Nova Scotia

This Halifax woman has collected 500 dead bees and is turning them into art

Ruth Marsh uses pieces of electronics to turn the insects into "cyberpunk" creations. She is painstakingly preserving the pollinators in an effort to raise awareness about bee decline.

Ruth Marsh wants to showcase her stop-motion animation in a giant dome this summer

Ruth Marsh has launched an Indiegogo campaign for a two-month artist residency this summer. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Bent over a dead bee in the attic of her north-end Halifax apartment, Ruth Marsh carefully wraps copper wire around the insect's fragile legs.

This is how the artist spends her time — up close and personal with bees.

She's painstakingly preserving the pollinators one at a time in an effort to raise awareness about bee decline. It's a poetic response to a real problem. 

"I imagine myself as an amateur scientist … who's doing this research with folks who are finding these dead bees and asking people to empathize and think and consider how the bee might have died," said Marsh.

Marsh taxidermically preserves the bees and then repairs them using discarded electronics. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Marsh has collected 500 dead bees from people all across the country.

She takes their tiny bodies apart, glues them back together, then adds pieces of electronics. She reanimates her "cyberpunk" creations by making tiny adjustments and taking hundreds of photos that are then pieced together to make it appear they are moving on video.

This summer, Marsh is teaming up with IOTA Institute, a Halifax-based arts organization, for what's called an immersive cinema artist residency. She plans to broadcast her animation inside a nine-metre 360-degree dome that's meant to mimic a living, breathing beehive.

Marsh is currently crowdfunding so she can set up the equipment and work with a technician during the two-month residency. 

Marsh has hundreds of dead-bee creations stored in her apartment. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"I work with very small things very meticulously, and there's nothing more exciting than taking that and then blowing it up to its sort of furthest logical conclusion in terms of size," she said. 

Marsh started working with dead bees in 2011.

Through her Facebook page, May I Have Your Bees Please?, she asked people to mail her bees and fill out a short questionnaire about them.

"I've been very touched by the effort and care that people put into sending me bees," she said. "I recognize that it's maybe not the most pleasant or it might be a slightly unsavoury thing to pick up a bee."

Andrew Hebda, curator of zoology with the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, said the answer to why bees are disappearing in parts of Canada and across the world isn't a simple one. 

Pesticides, climate change and loss of habitat are all to blame.

Hebda said Nova Scotia's roughly 150 to 200 bee species aren't facing the same kind of decline as other areas of Canada thanks in part to our climate.

But because bees are "specialists" and not "generalists," he said they require ecological diversity.

Once Marsh has repaired the bees, she takes thousands of photographs for her stop-motion animation. (Submitted by Ruth Marsh)

"It's easy to go and get something and spray, for example, in your garden. But if you don't have to do it, why put an additional pressure on [the bees]?" he said. 

Mireille Bourgeois, the artistic director of IOTA Institute, calls Marsh's work "incredibly relevant," especially as Canada takes stronger steps to protect bees.

Bourgeois hopes it's just the beginning of the residency in Halifax. 

People from across the country have mailed Marsh bees. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"We're extremely excited about this because we've got such a long list of artists that really deserve that time in a dome to learn this technology and create a new work," she said. 

As for Marsh, she's become somewhat of a bee expert and is now able to identify different species and pinpoint where they live in Canada.

"I have no expectation that I'll be solving this problem myself but it's a sort of conversation starter," Marsh said.

Mireille Bourgeois, artistic director of IOTA Institute, is organizing the artist residency. (Emma Smith/CBC)