Ideal Bounds

Ruth Marsh

May 20 – June 25, 2016

Public Discussion

In conversation with Dr. Ralph Cartar, Ruth Marsh, and Amber Yano
Saturday, May 21 at 2:00 pm
Located at The New Gallery – 208 Centre St. SE

Please join us for a public discussion on pollinators, environment, human impact, and bee decrepitude with Ruth Marsh‘s esteemed guests, Dr. Ralph Cartar (University of Calgary) and Amber Yano (Maple Greenview Honey) for a diverse and interesting cross disciplinary dialogue in response to Marsh’s exhibition.

Exhibition Description

Ideal Bounds imagines a hypothetical near-future where the world’s bees have succumbed to colony collapse disorder. This wry, dystopian musing plays with signifiers one finds in present-day museum exhibits depicting species which have become extinct due to human causes.

Ruth Marsh has been creating the multi-disciplinary, community engaged series of works which make up Ideal Bounds, since 2011. Contributions of found, dead bees are mailed to Marsh’s Halifax studio from individuals across Canada. The bees are preserved and meticulously repaired using discarded technology.

The hundreds of mended and refurbished bees line shelves in the gallery space, each in its own small, glass case. Viewers are further invited to engage with this grotesque narrative by taking in the DIY instructional video Bee Taxidermy: A How To Guide which demonstrates the step-by-step process of restoring one’s own bee.

This work plays with themes of environmental loss through practical, labour intensive and repetitive explorations of radical transformation: life to death, reality to memory and the surrealistic degradation of information that occurs with each successive change of state. What is left after each phase gains more and more the uncanny strangeness of a close yet unfaithful copy and what is created in the end is something else altogether: an irrevocably altered, transubstantiated other.


Ideal Bounds

“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. … I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time … renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Imagine. The year is 2050. You are visiting a small roadside museum that shows the first prototypes of hybrid bionic honey bees created after the eradication of all bees resulting from the complete collapse of bee colonies the world over, more than a decade earlier. In this story, Ruth Marsh plays a Frankensteinian role, first recovering the lifeless bodies of bees and then repairing, improving, and reanimating them through a process equal parts bio-robotic taxidermy, DIY craftiness, and jewelry-making. In their glass vitrines, the circuitry, lenses, and light emitting diodes of the bionic prototypes appear as precious elements, while the gems, golden ornamentation, and copper wire become powerful technological talismans.

Most likely, you have arrived at this roadside attraction aboard an automated self-driven transport bus. No one drives their own vehicles anymore. In fact, few people ‘work’ in the way they used to. Today, robots and machines preform most of the manual and computational labor. For lunch, you probably had a beige nutritional paste. Vegetables and fruits disappeared over a decade ago without bees to pollinate them. It is a very different world.

In the early twenty-first century, bees displaying the beginning symptoms of the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) were unproductive as they behaved in an agitated, disoriented manner, seemingly cut-off from the cohesive interconnectedness of the hive, eventually wandering off to die alone. Unfortunately, the effects were not singular. In a matter of days, the entire colony would be deserted. This phenomenon swept colonies the world over. Much like a canary in a coal shaft, the onslaught of CCD foreshadowed and then mirrored our own troubled collapse; first with the degradation and abuse of the natural environment, the unstable failing economy, and the precarity of labour, followed swiftly by the breakdown of social cohesion and the subsequent unrest and upheaval. You are right to feel nervous about what comes next. Presented as artefacts in glass vitrines, Marsh’s prototypes hint at the initial machinations of the first post-apocalyptic technocratic hives, and the busy cyborg bees that attended them. Do we glimpse our own destiny here? In imagining this dystopian future for honey bees, Marsh probes our anxieties about the uncertain way ahead, and questions what our role and place will be. Ideal Bounds provides a provocative meditation on the fragile ecologies we participate in (social and natural), and the larger networks – technological, capital, and ideological – that structure our lives, and prescribe our futures.

—  Julie Hollenbach


Ralph Cartar is an ecologist at the University of Calgary, and has studied the ecology of bumble bees in Alberta & BC for over 30 years, starting with his doctoral research at Simon Fraser University. He and his students at the University of Calgary have investigated the behaviour of bumble bees across a range of natural and human-altered landscapes, particularly in forests, prairies, and agro-ecosystems.  Ralph is interested in how bees wear themselves out through their foraging activities. He is generally smitten with bumble bees, and hopes others will be, too.

Julie Hollenbach is a writer, artist, educator, and cultural worker.  Hollenbach is invested in thoughtfully interrogating contemporary art and everyday common cultures; engaging joyfully in creative researc h approaches; utilizing queer and feminist methodologies; and supporting de-colonizing/anti-oppression interventions in public institutions and academic discourses.

Ruth Marsh is a multidisciplinary artist based out of Halifax, NS. Her work uses a poetic, absurd and often comically deadpan approach to address loss, absence and longing in the context of living creatures and the natural world. Since graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2006, her practice has spanned painting, drawing, taxidermy, video, performance, installation and stop-motion animation. Her work has been shown in galleries, museums and festivals in Canada and the US including The Confederation Centre of the Arts (Charlottetown, PE), Nocturne: Art at Night (Halifax, NS) and WorldFest International Film Festival (Houston, TX).

Amber Yano is a Canadian beekeeper, naturalist and artist. Soon after graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2010, she redirected her interests from art to bugs.

She says, “Discovering the order hymenoptera; ants, bees, wasps and termites, changed my life. Understanding connectivity, networks and systems in another way has broadened my scope of life on earth.”

Amber has apiary experience through Honey View Farm, and has been an employee of Apiaries and Bees for Communities since 2014. In 2012 she started her own business called Maple Greenview, a small honey supplier to Calgary businesses and purveyor in sustainable agriculture.

This show is made possible with support from: