Many artists find inspiration in the natural world, but few collaborate so directly with it as Canadian artist Aganetha Dyck. Since 1991 Dyck has been creating sculptures with honeybees by placing objects into specially designed apiaries where the bees industriously cover them with patches of honeycomb.
The finished pieces have a haunting, otherworldly feel that’s reminiscent of the “Takiawase” episode of Hannibal, in which an acupuncturist (played by Amanda Plummer) transforms one of her ailing patients into a human apiary. “Much nicer for him to die in a meadow, head full of bees.”
The bees’ artistic process is not a fast one. Depending on variables such as weather, the health of the bees, and the condition of local flowers and crops, some of Dyck’s projects take many seasons to complete. Her most well known honeybee piece, Glass Dress: Lady in Waiting, took 10 seasons to complete and could represent what Cinderella wore to the ball had her fairy godmother employed insect helpers instead of songbirds and mice.
Years of working with the bees and learning about their behavior have lead Dyck to specifically seek out objects for them that are somehow damaged, such as the Edwardian porcelain figurines seen here, which she primes in sections using bits of beeswax to help encourage the bees to start their process.
Dyck told TCP, “While working with honeybees I discovered their methods of construction and their ability to mend the hive’s cracks and crevices with honeycomb, wax and propolis. I thought of the vast number of damaged figurines in antique shops and second-hand stores. I knew honeybees were masters of mending and decided to give a selection of these now unwanted, damaged, figurines to the honeybees. I was surprised that once the honeybees had mended the objects, the figurines became collectibles again.”
While these sculptures may feel like objects recovered from Miss Havisham’s house in a parallel universe, Dyck’s work is not intended to have an overtly morbid feel. Through her ongoing collaboration with the bees she hopes to illustrate the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, revealing how easily the natural world can be taken for granted, how much our own survival depends upon the survival of the bees, and to demonstrate how ephemeral humanity is relative to the cycles of the natural world.
“They remind us that we and our constructions are temporary in relation to the lifespan of earth and the processes of nature,” comments curator Cathi Charles Wherry. “This raises ideas about our shared vulnerability, while at the same time elevating the ordinariness of our humanity.”
Photos by Peter Dyck and William Eakin respectively.