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A Journey for the Senses: ‘Cross Pollination’ at 516 ARTS

A Better Nectar Installation - Pyragraph
A Better Nectar installation. Photo courtesy of 516 ARTS.

Josie Lopez - Pyragraph

Guest blogger Josie Lopez is the curator at 516 ARTS. Her research interests include examining contemporary art as a discursive agent in the political arena, modern and contemporary Latin American art, 19th century France and Mexico, and the history of New Mexican art. She has a Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley.

Entire worlds of pattern, color, texture and sound are literally abuzz at 516 ARTS’ newest exhibit, Cross Pollination, opening Saturday, August 19, 6-8pm in downtown Albuquerque. Curator Valerie Roybal brings together artists from all over the world who explore the intersections of art, science, and the importance of pollinators. Honeybees and other pollinators are necessary for the cultivation of a significant portion of the human food supply. While there is debate regarding the larger impact of pollinators on the longevity of the planet, it is clear that humans will be profoundly and irreversibly affected if current perils are not addressed.

Guest artists Jessica Rath and Jennifer Angus exhibit works that traverse the fields of art and science as they translate insect activity into human scale experiences that are wholly enchanting and unexpected. Rath’s Resonant Nest is one work in a larger series A Better Nectar that uses light, sound and sculpture to engage the viewer in exploring the world from a bee’s perspective. Rath creates a sensory journey that strives to unlock the beauty, mystery and meaning of bee life. The works of both Rath and Angus have been shaped by direct interactions with nature and science, a desire to understand insects more deeply and a commitment to advance the discourses around current dangers facing the natural world. Rath discusses her works with 516 ARTS’ curator Josie Lopez here in Part 1; in Part 2 Jennifer Angus shares her process.

Part 1: Jessica Rath

Josie Lopez: What experiences led you to interact with bees and how did that interaction form the various media you chose to explore?

Jessica Rath: Resonant Nest was born out of an experience ten years ago, that of watching a swarm of bees stilled by the cold into a cluster of thousands in mid-November. They were churning their bodies to conduct heat and making an amazing sound. The simultaneous experience of one body, multiple bodies, overwhelming sound and a kinetic experience drew me in and I have spent ten years with that feeling deeply embedded in my body. The piece is half sound and half the vessel of life for a small creature we are completely dependent upon to sustain our food. Bob, the composer and technician on the project, has included the weather of the site, in this case a NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency) weather feed in Albuquerque. This weather feed with in MAX Programming changes the sound score throughout the course of the day and over the exhibition as weather shifts. So you could say this work is sculptural, sound, electronics and weather.

In Resonant Nest, how do you explore the human perspective of sensory experiences of the viewer in your examination of the world of bees?

Resonant Nest is one work in a larger exhibition A Better Nectar that uses light, sound and sculpture to engage the viewer in viewing the world through a bee’s perspective. I use scale—that of making a human-scaled bumble bee nest and a very large sound of a 40-person chamber choir—to engage an audience in an immersive environment. We incorporate hearing/listening and visual with Resonant Nest. I have removed representations of bees within the work in hopes that audiences would not be able to easily identify the nest and therefore, through their curiosity, be drawn to put their heads in the cells and have a full sound experience.

Jessica Rath & Robert Hoehn_Resonant Nest - Pyragraph
Resonant Nest by Jessica Rath & Robert Hoehn, from the series A Better Nectar, 2014, sound, polyester resin, fiberglass, electronics, speakers. Photo courtesy of 516 ARTS.

What was your process in researching how to translate a bee experience into a human experience and how did collaboration inform that process?

I worked with Dr. Anne Leonard of the Leonard Bee Lab at the University of Nevada-Reno, where she and her colleagues study bumblebee behavior and multi-sensory modalities. I was also particularly drawn to bumblebees through her research on buzz pollination, a resonant frequency that has developed over evolutionary time between pollinators and the flowers they propagate. Buzz pollination is required for many night shade plants, which form a significant number of our agricultural produce: tomatoes, potatoes, squash, etc.

I had gone to Dr. Leonard with questions and a general idea of the work that I would make. Within 24 hours of being in her lab and understanding her work, I conceived of an entirely different series of work, including using her photographs of nectar floral guides in flowers. Her science and my interpretations became the science + art mix for the exhibition.

For Resonant Nest, I also worked with long-time collaborator and composer Robert Hoehn, who shares credit on the work. We developed the ideas for the score together and worked with conductor Jonathan Talberg of the Bob Cole Conservatory of Museum and his 40-person chamber choir—an amazing group of young men and women at California State University, Long Beach who lent their voice to the project. Additionally, I built the plug mold to cast the cells with acoustic engineer and artist Ian Schneller of Specimen Products, Chicago; cast the cells with California Products; assembled them with artist assistant Jedidah Dyer. At each step, my collaborators’ ideas and questions inform and shift the work.

Jessica Rath + Robert Hoehn - Pyragraph
Robert Hoehn and Jessica Rath. Photo courtesy of 516 ARTS. 

How does your work raise awareness of human impacts on pollinators and engage with the discourses around the perils that face pollinator populations and habitats?

I think we focus very much on honeybees in current news climate around agricultural production and pollinator health. I hope to remind people that there are other pollinators, even ones essential to our food supply, that are native to agricultural areas that go more or less unnoticed in our focus on saving the species like the European honeybee. Hundreds of other species of bees reside in smaller colonies or are solitary bees, some of them underfoot in rotten wood or in our fences and trees in the backyard. I am by no means an expert on bees. I only wish to broaden the discourse in hopes of being more present with the umvelt or sensory perception of our shared world with the millions of species that are non-human.

Stay tuned for Part 2 with guest artist Jennifer Angus.

Cross Pollination opens August 19 and runs through November 11, 2017 at 516 ARTS, located at 516 Central Avenue SW in Downtown Albuquerque. Curator Valerie Roybal brings together artists from all over the world who explore the intersections of art, science and the importance of pollinators. For 516’s public program through the fall, see the 516 ARTS Program Guide.
Honey Pot, Jessica Rath - Pyragraph
A queen bumblebee in her nest at Dr. Anne Leonard’s Bee Lab, University of Nevada, Reno. Photo by Jessica Rath.

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