Art Installation Buzzes With Meditation

Art Gallery of Ontario features beekeeper event

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Beekeeper

Beekeeper by Toronto artist Winnie Truong

Call it a hive of non-activity. Picture 100 garbed beekeepers seated in an atrium of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), doing nothing but meditating together for five hours.

That’s what visitors will see at the gallery during Nuit Blanche in Toronto Oct. 5.

“It’s eccentric, it’s surprising,” says Prof. Diane Borsato, School of Fine Art and Music. “It’s a kind of covert protest demonstration. It’s like a sit-in. One hundred beekeepers will be sitting quietly and occupying an atrium in the city for five hours.”

Now spending this fall as the AGO’s artist-in-residence, she’s organizing the installation. The event, called Your Temper, My Weather, will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight in the gallery’s Walker Court.

Borsato hopes visitors will meditate in turn on human impacts on the environment and on the role played by bees in producing food through crop pollination. Referring to declining bee populations, she says, “A lot of beekeepers are actually really angry.”

The installation will feature beekeepers in full garb – without veils or head coverings – meditating along with three instructors.

A commissioned illustration called Beekeeper by Toronto artist Winnie Truong will be displayed in the AGO’s Comper Gallery.

Borsato says “temper” and “weather” become metaphors for how human activities affect not just bees but our landscape and environment.

“This is a way to stop to quietly reflect on things and the lesson that bees impart – a way of being in the world that is considerate to the environment and the creatures around you.”

For Borsato, the event brings together her art career and her own amateur beekeeping hobby. A Toronto resident, she tends hives with her dad at her parents’ home in Mississauga, Ont.

“I was curious to have that intimate relationship with these little animals, how they live and work. They’re fascinating.”

Learning about bees became a two-pronged project for Borsato. In Toronto and in Italy between 2009 and 2011, she learned about beekeeping while also picking up the Italian language. Her immersion experiment also included instruction in ping pong, salsa dancing and first aid, all in Italian.

She still has some of the vocabulary from her tutorials with beekeepers in Sicily and northern Italy. Bee is ape. Queen: regina. Sting? “I blocked that one out.”

To find 100 participants for the AGO project, she sent notices to beekeeping groups around the city and southern Ontario. Some tend hives full- or part-time. Other participants have taken beekeeping courses or just love bees.

Does she?

“I wouldn’t say love. I’m really intrigued by bees, they’re really interesting. I’m in awe of them, I’m a little afraid of them, they’re important and their interconnectedness to the wider environment is meaningful. And I love honey.”

Borsato has meshed her art career and her nature interests with other groups.

In an earlier project called Terrestrial/Celestial that appeared in Toronto and Vancouver, she worked with amateur naturalists and astronomers collecting mushrooms by day and observing the night sky.

Her work has appeared across Canada and internationally.

The AGO began its artist-in-residence program in 2011. The first of its kind at a major Canadian art museum, the program hosts up to six artists each year.