|Honeybee Dance, 9.25" x 12.5", linocut by Ele Willoughby, 2016|
Years ago I read the most marvellous speculative essay by Ursula K. Le Guin, 'The Author of the Acadia Seeds' (written in 1974) about therolinguistics, the scholarly study of communication in non-human animals. There is translation of fragmentary ant texts, a discussion of a glossary of Penguin and its assorted dialects with comparisons to Dolphin and other Cetacean languages, Fish texts and so forth. The essay culminates with an editorial calling for the study of possible plant communication or art... but warning, "For it is simply not possible to bring the critical and technical skills appropriate to the study of Weasel murder mysteries*, or Batrachian erotica, or the tunnel sagas of the earthworm, to bear on the art of the redwood or the zucchini," - to give you a taste of this wondrous fiction. What I particularly love is that it is written not as science fiction so much as speculative science, much in the same way that I am trying to write about my imaginary miniature linocut menagerie in progress. And of course, in the 40 some odd years since Le Guin wrote her essay, there has been a lot of actual scientific progress on animal communication - and in fact language. Not only are there non-human primates who have been taught to sign, but there is evidence that animals have words (including evidence of prairie dogs who "describe" humans by size and clothing colour, or gibbons who have specific words for cloud leopard or snake, and of course the incredible complexity observed in whale song, as explained in this great blog I stumbled upon while trying to recall the name of Le Guin's essay). For that matter, there has been significant progress in studying plant communication too!
You may have heard about honeybee communication and how they pass information from one another through dance. One of the sorts of dance is the subject of my print. A worker bee can return to the hive and through the way it aligns itself with respect to the sun and the honeycomb, the waggles and loops of its movement convey information on the location in terms of distance and direction of tasty flower pollen sources to its fellow bees.
|'Bees of Toronto' and description and images of some of my bee art.|
I am considering making a more complex piece which incorporates this print along with other types of bees, to submit to the show. Part of my motivation is to "think locally". Honey bees are not native to North America. While the Colony Collapse Disorder is of great concern and honey bees are very popular, if our aim is to protect pollinators, we should perhaps focus attention on native bees. In fact, as York University's Prof. Sheila Colla points out, European honey bees are in fact "fierce competitors for pollen and nectar and can transmit diseases to our wild bees" and that we should encourage biodiversity of pollinators for ecosystem health, rather than encouraging the honey bee. I've been thinking about all this particularly since I recently received copies of 'Bees of Toronto,' which has been in the works for a few years now. Part of their ongoing series about biodiversity in the city, it includes information about the hundreds of bee species who live here, where and when you can see them and what you can do to help our beleaguered pollinators. It also includes some cultural history of bees in Toronto and features the work of local artists (visual art, sound and poetry) inspired by bees, including my linocut and multimedia bee series. I especially love the gorgeous photos from the bee researchers at York University. If you're interested in our urban wildlife and conservation you should check this series out! Full pdf of released volumes can be found online. Complete with introduction by Margaret Atwood (and I am chuffed to think my words are published in the same book as hers).
*This also makes me happy because as a child, my mother kept my brothers and I occupied by telling us stories on long car trips, and I'll always remember the lengthy gopher murder mystery she spun as we slowly crossed the Prairies.