Rosa Rankin-Gee on the honey from the Be:e
Serein – serene – is a great name for river. It runs leisurely through deep Burgundy, and Noyers, one of the medieval villages along its banks, is regularly voted one of the most beautiful spots in France: all limestone, lime trees and freshly-painted volets. This is where you’ll find La Porte Peinte, an international arts centre, unassumingly poised between a Crédit Agricole bank and a charcuterie shop.
Last year, the centre launched its striking 160m2 ground-floor gallery space with a cocktail no-one had heard of before : ‘CaliforNoyer’, where 10 West Coast artists came to be shaken up with the small, cobbled cité. This year, the centre’s second major show follows a theme with a slightly more conventional artistic tradition: ‘Be:e’. (Ignore the colon; the artists did.) The Bee, and all things associated: honey, beeswax, buzz, sting.
The first surprise is how many contributors there are. The gallery has four rooms, the price list is four pages – everything is full. The second is that the pieces are bulls-eye on theme. Considering the relative isolation of the gallery and its newcomer status on the global arts scene, the wealth of international artists – and their willingness to produce fresh, focused material for the show – is testament to founder Michelle Anderson Binczak’s compelling curatorial skills.
Naturally, the quality is not all Manuka. Stars of the show, however, include young Dutch artist Bette Adriaanse, whose epic Lente (unfortunately obscured during the vernissage behind the moonshine punch and terracotta stacks of pain d’épice) shows just how much you can do with a pencil. Fine, metallic, open-beaked birds; the cross-section of an avian foetus; the similar fragility of a bee’s wing and a poppy petal – all of it rendered with grace and precision.
Michael McConnell’s triptych of honey-dipped bears is as fun to look at as it is to say, and Marta Solomianko’s beeswax creations are cumulatively impressive. Another great feature of the show is the multi-form response to the theme. As well as the sculptures and murals, a hive of live bees welcomes you and literary fiction awaits in the final room. A short story by current writer-in-residence Nathaniel Krause is Carver-esque and presented intriguingly in a self-carpentered wooden box. A bizarre Oulipien piece using and re-using over 100 apiculture terms, and the prologue of The Honey Farm (by HRM’s very own Harriet Alida Lye and of which you can read a section here – The Honey Farm), are two further highlights.
One piece that may be less universally pleasing is Blood and Honey by Helsinki-born Riiko Sakkinen: a duo of ketchup and mustard bottles, the type you get in a cheap diner, re-labelled as the words of the title. It’s playful, if a little trivial, and while it may deserve its place in the show, its unfathomable price-tag in direct conjunction with the description of media (“permanent market on condiment containers.”) makes it the type of piece that puts the bees in the bonnet of the bitter “Is this art???” brigade.
Overall though, the show is a deserved success – rounded, rich, and pleasing to plural senses. There is something honey-ish in the air, and when the live bees have a quiet day, visitors can pick up one of the ‘bee mandolins’ created by the Festival O-Bon des Abeilles, a simple four-string cardboard construction which when strummed creates the hum of a whole hive.
Be:e runs until 28 June 2013. Noyers sur Surein is 1h20 mins away from Paris. For further details, please see www.laportepeinte.com