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This artist wants you to send her dead bees, please

Ruth Marsh wants you to mail her dead bees. If nothing else, that request is one hell of a conversation starter, which is perfect, because that's just what this Halifax artist is out to do. Through her crowdsourced art project Ideal Bounds, Marsh has been discussing environmental crisis with hundreds of people around the country.

Hundreds of Canadians have mailed Ruth Marsh dead bugs, and you can keep 'em coming

Oh no, not the bees. Yes, Ruth Marsh wants you to send them to her. The Halifax artist has collected 400 specimens from people around the country, and 300 of her taxidermy "cyborg" bees are now on display at Calgary's The New Gallery. (Facebook/May I Have Your Bees Please?)

Ruth Marsh wants you to mail her dead bees.

If nothing else, that request makes a hell of a conversation starter, and that's perfect, because that's ultimately what this Halifax artist is out to do.

"Bees are a good place to start when you want to talk to people about the environment," says Marsh, "and in a way that's hopefully playful and funny and fun and hopefully engaging."

"There's an awful lot of cultural affection that people have for bees," she says. They're fascinating, they're beautiful — "at least, I think so," says Marsh, and after graduating from NSCAD in 2006, the multi-disciplinary artist found herself habitually painting and drawing the creatures in works exploring themes of ecological crisis.

Bees and other pollinating species are dying out, disappearing at such an alarming rate that the United Nations issued an international call to action in February, demanding change before the world's food supply is endangered.

When you consider news like that, newswe'vebeenhearingforyears, a world without bees is a very possible reality, and it's one Marsh explores in Ideal Bounds, an exhibition currently on display at The New Gallery in Calgary before travelling to more cities around the country later this year.

Visit the show, and you'll be inside a natural history museum of the near future — the year 2050, let's say.

(Christina Arsenault/www.ruthmarsh.ca)
(Christina Arsenault/www.ruthmarsh.ca)
(Christina Arsenault/www.ruthmarsh.ca)

In Marsh's imagination, bees have been extinct for years, but there were a few man-made interventions before they all died out. Science gave cyborg bees a try, for instance. And under a variety of glass bell jars, you'll find 300 of these technologically enhanced bees — taxidermy specimens tricked out with shiny found objects, each one meticulously altered by Marsh under risk of stinging.

(Facebook/May I Have Your Bees Please?)

"It was a funny thing to learn how to do by myself. There was definitely a lot of trial and error," Marsh laughs, talking about bee taxidermy. A detailed video of her process is included as part of the show: "Bee Taxidermy: A How To Guide," a nine-minute clip that teaches you how to "prepare for a world without bees."

Every bee in Ideal Bounds is real, and every bee has a story — and it's all thanks to hundreds of Canadians.

Through her Facebook page — the whimsically titled May I Have Your Bees, Please? — Marsh has been crowdsourcing dead insects since 2010 in addition to regularly sharing news and research about the creature's plight.

Should you find a recently deceased bee — and it should really be a found bee, not a pest you recently dispatched with a newspaper — send her a message.

In reply, she will mail you a package with everything you need to participate. You'll receive a container (for the bee), a self-addressed stamped envelope (for mailing the bee) and a hand-drawn gift as a token of thanks (it will, most likely, be a picture of a bee).

Some of Ruth Marsh's bee kits, ready for mailing. (Facebook/May I Have Your Bees Please?)

You'll also get a short questionnaire asking this: How do you think it died?

The responses, along with the bees, have been collected for Ideal Bounds. "Sometimes people will write me stories," Marsh says, funny messages inspired by the whimsical nature of the project. Other people are more serious, she explains. "Beekeepers will, you know, tell it like it is."

At this point, Marsh has received more than 400 insects from people around the country who've largely discovered the project through word-of-mouth. Marsh says she's supplied various artist-run centres with her bee kits, and she'd like to "reach out to some conservation agencies" as partners, as well.

Bee-movie? Ruth Marsh has been using bees like these as stop-motion animation puppets. (Facebook/May I Have Your Bees Please?)

More recently, the project has evolved to include stop-motion animation. Making films with her bees is Marsh's current focus, and she's begun to re-make each bee with fully articulated limbs. They're the stars of a short film, also called "Ideal Bounds," which she is currently submitting to festivals. By winter, she hopes to produce a longer-format piece.

"Not only am I repairing them one at a time, but I'm bringing them back to life in whatever way that I can," she says of her re-animated hive. "I'm taking a Mary Shelley approach to the whole thing."

(Christina Arsenault/www.ruthmarsh.ca)
Inside Ideal Bounds at Calgary's The New Gallery. (Su Ying Strang/The New Gallery)

Ruth Marsh. Ideal Bounds. To June 25 at The New Gallery, Calgary. www.thenewgallery.org.

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