Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
In the Company of Bees
Anne Noble with Zara Stanhope and Anna Brown
Massey University Press
Publication Date: September 30
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
In recent years we have begun to realise that bees are essential for the health of people and the planet. We also realise that honey has medicinal properties and the role of bees as pollinators makes them vital for food supplies and crucial in promoting food security and variety in plants and animals
However, a rise in factors, such as pesticides and urbanization means that bees are currently in decline, negatively affecting many of the Earth’s ecosystems.
It is in this context that photographer Anne Noble’s new book Conversātiō is timely and important, looking at what the individual can achieve in exploring the world of the bee.
The book is a combination of artist’s book and personal journal along with essays which look at the science , history and literature associated with bees.
The title of the book, Conversātiō, is also the title of the key work which the artist showed at the Asia Pacific Triennial. This was a cabinet of wonder, devised to place a colony of bees at the centre of an artwork where the bees “performed” as living participants
Bees are an indicator species, they are subject to a range of environmental impacts from pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, diseases and parasites such as varroa. In the wider world there is also the risk of starvation caused by vast agricultural monocultures and the attendant loss of mixed wild foraging sources. How we manage and control the environment impacts on those species such as bees that we depend on and it is highly likely that what we are doing to them is most likely the same as what we are doing to ourselves.
The book charts the artists interest in bees from the first hive installed in her garden through to sets of photographic art works which look at bees through to her more recent installations which are part art works, part educational displays.
Throughout the book there is an underlying sense of an almost spiritual journey as the artist discovers more about the bee, its impact on our world and the impact on the artists life.
Her photographs present the hive life of bees in rich detail and include tintype (unique) photographs which show the beauty of translucent bee wings, photograms of dead bees and a black and white series of electron microscope images,
The text by Noble herself, Zara Stanhope, Gwyneth Porter, Mandyam V. Srinivasan and others provide insights into the world of the bee. There are also quotes and biographies related to historical figures and their writings about bees which include Virgil, Sylvia Plath and Carl Jung
There are also photographs of her installations at the Asia Pacific Triennial in 2018/2019 as well as at Intermediate Schools in the Wellington area where bees enter into the gallery or classroom space to build hives. There are also images of one of her first forays into the area with an exhibition at the Abbaye de Noirlac in central France with her collaborator apiarist Jean-Pierre Martin.
Then there is a separate booklet comprising a dozen letters sent between Noble and Martin which reveal their individual and collective passion for the bees
Noble says of the book “I hope the book might be a delight to hold, to read and to look at. Also, that it might amplify the reader’s sense of the beauty of bees and their importance to the health and wellbeing of our ecosystems.”
The book itself is a cabinet of wonders and a love letter to bees., It is beautifully designed by Anna Brown who has created a number of books on artists and art. The various sections are printed on different paper and the photographs from her exhibitions are rendered in excellent quality in both black and white and colour.