Aganetha Dyck, Arrival (2006–2007), ceramic tableau altered with honeycomb by the honeybees, approx. 25.4 x 30.5 x 15.2 cm. Photo: Peter Dyck. Courtesy of the Michael Gibson Gallery, London, Ontario
Saying goodbye is never easy, but Canadian artist Aganetha Dyck has found a way to do so in a meaningful and memorable way.
For more than two decades, Dyck has collaborated with honeybees to produce art that is both striking and unique. Unfortunately, since developing a life-threatening allergy, she has had to stop working with them entirely. The Tom Thomson Gallery has organized the exhibition Denouement: Memories of the Hive to pay tribute to Dyck and this astonishing collaboration. “The exhibition is about celebrating the honeybees,” Dyck said in an interview with NGC Magazine. “It’s a farewell to working directly with some of the world’s most important pollinators.”
Dyck was born in Manitoba in 1937, and was raised in a Mennonite community. She began producing art in 1972 at local art centres before studying Art History at the University of Winnipeg from 1980 to 1982. Although Dyck’s early art was completed in different mediums, her work with honeybees was her vocation. In 2006, she won the Manitoba Arts Award of Distinction, and in 2007 the Canada Council’s Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. A selection of her honeycomb sculptures are part of Canada’s national collection at the National Gallery of Canada, including the recently acquired Closest to Her (2007) and Queen (2007), which are currently on view in the NGC’s Contemporary Art galleries.
Dyck’s artistic process consists of placing found objects such as shoes and porcelain figurines into apiaries, and watching them transform as bees form their honeycombs around them. This particular exhibition aims to explore that process. Feeder boards (or hive boards), collected from beekeeper Phil Veldhuis’ apiary, are arranged alongside The Last Canvases (2011-2012) as wall installations. “The hive boards are the centrepiece of the exhibition. They’re evidence of all of the labour and behind-the-scenes work that took place that nobody ever saw,” said curator and Tom Thomson Gallery director Virginia Eichhorn in an interview with NGC Magazine. “They’re really quite stunning, very introspective, and almost meditative.”
Aganetha Dyck, Feeder Boards (collected between 1990–2012), wood, wax, 50.8 x 40.6 x 0.63 cm. Photo: William Eakin. Collection of the artist from the apiary of Phil Veldhuis Apiaries, Starbuck, Manitoba
“I would like people to contemplate the marks that the honeybees left on the feeder boards,” adds Dyck. “I think the honeycomb marks are possible codes to be cracked, or possible messages from the hives.”
Also on view is the ceramic tableau Arrival (2006-2007), and a beekeeper’s suit that Dyck sewed with her studio assistant, artist Megan Krause, using old hive blankets, cloth, honeycomb, and linen thread. “To me, the suit is Aganetha’s tribute to the beekeepers who were so incredibly important to her art over the years,” says Eichhorn. “They not only helped Aganetha, but directed a lot of love and care towards the bees themselves.”
In addition to the works on view, the exhibition considers Dyck’s profound interest in the health of honeybees. The population of these small yet powerful insects has significantly decreased in recent years, leading to questions about the very existence of life on Earth without them. “At this time, there is huge concern environmentally about the bees disappearing, and how this will impact our world,” says Eichhorn. “This exhibition is a great reminder of the kind of communication and collaborative interaction that can happen when we treat other species with respect.”
“I hope that people will realize the importance of the honeybees’ work, and the beauty and strength in their wax comb,” adds Dyck. “I also hope that the exhibition shows people that I am interested in the power of the small within our global environment.”
Aganetha Dyck, The Last Canvases (2011–2012), canvas, beeswax, honeycomb, approx. 40.6 x 40.6 cm. Photo: William Eakin. Collection of the artist
Perhaps the most interesting quality of the exhibition is its underlying, yet obvious emotion. “Aganetha’s work is always beautiful, but this exhibition is particularly poignant,” says Eichhorn. “I think that if she had been able to, she would have continued working with the bees until the end of her life.”
Dyck says, “It has been difficult working on this exhibition. Working without the honeybees has made me very sad, and it has taken a long time to realize that I am on my own — that the collaborative energy from the honeybees is no longer available.”
Nonetheless, Dyck plans to keep the honeybees close to her heart and present in her home. “I am currently creating a series of bookends that will embrace my collection of bee-related books,” she says. “I am also looking for methods of working with them long-distance.”
Until then, the exhibition serves as an opportunity for Dyck — and fans of her work — to say thank you and goodbye. So long, honeybees. Farewell.
Denouement: Memories of the Hive is on view at the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario until January 10, 2016.
Shannon Moore is an Ottawa-based journalist specializing in writing about art and architecture.
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