I'm busy making work for SWARM - Artists Respond to the Pollinator Crisis, a new group exhibition that will open at Vestry House Museum on 14 June, just in time to be part of the 2019 E17 Art Trail, Walthamstow's fabulous biennial art festival - and this year also coinciding with Waltham Forest being London's first Borough of Culture !
The other artists in the show will be Anna Alcock, Hannah Ford, Miyuki Kasahara and Sandie Sutton. Between us, we'll cover painting, sculpture, printmaking and installation - spilling from the gallery into the Museum's lovely (and bee-friendly) garden. I am also co-curating the show, with Roisin Inglesby, so it's been a very busy time indeed!!
The image above is a work-in-progress detail of "Treacherous Flowers", one of my works in the show. It is inspired by recent research by Sussex University that found that (supposedly bee-friendly) flowering garden plants on retail sale at garden centres and supermarkets contained a cocktail of pesticides harmful to bees and other pollinators! I contacted some of the retailers investigated and asked them how they've responded to these findings and if they had phased out any pesticide use since then. Roughly, the answer was: (i) We've banned the use of those neonicotinoids that are banned by the EU in outdoor agriculture; (ii) otherwise we expect our plant suppliers to comply with all relevant pesticide regulations. This sounds good but doesn't mean much at all, because a lot of pesticides that are toxic to pollinators are legal - even the use of those neonicotinoids is legal if used in greenhouses! In addition, how do retailers monitor if their plant suppliers comply with the retailers pesticide policies? The conclusion for people like you and me is: if you want to make sure youare really planting bee-friendly flowers grow them from seed or buy organically grown plants!
"Treacherous Flowers" is a pastiche of 17th century Dutch flower still lives - you can see some fine examples in room 17a of the National Gallery. The flowers I "portrayed" are those that were the most pesticide-laden samples in the University of Sussex study. As in those traditional still lives, pollinators are visiting the flowers - a honey bee, a bumble bee, a hoverfly and a butterfly. And around the vase are a bunch of dead bees and a dead moth (also a pollinator).
Another recent study (news report here) showed that bees are attracted to flowers contaminated with neonicotioids even though it kills them (they lose their sense of orientation and can't find their way back to the hive) - just like people and cigarettes....Treacherous flowers indeed.
And in the background behind the vase you can see the logos of the three multinationals that make pretty much all pesticides. I screenprinted those on the board before starting on the actual painting.