Dear Mason Bees,
I am starting this letter to you at the end of April 2020. I sit in my studio on the edge of the village of Nowogród in northern Poland, looking out of the window. I can see the tops of tall trees growing on a steep slope. Until recently, there was a swamp at the bottom. Now it is slowly turning into a dry rubbish tip. The drought in this part of Europe is severe. Forests and peat bogs are burning. Food will soon be scarce. In addition, we are plagued by strange, new diseases, new viruses, such as the coronavirus, which are the result of our cruelty towards other species. Many people die from it. As a species, we don’t have much time left, and we know it. Perhaps you will survive the catastrophe we have prepared for ourselves and the environment. We will not.
I would like to tell you about something that seems to me to be the most valuable of the miserable achievements that we are leaving behind. That something is art, a strange occupation that you probably don’t know about. Much like you belly-collectors carry valuable pollen on your abdomen, so we transfer valuable experiences and thoughts in the form of works of art. And then we give them to the world, just like you prepare a ball of pollen and nectar for your larvae. Our particularly sensitive individuals feed on art and cannot survive without it.
Look carefully as you fly by the works of art, I hope that you will remember what you see. Pass it on to your larvae, tell them what they are looking at. When we are gone, you insects will pass the knowledge of art on. Maybe even to other species.
In the living room, in the cosy corner between the sofa and an armchair there is a lamp and behind it, discreetly out of view, there is a portrait. The male in the hat is Marcel Duchamp, an artist known for his sense of irony. His humour laid the foundation for contemporary art. The portrait you see is called Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp’s female alter-ego (a pun of the French phrase: “Sex is life”). You know what sex is. Your females are bigger and they decide about your sex life. As far as I know, the male sits on the female’s back and vibrates with the muscles of his torso, rubs his antennae against the female’s antennae, and his front legs against her eyes. I would give a lot to experience that.
Well, this beautiful photo of Rrose Sélavy was taken by Man Ray, Duchamp’s friend, who you should also remember. His tombstone reads “Unconcerned but not indifferent”. On Duchamp’s tombstone, in turn: “Besides, it’s always the others who die”. Not us!
I don’t know about you, but among Homo sapiens some males love to pretend to be females, it excites them, makes them passionate and emotional. Only then do they experience their species’ fulfilment.
Right next to Rrose Sélavy, in the same room, hangs a painting by another male, Max Ernst. He was such a prolific artist… This little picture is called Joy of Life. Gigantic undergrowth, far from being a paradise, conceals struggles of life and death… It seems that we forgot how difficult it is to survive.
On the kitchen floor – because it fell off the wall – there is a small sketch. Kind of nothing, but important. It’s called Asphalt Spiral. It was drawn in 1971 by a male called Robert Smithson. At that time, we did not know yet that oil would turn out to be such a curse. Because asphalt is a sort of bituminous gunk, there are cars on it and it is made of oil. Unfortunately, it is the emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels like bitumen, that are the greatest threat to the atmosphere, which keeps everyone – you and us – safe in its miraculous cloak. Smithson wanted to built a spiral pyramid out of it! Beautiful… but it would be a memorial for dirty oil corporations. Smithson was damn smart and invented something called Land art. Dealing with earth, water, stones and sun. Something you do every day.
Enough of the males. Now the females. Take a look at the bathroom. This is a portrait of Meret Oppenheim. I adore her. She looks like a giant insect. She once made a beautiful column-fountain in the city of Bern, Switzerland, in which many species of plants and animals found a home. I lived by that fountain. I suspect Meret Oppenheim herself was a walking work of art.
Right next to it, in the bathtub, Teresa Murak is wading in what she called grain. Probably seeds. A pleasure similar to you rolling in pollen.
Next to her, there is another female I love, Katarzyna Kobro. And her work – Hanging Structure from 1921. A huge hanging egg. And you know that, after all, the eggs you lay are not so small at all. Kobro invented the concept of an infinite space, the kind without end, without divisions – space of energies condensed by form. You know it too, just think about flying through the twigs of a bush. Kobro’s sculptures would only distort your flight trajectory.
Remember Kobro, she had a hard life with her famous male, Władysław Strzemiński. Well, our female artists buzz and resonate in completely different frequencies to the males. I don’t want to be unfair but females seem to be a bit more sophisticated.
Oh look – it’s his picture, I hung it in the kitchen, it looks a bit like the comb of your honeybee cousins. About him in a moment.
Next to it is a photo of Kobro herself, look at her, at her distant, misty eyes. Perhaps they are looking for endless space.
If you hover a bit lower, you’ll see something called a urinal, designed to be pissed in by human males. Funny idea, eh? Imagine, this work caused a revolution in the minds of humans. The Fountain, as it is called, made artists think a bit further and more broadly about what art can be. Just like collecting pollen from a new weed!
Remember, you are still in a human bathroom, where females and males spend a lot of time washing themselves in water, donating undigested remnants of liquids and food to a small porcelain bowl, and even looking at their reflection in a silver-coated pane of glass. This was our unstable and unsustainable culture.
And now a bedroom – look, a bed, something that helps us sleep, a cradle or a small platform on four legs. Here, our males often force females to mate against their will… There is a strange painting by Jerzy Nowosielski right above the bed. A male in a suit, which is a kind of … package, a female undressed to the waist, suspended, limbs tied uncomfortably, at the top, it must have hurt … The male pulls the rope even higher and looks. He enjoys it. He’s got his hand in his pocket, nonchalant. I think the girl’s skirt is slipping.
Next to it, in the same bedroom, between a wardrobe from 1948 (yes, yes, three years after the end of the world war in which 60 million humans died) hangs a picture of a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. The sculpture is called Maman or Mum. Louise said: “The Spider is an ode to my mother. (…) Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.”
Marble eggs weigh down the abdomen. The mother is a tangle, a knot, and in the centre of this knot are eggs, her offspring. Maman is formidable and alert. Anyway, why am I telling you about spiders and cobwebs, you know very well what it means. Just look in the basement! Or, by mistake, get tangled in a spider web between blackthorn twigs! The only difference is that you don’t build a monument to them like we do. Nor to your mothers.
You don’t know what a monument is…? Ah, nothing important… It’s just an expression of fear that you will forget something, that’s all…
We fly downstairs to the kitchen. Right above the worktop, a huge honeycomb image! It is this partner of Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, who said: “A work of art expresses nothing.” There are no contrasts here, no movement, no weight or anything. Because the picture “is not a clash of shapes, it is not a drama, but, like any organism, it is a unified action of all its parts, it is the uniqueness of the expression of lines and colours.” Think of your bee body as an image.
We have come full circle, let’s take a look at the sitting room next door. I will not explain what is above the sofa, let it remain a secret. On the other hand, above the TV and the door there are two works by Max Ernst, whom I have already told you about. Human Form from 1931 and The Hundred Headless Woman. Do they not remind you of your own heads? I know you have big eyes on the sides of your heads and each eye is made up of several thousand hexagonal facets. Plus you have three eyes, so you see very well 🙂 It seems that Max Ernst’s characters were also watching him carefully… Those were the times, the 1930s! The madness of the imagination seemed endless. Pictures full of disturbing, menacing eroticism. Immediately afterwards, that terrible war took place. Too much fun for the Nazis…. fucking hornets.
I will leave you here, although there are still many works of art in your home that I could tell you about. We are, as a species, in such a sad moment, the energy is leaving me. I have been writing this text for a year! It’s April 2021 and we’re still dying from a funny little coronavirus!
Just remember art, it’s a one-of-a-kind activity. Generating energy between the most distant elements! Like your flying!