Pinpoints of Perception is an on-going project that was originally created for an Art & Science research laboratory that I participated in during 2011 which focused on climate change in southern Arizona. As part of the laboratory we stayed at El Coronado Ranch hosted by Cuenca los Ojos Foundation, where I learned about Dr. Robert Minckley’s research on native bees of that area.

Minckley Lab, University of Rochester

Bee Specimen Collectors

 

“That the world of things can open itself to reveal a secret life—indeed, to reveal a set of actions and hence a narrativity and history outside the given field of perception—is a constant daydream that the miniature presents. This is the daydream of the microscope: the daydream of life inside life, of significance multiplied infinitely within significance.” —Susan Stewart

 

Pinpoints of Perception: Portraits of 1000 Native Bees

 

Oil on copper, etched glass, steel, wood and mixed media

2013 and on-going

 

This mixed-media installation moves between the cloistered world of the academic collection to a public art space, visually illuminating the vast bee diversity endemic to southern Arizona and northern Mexico for the first time to the general public. It invites the audience to participate in the discovery of these diminutive and industrious creatures which play such a crucial ecological role as pollinators.

 

The Sonoran Desert is one of the world’s richest areas for bee diversity—scientists believe there are upwards of 1,300 native species. From the woolly buzz-pollinating Bombus sonorus to the diminutive 2 mm Perdita minima—these bees are manifold, but there are many factors contributing to their decline. Like many places in the world, the dilemma facing the Sonoran desert due to climate change and competition from non-native species has created far-reaching problems. I have drawn upon the expertise and research of entomologist Bob Minckley and assistance from Carl Olson, who so kindly elucidated all matters of bees, helped me identify names and have lent me specimens to photograph for the project. Specimen collections are becoming increasingly important records in the face of decline and extinction, and as such create an apt message.

 

The portraits—life-size oil paintings rendered inside tiny copper trays—construct a narrative of intimacy and infinity by delicately describing the singular idiosyncrasies of each and every species, soliciting the audience to pause at each specimen with magnifying glass in hand, while allowing their sheer numbers to inspire—even overwhelm. Each painting is numbered, and a key below lists the information found on its label including the scientist, year and place of collection, and sometimes more detail such as the Latin name of the flower it was found on. The process of finding names, borrowing and photographing specimens and labor-intensively painting them essentially captures and recaptures, collects and recollects—an obsessive endeavor that in itself becomes an act against loss.

 

Pinpoints of Perception explores the paradox of the portrait: how the laborious capturing of an image becomes both archival and interpretative, creating greater awareness. As a buzzing iridescent blur— which hovers but for a moment—native bees scarcely interrupt our daily focus. A phenomenon known as Baader-Meinhoff or frequency illusion describes how once one is made aware of something, suddenly it is seen everywhere, extending recognition. I hope this project will inspire others to begin to see native bees and actively participate in their conservation— it pays homage to a vast but vanishing natural abundance while simultaneously honoring the species themselves and the scientists who have been profoundly committed to their study and preservation even as they document their decline.