Reflections on Pollinator Patterns of Life Across Art and Science Interview with artist and educator Porter Swentzell

Yuansu VII-Beehand V2 by Ren Ri - Pyragraph

Video still from Yuansu VII-Beehand V2 (2014) by Ren Ri.

Daryl Lucero - Pyragraph

Guest Blogger Daryl Lucero (Isleta Pueblo) is Outreach Coordinator at 516 ARTS this summer and fall. He is a contemporary artist who works to create peace, justice and freedom for indigenous-settler relations. His studies and experience cross many disciplines including visual arts, poetics, ecology, agriculture, business, anthropology, philosophy and architecture.


About 35 percent of the world’s food crops and 75 percent of its flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce. One unavoidable fact of our humanity is our connection to the natural world. As observers of the natural world, artists and scientists find new audiences and new grounds to discuss and create in the face of a changing environment and impacts to pollinator populations. As pollinators end up on the endangered species list, is our humanity the result of our inhumanity?

Porter Swentzell - Pyragraph

Artist, weaver and educator Porter Swentzell. Photo courtesy of 516 ARTS.

In anticipation of the Cross Pollination exhibition at 516 ARTS (opening Saturday, August 19, 6-8pm) and the public forum titled “Pollinator Patterns of Life” at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (Sunday, July 23 at 6:30pm), I interviewed Porter Swentzell on the impacts that the changing environment have on pollinator populations and, in turn, on Pueblo ways of place-making. Porter Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo) is an educator at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His work intersects artistic, cultural, social and political landscapes. As a Pueblo weaver, he integrates land-based knowledge with academic and philosophical inquiry, aided by community fostering and leadership development.


Daryl Lucero: How do you see the relationship of pollinators to art and creativity, both metaphorically and also literally as artists and scientists are intersecting around this subject?

Porter Swentzell: I think that changes that are going on in our environment provide opportunities for creative engagement between people of many backgrounds to work on how we relate to our places.

How has your art been shaped by the natural environment?

As a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts, I consider my art to be in facilitating learning. When I was a kid my mom, Roxanne Swentzell, pulled me and my sister out of school and our classroom became the hills, arroyos, and fields. Through this experience, I came to understand that learning takes place in so many more places that schooling limits us to. The natural environment is perhaps the most important classroom that we can have.

Untitled (The Gardener) by Daisy Patton - Pyragraph

“Untitled (The Gardener)” (2017) by Daisy Patton, part of the Cross Pollination exhibition at 516 ARTS.

How does understanding art in this context present opportunities for taking environmental responsibility that conventional forms of art do not address?

If we look at art in terms of its etymology, then we can see that its original meaning referred to the skills or knowledge that each person was gifted with. I think that if we expand the definition of art, we can ask the question, “in what distinctive way will you participate in responsibility for the environment?”

Sanctuary by Stephanie Lerma - Pyragraph

“Sanctuary” (detail, 2017) by Stephanie Lerma.

Is art an act of sovereignty? And why do people continue to create in this fashion?

I think that the term “sovereignty” is problematic. There is history behind the word. There are also multiple frameworks that sovereignty exists within. Art can serve as a source of empowerment, which, in turn, can lead to a state of sovereignty that is perhaps more profound than any legal framework.

Pollinator moth - Pyragraph

Pollinator moth at the Valle de Oro. Photo courtesy of 516 ARTS.

Event and Exhibition Information

The public forum titled “Pollinator Patterns of Life” will be held at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge Sunday, July 23 at 6:30pm. Moderated by Daryl Lucero, the forum will feature speakers including Bruce Milne, the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Environmental and Food Systems, Professor of Biology, and founder of the UNM Sustainability Studies Program; Manuel Montoya, Associate Professor, UNM Anderson School of Management focusing on “global legibility,” the process whereby humans conceptualize the planet and make it a meaningful part of their realities; and Deborah Jojola (Isleta Pueblo), artist and curator. The public is invited to join the conversation.

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge is located at 7851 2nd Street SW in Albuquerque’s South Valley. Access the refuge from 2nd Street, follow the signs to the outdoor classroom/bosque access and park in the south-west corner of the refuge. It’s a 5-minute walk to the river. Seating will be on logs, and feel free to bring camp chairs.

516 ARTS’ exhibition Cross Pollination opens August 19 and runs through November 11, 2017 at 516 ARTS, located at 516 Central Avenue SW in Downtown Albuquerque. The exhibition was curated by artist/backyard beekeeper Valerie Roybal.

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516 ARTS

About 516 ARTS

516 ARTS is an independent, nonprofit arts venue located at 516 Central Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in the center of Downtown Albuquerque. The 5,500 square foot, two-story gallery is a unique, hybrid venue somewhere between a gallery and museum. 516 ARTS offers adventurous programs that address current issues in world culture, presenting innovative and interdisciplinary exhibitions, events and educational activities in a variety of art forms, including visual and literary arts, film/video and music.

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