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Substance of Venom - Cherie Sampson

Friday, July 01, 2022 3:40 PM | Anonymous

Substance of Venom (2021-22) 4K single channel video. 9:34 (presented in a video installation constructed of applewood and silk above) Photo by: Lisa Wigoda

Submitted by the artist

Substance of Venom by Cherie Sampson is included in the exhibition The Quality of Being Fleeting at 826 Currents gallery in Santa Fe through September 11, 2022.


The gardens, prairies, orchard, woodlands in the home environment where the artist, Cherie Sampson lives set the mise-en-scène for a series of self-administered honeybee “stinging rituals” over a period of several months in 2021. A team of Australian researchers recently discovered that the active substance in honeybee venom, melittin, has demonstrated a capacity to induce cell death in two types of aggressive breast cancers: triple-negative and HER2.* As a survivor of TNBC, Sampson engaged this symbolic act, calling attention to the need for more natural or other forms of cancer therapy that may one day offer alternatives to toxic and often ineffectual treatments – some that have not changed for decades. Footage of the foraging patterns of honeybees and other native pollinators of the Midwest that illustrate the diverse life in healthy ecosystems are juxtaposed with images of the stinging rites. (In the video installation, the imagery is projected onto silk scrims that hang in a sculptural installation constructed of applewood from the organic orchard in NE Missouri, USA, operated by Sampson’s husband, Dan Kelly.)

Credits: Camera: Cherie Sampson & Radim Schreiber Musical elements: Charles Gran All other audio + video production & post-production: Cherie Sampson

Voice-Over for 9-minute Substance of Venom video

(May-June 2022)

“Honeybee venom and melittin suppress growth factor receptor activation in HER2-enriched and triple-negative breast cancer.”  NPJ – Nature Partner Journals. *

I will help you to feel magically better…
The placebo said to me.
As your escort, it is my duty and pleasure.

I shall please.
I   shall   please.
I      shall      please…

“Despite decades of study, the molecular mechanisms and selectivity of the biomolecular components of honeybee (Apis mellifera) venom as anticancer agents remain largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that honeybee venom and its major component melittin potently induce cell death, particularly in the aggressive triple-negative and HER2-enriched breast cancer subtypes…”

I      shall      please…
I          shall          please…

“Our work unveils a molecular mechanism underpinning the anticancer selectivity of melittin, and outlines treatment strategies to target aggressive breast cancers…”

I        shall        please.

April 22: The first sting in the orchard.
Caught a couple honeybees that got away and was stung on my hand while trying.
Administered on left forearm so I could hold her with the insect tweezers with my right hand.

All night I felt and dreamt of the pain and initiation of melittin.

{music & sound effects}

“The European honeybee (Apis mellifera) has been the source of a number of products used medicinally by humans, such as honey, propolis, and venom for thousands of years1. However, the molecular determinants of the anticancer activity of bee venom remain poorly understood, particularly in breast cancer…”

June 6: Keep eyes on mustards, white and yellow clover, milkweed, holly hock…the milkweed still not quite in bloom. And the growing ashy sunflower in the field. Milkweed and sunflower emerging from the ash of a controlled burn.

{sounds of buzzing bees, fire crackling…}

Got a bee from the asparagus for the second sting. I placed her on the upper left chest – above the former tumor. She spun round and round before finally releasing the venom sac.

Afterward, she rested on my body for a long time, preening, preparing to die.
My chest rose and fell with breath. Life.


Observing the girls in the white clover now.
Also saw a beautiful swallow tail butterfly there.

Arranged to do the sting in the evening with deep golden light.
Very shallow depth of field.

She escaped…

{high-pitched sound effect}

June 23: Saw the first bee in the milkweed today – some are staring to bloom!
Others are still in tight clusters.

July second. Incredible diversity of pollinators in the milkweed, including bumblebees and a gorgeous hummingbird moth. Many honeybees were active. I was able to track a single bee for a long time because there is so much to gather on a single flowerhead.

Observed many pollinators in the vivid butterfly milkweed on “goddess hill.”
Also, a monarch caterpillar.

Did two stings on my right shoulder – where I have had some unexplainable pain over the past few months. The first one did not go deep. In the second sting, the venom sack still administered venom even after the bee detached.

Or so I think.

{sound effects from slow-motion video, summer insects}

July 26: Many pollinators in the Cup Plants now, including honeybees and the jeweled metallic green sweat bees.

The clover is drying up but managed to capture one there into a little jam jar.

Administered the sting in the upper right breast. Not too intense and the venom sac did not released into my flesh.

August 22: Abundant pollinators in the blooming chives right outside the back door. Not since the cup plants in July have I seen so many honeybees in one place!
They move quickly there as the flowers are so tiny.

Keeping my eyes on the zinnias…are the girls interested?

Stings become less severe as the season progresses.

As your escort, it is my duty and pleasure…

To kill any rogue TNBC cells that may be wandering around in my bloodstream?

August 24.
Dan has observed that the bees are now in the upper garden in the cover crop Milpa field with buckwheat, sunflower, brassicas, squashes…

translates as -
cultivated field.

One in every three bites of food comes from pollination by honeybees.

Caught a bee in the chives for later sting.

September 2: Did four stings today. The first time with so many in one day. Arms and upper back. On the shoulder.

{abstract music & insect sounds}

Pollinators are really busy in the milpa field.
Goldenrods are just starting to open…

The honeybees stay for many minutes on a single sunflower head…

Continuing to watch milpa field, sunflowers, cucumbers, zinnias, ash sunflower.

…gathering bright pollen.

Continuing to watch milpa field, sunflowers, cucumbers, zinnias, ash sunflower.
Continuing to watch milpa field, sunflowers, cucumbers, zinnias, ash sunflower.

Been seeing a lot of pollinators in the zinnias on sunny mid-days. Things are getting sparse, and our zinnia garden may be one of the last foraging places. They are also in the sprouting broccoli flowers in the garden.
Continuing to watch milpa field, sunflowers, cucumbers, zinnias, ash sunflower.

Been watching the asters for weeks looking for the apis mellifera and never see them.
Finally saw a couple today there about 12:30 PM.

November 8: Just did a sting on my left foot. This very well may the last sting from a captured bee outdoors this season.

It is getting rather cold in coming days…

Honeybees forage in the last phase of their life.
Their time of death is impending but hastened by my capture.


Am I entirely comfortable with my role in her ever-so-slightly?
Earlier death?

Thank you.
Thank you, honey. Honeybee.

Your substance of venom.

Golden one. Giver of life,


{musical outro}

*All quotes about melittin research and TNBC:
Duffy, C., Sorolla, A., Wang, E. et al. Honeybee venom and melittin suppress growth factor receptor activation in HER2-enriched and triple-negative breast cancer. npj Precis. Onc. 4, 24 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41698-020-00129-0

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