In 1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, the title referring to the silence of the birds due to DDT; this groundbreaking book led to the creation of the EPA. In 2015 pesticides and loss of habitat are endangering our pollinators and our bird population again. This concern is the inspiration for this science-based work from 2014-2015.
Disappearance is a series of installation pieces; camera-less wet plate collodion tintypes, the plates represent shadows of the past. In Disappearance I have created two bodies of work; wet plate tintype photograms of individual and mammoth plate tintype photograms (twenty inch by twenty inch plates) with thousands of dead honeybees. The photogram silhouettes are shadows of bees that once lived, and the large plates show the enormity of the issue Colony Collapse Disorder. The purpose is to create greater awareness of the problem. Whenever possible, I work with local apiarists, having them speak on CCD and the importance of our pollinators. Ten percent of the sales are donated to these local apiarists or to the Xerces Foundation, a not for profit organization for the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.
CCD, which has been affecting hives since 2005, is devastating our pollinators. The causes are numerous including habitat loss, mites, loss of food sources and pesticides. 100% of the commercial almond crop in the U.S. is grown in California. The almonds are pollinated by mobile beehives, as are many crops. The loss of hives drives up the cost of pollination; this loss will have a decimating effect on the economy and the food supply. Other crops dependent on bees that could disappear are: apples, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cotton, oranges, grapefruit, cucumbers, etc… a nearly endless list.
You can thank the Apis mellifera, better known as the Western honeybee, for 1 in every 3 mouthfuls you’ll eat today… As our farms become monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn — plants that provide little pollen for foraging bees — honeybees are literally starving to death. If we don’t do something, there may not be enough honeybees to meet the pollination demands for valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where up to 100,000 species go extinct each year, the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.
(Time Magazine The Plight of the Honeybee)
Disappearance individual bee plates are an interactive installation of 100-500 bees. By purchasing a tintype of an individual bee—which is priced inexpensively —anyone can actively participate in Disappearance, (by making the bees disappear during the course of the exhibition) bringing awareness to the problem. With the larger plates depicting thousands of bees, the enormity of the problem is apparent. I hope we have not recreated the environmental concerns of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.
Photography © S.Gayle Stevens
About S.Gayle Stevens
From 2014 till the present, I have been creating installations about the disappearance of our pollinators, primarily bees. Each installation is different and bee pollinated plants from the geographic area of each installation are highlighted.
The images below are from installations in Cleveland, Mississippi, Chicago, Illinois, Houston, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona and the ACTINIC Festival in Scotland. In Mississippi and Arizona cotton bolls were featured, in Chicago and Houston, plants from local farmers’ markets and flowers from the Botanic Gardens at ACTINIC. In Houston I had wildflower seed bombs to plant in urban areas.
Recently the Familia skateboard company approached me to create a series of skateboards from my Disappearance series.
The limited edition series of boards display hundreds of dead honeybees. Skateboard stores across the world are featuring these decks, including Focus in Edinburgh. I try to make each installation approachable, not mired in art criticism, to reach out to everyone. This worldwide problem should be of concern to all ages.