Judi Harvest

2013denatured6-300x225The Venice Biennale is the oldest biennial in the art world, and many regard it as a critical bellwether for contemporary art.  It’s absolutely monumental.  The main exhibition is split into two parts:  a curated show in the Arsenale, and dozens of buildings designated by country in the Giardini.  Each of those portions can be viewed in a long, intense day.  Then, in addition, there are satellite shows and happenings throughout the city.

The Biennale doesn’t tend to have an environmental focus.  But among the works that most caught my attention this year was a resolutely environmental exhibit by Judi Harvest.  The show was off-site, on Dorsoduro well up the canal from the main scene, near Campo San Stae.  As we  entered the church, the first thing we noticed was the smell of beeswax.  Absolutely overwhelming, but in a really good way.  The space was filled with Harvest’s 2-d work, and dozens of glass blown into biomorphic, hive-like vessels that Harvest made on Murano working with master glassblower Giorgio Giuman.  On the shelf by the check-in desk were tiny jars of honey.

2013denatured7-300x225The work is definitely visually engaging.  But I am as captivated by the back-story as by the objects.  Murano, the famous glass-blowers island in Venice is (like much of Venice) largely bereft of trees and other greenery.  It provides an inhospitable environment for bees.  But beside the studio where Harvest created the glass for this show, she created the other “part” of the show.  She turned an abandoned lot into a Honey Garden.  She brought in topsoil, sourced fruit trees and other plants from other islands in the Veneto, and created a beautiful and inviting place for bees.

And came they did.  The tiny jars of honey for sale at the show are the first harvested by Harvest.

Christine Collins’ “The Keepers”

KEEPERS_NEW-20-300x240I love bees.  I’m allergic to them, which makes the relationship more vexed than it might otherwise be, but it does not diminish my fondness for them.

I’m also really interested in the way that bees are depicted in contemporary culture.  They are lauded for the work they do as pollinators, presented as the hapless victims of some human foolishness that causes colony collapse disorder, and function as a trope for a whole suite of concerns about how humans interact with the natural world.

KEEPERS_NEW-5-300x236And, in Christine’s photographs in THE KEEPERS series, they become very nearly sacramentalized.  In a really good way.  What I am often struck by in these images is that they resonate with religious imagery.  It’s as if the beekeepers, in their effort to simultaneously connect with and control “nature,” are reproducing the relationships to the world that we see in many religious rituals.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, since so many rituals are efforts to set aside our sense of alienation–either from one another or from the larger more-than-human world–and feel deeply connected.  Not connected, exactly, more like oceanic.

Looking at them, I cannot help but think of a high priest or priestess invoking something holy, of a Catholic priest swinging the thurible, of the labor of the keepers as a kind of offering.  Images from this project are on view right now at the Foster Gallery, at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, MA.  So, so worth a visit!

Critical Timing; or, Of Fish and Flowering

This past week was one in which the return to life in this corner of the universe was early.  I’m trying super-hard not to panic about such things; maybe it’s just a weather-ish fluctuation.  It has been a beautiful, warm, dry spring — the antithesis of last year’s waterlogged start to summer.  But I can’t help thinking that this balminess is evidence of dire climate change.  But how to know?  I’m trying to pay better attention, hoping that at the very least, doing so will help me get a better sense of what I am and am not seeing.

High on the list of recent seeings were flowers and fish.  Low, unfortunately, were bees.



We’ve got a Hawthorn tree in our yard that is normally in full flower in the June-teens.  That’s late for Hawthorns in general, but right on schedule for ours and for this area.  This year, in keeping with its nickname, it commenced awesomeness on May 24, was at its peak around May 29/30, and has already noticeably faded.  Folks who’ve glanced at my recent folio, A Field Guide to Other People’s Trees, know that one of the things I most love about this tree is the week when it’s in flower because the bees cannot resist it.  The tree/bee dyad hums for days, a whirring that is visual and auditory as the bees shake free what they need.  But this year, while there were plenty of the teeny flies that also contribute to that stunning event, there were practically no bees.  Maybe the tree was too early for them?  I haven’t seen many yet.  Or maybe a sign of something more serious?

fish-lad-overview-300x200A quite un-dire event that took place Memorial Day weekend was a celebration at the fish ladder in Damariscotta, just a wee bit south of us.  The fish ladder there has been used by alewives to return from the sea to Damariscotta Lake for centuries, at least, in order to spawn.

Over the past few years, local citizens have worked to make it more amenable to their fishy needs — for increased human presence had altered the landscape and waterscape in ways that made it very hard for the fish to get back to their spawning grounds.  The people have spent a tremendous amount of money and effort building a ladder that the fish will be comfortable using.  And their work is paying off.  Twenty times as many fish climbed the ladder this year as did five years ago.  That means more potential spawn, a stronger alewife stock, and all the benefits that come with re-calibrating an ecosystem back toward its more normative state.  Of course, we can’t undo the changes — and this cement and re-bar laden fish ladder is quite unlike earlier versions.  But the generosity of people who opened their backyards to people to see the ladder, and who let the renovations happen there is encouraging to me.

fish-ladder-2-closeup1-245x300Because the fish run had peaked a week earlier, we saw a modest number of fish compared to the zenith, but it was still impressive.  It turns out that the peak didn’t coincide with the fish festival dates because the fish were also early — lured by the warm and sunny conditions this May.  Their early arrival means a different disruption to the system, with consequences we can’t yet fully know.

Since I was six, I’ve been linked to a school — either as a student or a teacher, or sometimes both.  And so for all of my memory, the annual rhythm has been academic, a year that goes from September to December, then January to May, then June to August.  It’s been a reassuring cycle, one largely in accord with other rhythms, most especially the arrival of new freshmen, the departure of graduating seniors, the appreciation by all of the summer hiatus.  Now, paying attention to these shifts that creatures enact in response to the larger forces, I’ve been working to imagine what it would be like to be more fully in accord with the cycles — and the digressions from such fixed rhythms — that shape the physical world.  It might not demand huge adjustments, but I’m guessing that, in fact, it will….