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Inside The Hard Life Of The Modern Bee

An exhibit called Nectar: War upon the Bees explores the damage we’re doing to our pollinators.

Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco want you to rethink weeds. The artists run the Next Epoch Seed Library, a seed bank stocked with specimens from vacant lots, sidewalks, and superfund sites in the New York City area. The plants tend to get torn out or doused with herbicides–but they also help stabilize soil, suck up carbon, and keep cities cooler as the climate changes.

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Wild city plants also help support pollinators like bees in urban areas–which is why the seed library is part of a new exhibit called Nectar: War upon the Bees at Pratt Manhattan Gallery.

“We’re trying to help validate and help people engage with these wild plants that are often called weeds,” says Irons. “And to think about them as habitat, think about them as these really valuable parts of green infrastructure . . . that would also be beneficial for a whole suite of nonhumans, including bees.”

The exhibit focuses on the challenges that bees and other pollinators face–from pesticides to climate change–and how those interrelate with other environmental and societal challenges.

A synthetic honeycomb is based on modern architecture; a flower sculpted from dollar bills references greed in industrial agriculture. A set of glass petri dishes with samples of flowers, food, and pollinators is a comment on bioengineering. Photographs of birds at a museum in Spain are meant to make viewers think about extinction.

“What I like in the works is that they are very political, but they’re so poetic,” says curator Berta Sichel. “They make reference to classical painting; they make reference to conceptual art. It’s an interesting group of people.”

As Sichel writes in an essay about the show, the threats facing pollinators go beyond the possible loss of species to impacts on the food system and the rest of society.

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Nectar: War upon the Bees is a visual essay on the mortality of pollinators as a consequence of the faster-bigger-cheaper approach to food production that is steadily draining our planet’s resources, and that could ultimately provoke the collapse of our civilization.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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