megachile alienus

An Installation by Cole Swanson
Scientific collaboration: Laurence Packer
Thanks to: Alessandro Marletta and Anna Lisa Manini

Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Sala del Camino, June 22-28, 2022

detail of the magnifying lens at the top of the gallery

Interdisciplinary artist Cole Swanson explored two species of solitary bees that can be found both in Italy and Southern Ontario, Megachile rotundata, or alfalfa leafcutter bee, Swanson’s installation examines the impacts of these species on these two distant contexts, providing a cross-cultural and pan-geographic portrait of two regions teetering on ecological and economic decline in a shared way. The artwork employs multiple modes of presentation, remixing taxonomical research, natural history, and science fiction aesthetics (particularly playing with the idea of alien/immigrant invasive/native), to confound linear and universal narratives on these complex organisms.

Megachile rotundata, or alfalfa leafcutter bee, is native to Europe, but was imported into Canada for its efficient pollination ability to contribute to alfalfa, carrots, and other cultivations. Megachile scupturalis, or giant resin bee, originated from Japan and China and appeared first in Canada (1990s), then in Europe (2009). Its rapid spread represents an emerging threat to biodiversity. The different mobility of these two species create some interesting parallels. What is invasive and “alien,” and for whom? How have these two species adapted to different locations? How have they mutated?

Given the particular structure of the city of Venice, the circulation of bicycles in the laguna is limited or forbidden. Therefore, the mobile gallery was mounted on a tall platform on office-like wheels, to allow access at eyes’ level.

The view inside the Complesso Cosma and Damiano, where the exhibition took place

Cole Swanson

Cole Swanson is an artist and educator based in Toronto, Canada. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and throughout international venues in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. He is a two-time national fellowship winner through the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute for his research on miniature painting and fresco techniques in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Under the supervision of modern Indian artist and professor Nathulal Verma, Swanson studied techniques for the manufacture and use of natural materials, mineral pigments and handmade supports.

At the heart of recent work is a cross-disciplinary exploration of materials and their sociocultural and biological histories. Embedded within art media and commonplace resources are complex relations between nature and culture, humans and other agents, consumers and the consumed.
Swanson has received support from public agencies including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.