insects: What do they mean to people and why does it matter?' (Christmas, S. et al., 2018) early on in my residency, and it informed how I approached my whole time there. The report highlights the role of pollinators as "creative connectors [which] prompt people to think about nature as an interconnected whole, in which they too participate". The report recommends campaign work move away from the atomistic and/or romantic perspectives of bumblebees as being "cute" or "useful", and embrace a more holistic perspective which draws attention to the role of bumblebees as creative connectors. In this way, bumblebees become "signifiers of damage or recovery and focal points of responsibility and action".
It is this deeper level of engagement which I aspire to evoke within my artwork. I am looking to challenge the dualism that sets human beings outside of or separate to nature. I want to facilitate an immersive experience, where visitors can join bumblebees as "creative connectors" within nature.
This is a three-piece series, inspired by the pollinating anatomy of willow. Willow is an important early source of pollen and nectar for bumblebees in the Spring. As people walk from one piece to the next, they are enacting the movements of a bumblebee as they pollinate the willow plant.
The first piece depicts the stamen. A dried willow sphere has living willow rods growing through the centre, holding the nectar and pollen which attracts the bumblebee to feed.
The second piece depicts the stigma. A dried willow droplet has an open front, so you can see the inside of the womb where the seeds are fertilised and grow. Living willow grows up and around vessel, depicting the soft furry coats of the catkins which protect the reproductive parts from the cold.
The final piece depicts the seed. A dried willow open capsule contains a living willow ball inside, representing the seed of a new willow tree.
Did you know that female bumblebees have pollen baskets (or 'corbicula') on each hind leg? They pack them full of pollen, and then carry the load back to their nests.
This basket is inspired by the bumblebee pollen basket. It has a D-shaped base, so it site flat against the body, and a narrow opening so the precious cargo of pollen doesn't fall out. The strap is two-ply plaited cordage made of dandelion - another plant that bumblebees pollinate in spring.
This willow pod piece is inspired by the shape and lifecycle of a bumblebee nest. Bumblebees create their nests in sheltered areas, such as bird boxes, mouse holes, compost heaps and long tangled grass. The queen bumblebee creates cup-shaped wax chambers within the nest, which she then fills with nectar and pollen, and lays her eggs into. After a dew days, these eggs will hatch into larvae, and become new bumblebees.
Whilst my residency might nearly be over, work on my sculpture commission for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust continues, and it will be ready to launch in Spring 2024. Keep an eye out for more updates.
This work is commissioned by The Bumblebee Conservation Trust with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and The New Art Gallery Walsall.