Kalamazoo Nature Center holds beekeeper gallery

By Sidney Selvig | 6/10/17 7:26am

GVL / Courtesy - Sidney Selvig

Collaboration and individualism are the driving forces behind a new exhibition produced by Ladislav Hanka at the Glen Vista Gallery in Kalamazoo’s Nature Center (KNC). By combining forces with honeybees, Hanka has created "The Great Wall of Bees" to showcase his artwork's uniqueness that comes with partnering with nature.

The exhibit is on display from May through July at the KNC; it is being held upstairs
in the interpretive center at the Glen Vista Gallery.

The Glen Vista Gallery has a massive picture window of one-way glass where people can
look out over Coopers Glen, the landscape the nature center was originally formed around. All exhibits for Glen Vista are nature-inspired, with different pieces featured every two months. Hanka’s artwork is the newest addition.

“The way that this exhibit fits into the nature center is very significant to me with the program, our surroundings and the time of year,” said Lisa Panich, communications director of the KNC. “It’s very unique, and we’re just very happy to have this exhibit here.”

Hanka lives in Kalamazoo and exhibits internationally. This show is running simultaneously with another show of his honeybee collaborations in the Oblaka Museum of Contemporary Art in Ufa, Russia. One of his etchings shown in this exhibit is "Kalamazoo River Songline," first shown at ArtPrize where it received the Curator’s Choice Award conferred by the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

His work examines themes of life, death and transfiguration, with his most recent work involving close collaborations with honeybees. Hanka has had about 110 one-man shows, and his etchings can be found in more than 120 public collections on all continents.

“In both of these callings, as artist and as keeper of the bees, I am entering primordial mysterious worlds that are at once alluring and potentially dangerous, and I couldn’t love it more," Hanka said.

Hanka’s artwork takes on a second life, as the etchings at the exhibit are inserted into a living hive where bees take over and collaborate in the creative process. The traditional pure etching that Hanka uses is a metal plate covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. Hanka then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he wants a line to appear in the piece, exposing the bare metal until there are various lines that will eventually create the finished artwork.

The bees will eventually cover everything over in wax or even capped honey, or they may take a dislike to the intrusion, in which case swarms of the little critics will start chewing up the artwork. Therefore, Hanka must continually monitor the hive to reclaim his work at the right moment.

Approximately 30,000 fuzzy honey bees with stingers and pollen sacks scoot around building causeways, tunnels, bracts and shelves of honeycomb in the dark. Sometimes the artwork is nearly covered over and other times chewed or perforated.

“There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive,” Hanka said. “You learn to respect that and care about these highly evolved creatures because I never know what they will do with my artwork, but the contribution of bees is always a breathtaking addition.”

The Glen Vista Gallery is a 1,300-square-foot gallery space, which acts as a space for artists to exhibit nature-related artwork. The KNC welcomes the public to explore its nature trails and its gallery artwork. There are, however, certain times when a class or other organization will use the space or have it reserved for a special event, so interested individuals should call ahead at (269) 381-1574 to verify gallery hours.

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