As you may have read in my previous entry, there is a problem with the bees. Or rather, there’s a problem with us: we are killingthe bees. There is a marked lack of concern (or even awareness) about this issue, generally known as “colony collapse”--an event in which entire hives of bees simply die or disappear for no apparent reason, leaving behind their queen and a hive full of food (and sometimes a few nurse bees to care for the queen and immature bees). This is one of the major environmental problems of the last decade, for both ideological and practical reasons. Without bees, agriculture (amongst other things) as we know it ceases (read: 70% of our food).
This issue was the source of the idea for (and title of) Vanishing Act, my new encaustic painting.
As far as scientists have been able to figure, this is a threefold problem consisting of the compounding stress effects of the parasitic Varrora mite, the neonicotinoid family of pesticides favored by much large-scale American agriculture (and notably illegal in the EU and many other countries), and a profound loss of clean, native habitat. Simply put, the various, abundant, and regionally specific/native plant species honeybees love are ever harder for them to come by. Instead, bees are trucked around the nation to fulfill pollination contracts--certainly a function essential to our modern food production and agricultural systems, but a bit barbaric nonetheless--where they survive on only one type of food at a time (imagine trying to work a full time job and go to the gym while eating only bananas for a month) and frequently a GMO one at that....while ingesting the pesticides with which these crops have been grown/sprayed. The worst of these are the aforementioned neonicotinoids, which, according to the NY Times, “chemically resemble nicotine. Neonics, as they are known for short, are “systemic” chemicals, meaning that they circulate throughout a plant and reach its leaves or flowers, where bees do their work. One underlying premise is that the pesticides cloud the bees’ brains, leaving them in a haze and short-circuiting their sense of how to return home.” Top this off with battling the awful and appropriately (somewhat apocalyptically) named “Varrora Destructor” mites that burrow into bees and wreck havoc on their immune systems which have already been compromised by pesticides, overwork, and a poor diet. This trifecta, many experts hypothesize, could quite literally be simply stressing our bees to death.
Colony Collapse, mysterious as it is, seems to have lessened somewhat since the major disasters in 2006 and 2007. Now, “what worries [us] is a gradual, steady shrinkage of the honeybee population over the years. Two decades ago, the United States had more than three million colonies; now it is down to an estimated 2.4 million, the Agriculture Department says. And more bees seem to be dying — from all causes, not just colony collapse — in the normal course of what are referred to as the ‘winter loss’ and the ‘fall dwindle.’ Where annual bee losses were once in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent, they are now more on the order of 30 percent. The fear is that this dying-off is too great for the country’s ever-expanding agricultural needs.”
What can we do? Well...not all that much, on the grand scale, unfortunately. But we can do something on a small scale. This would primarily consist of lowering the demand for genetically modified and pesticide-laden crops that are so popular on shelves. When possible, support local farmers and organic & biodynamic practices. Grow your own food. Feed your kids the good stuff. Put in a group effort to make ignoring these types of issues economically unsustainable. A pretty tall order, I know. But hey....with my one woman diet and balcony garden, I do what I can. :)
One slightly cheering thought is that we do have the power to create, a few flowers at a time, a few more friendly and varied pollen sources for our local bees, particularly in areas where they might be scarce (LA, anyone?). Hence, seed bombs! I’ll be making these little nuggets of composted goodness and a rainbow of native, regional wildflower seeds and giving them away at the opening for Afterglow. Be sure to stop by early to claim your seed bomb, then plan your guerrilla gardening moment in the following days/weeks...scope out the ugliest abandoned planter, neglected flowerbed, civic space, or corner full of dirt you can find, and bombs away! A few weeks later, your moment of enthusiasm should be pushing some cheery green shoots through the soil.
Source and further reading: “The Head-Scratching Case of the Vanishing Bees”
Lora Schlesinger Gallery
2525 Michigan Avenue, Unit B5b
Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Artist statement for Afterglow:
Afterglow represents an exploration of an inner wilderness by way of an outer one; these images—and all my work—hinge on my belief that the natural world is not only an inherent part of us as human beings (and we of it), but that it is the original, exquisitely sensitive mirror in which we find our own inner terrain and wildness reflected. This body of work represents a subtle shift on this front; from my artistic origins in a monochromatic world of quiet mystery, I have emerged into one of color and fleeting light. My planned compositions have given way to spontaneity and exploration, followed by a careful cultivation of my findings. I have always had an interest in balance and intrinsic order, but now my process has become one of watching this order emerge naturally, as a complement to controlled design.
This is reflected in both my process—through the integration of abstract and figurative elements—and my subject matter. I have a great love for ephemeral, fleeting things. The flutter of a heartbeat, the quickly fading dusk, the moments of connection that are both sacred and brief. Our existence depends completely upon this delicate web—one we have often have a tendency to ignore or upset. Finding honeybees dying on my steps or in the jasmine blossoms leaves me with a palpable sense of loss and premonition. I find it oddly poignant that our survival may well depend on a creature as beautiful and unassuming as the honeybee.
My work has always been an act of reverence for the natural world. There is an element of science in it, in the desire to study and observe. But there is an element of spirit, too, in the continual reaching for something just beyond the visible. I strive to carve out a compelling space in which those peripheral presences can stand forth—a liminal place where our human impulse to judge and hierarchize is quieted, where a natural way of seeing floats quietly to the surface of our hyper-stimulated minds.