Reviews, News and Commentary

Anne Noble’s new book is a Journey of Discovery into the Life of Bees

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

RRP $60.00

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.

Anne Noble, Dead Bee Portrait #1

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.

Anne Noble at her APT exhibition in 2018

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s