September 18, 2023
This week we recognize Nancy Macko Nancy Macko, and her thirty plus year photography practice focused on bees and nature's cycle of life/death/rebirth.
"For many years, I have been fascinated, almost obsessed, with the desire to understand what happened in our world to cause the almost complete extinction of all matriarchal cultures in which women held equal and powerful roles in their societies. Again and again, I have read and researched the time period in which this supposedly occurred. In fact my obsession inspired me to travel to Romania in 1996 on my sabbatical to explore the archeological sites and remaining artifacts of the early (3500 BC) Cucuteni culture in hopes that I would be able to find some evidence that revealed more about these cultures and that could help me understand why they disappeared or were subsumed into the patriarchal society in which we now live."
click images for more info
"My early work with bee imagery revealed the features of a female monarchy within the hive and its apparent similarities to contemporary hierarchies. But further investigations also revealed the nature of the relationships among the worker bees themselves. They are responsible for all aspects of the hive from economics to politics to manufacturing. Although all workers, their relationships are egalitarian and interdependent. Different texts informed my thought-process at this time. In particular Savina Teubal’s Hagar, The Egyptian: The Story of the Desert Matriarch because she refers to priestesses and holy women. By shifting my perspective of the female monarchy and the worker bees, I re-created a scenario that more resembled the Goddess and her priestesses. This shift also affected the emphasis in my work from that of using bees as the metaphor for nature and exploring the relationships between nature, art, technology and science to focusing more intently on the notion of a bee priestess and creating a mythology that imagined her culture and her world by interpreting the rituals, customs and traditions that Western women still practice today."
"In 2009, my focus shifted to examining the flora the bees draw nourishment from and so carefully attend through the process of pollination. Working directly with the camera and a macro lens, I created a body of work I call Intimate Spaces. This purely photographic work takes the viewer into a space of light, air and abstracted textures. The images are sensuous and seductive, poignant and tender, sometimes abject and unsettling--challenging the viewer to experience an image that is not easily defined by familiar landmarks or visual cues. In this work I am looking at beauty, aging, intimacy and fragility--characteristics that are expressed by subjects in nature. This work led to documenting the life cycle of the vegetables I raised in my garden, the honeybees that pollinated them and bee-attracting flora using a macro lens in order to reveal the less apparent, less obvious features concealed within these beautiful specimens. Capturing them from bud to bloom to seed—the manifestations of their life cycles. Hopefully my efforts assist in the recognition of natural beauty and the need to preserve the lives of the bees, which are so important to our ecology and food supply."
For The Fragile Bee, 2015 - ongoing (below), Macko combines painting, printmaking, digital media, photography, video, and installation elements to create a unique visual language. This combination of media allows her to examine and respond to issues related to eco-feminism and nature, as well as to explore her interest in mathematics, and prime numbers, in which she attempts to make the implicit connections between nature and technology explicit. The series also explores the artist’s love of plants, and her images investigate the botany world as seen through the honeybee’s eyes. She photographs botanical specimens that the honeybee pollinates and visually records nature's exquisite beauty, fragility, and often, cruelty. The recent decline in the honeybee population and, more broadly, the idea of life and death in nature are prevalent themes in her work. Macko is deeply concerned with the disappearance of honeybees and through her art seeks to raise awareness regarding the vulnerability of their ecosystem.
"Decompositions, 2021 (below), is a realization and a concrescence of all that has come before. Previous explorations also addressed issues of memory loss, dementia and cognitive decline–changes I witnessed as they affected my aging mother’s mental health. My interest in 'end of life' has clearly informed my photography. The work presents death and decomposition not as a hard stop, but as a change of state. Decompositions is the process by which vegetable matter breaks down to make its nutrients available for other life forms. The compost in these photographs is both metaphor and reality, representing change and transformation in ways that are both beautiful and surprising."
"The photographs in Nancy Macko’s "Decompositions" series present amorphous forms floating in a watery ether. Light streaks through the compositions, muted slightly by a translucent film that gives the whole composition the soft patina of an old master painting... hovering between abstraction and representation. Momentarily arresting this process with her camera, Macko presents a vision of time and life that is cyclical and fluid...presenting compositions that exist in a delicious state of indeterminacy." --Eleanor Heartney, 2021.
Nancy Macko draws upon images of the honeybee society to explore the relationships between art, science, technology and ancient matriarchal cultures. She combines elements of printmaking, digital media, photography, video, and installation to create a unique visual language that allows her to examine and respond to issues related to eco-feminism, nature, and the importance of ancient matriarchal cultures. For ten years, Macko documented the life cycle of the vegetables she raised in her garden, the honeybees that pollinated them and bee-attracting flora using a macro lens in order to reveal the less apparent, less obvious features concealed within these beautiful specimens. She captured them from bud to bloom to seed--all manifestations of the life cycle. This work resulted in The Fragile Bee, first exhibited at the Museum of Art and History in Southern California in 2015 and which has been traveling since 2018 through 2023 to over 18 venues nationally. Originally from New York, Macko received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and her graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley with a concentration in painting and printmaking. Her work is in numerous public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, New York Public Library, North Dakota Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum and the RISD Museum of Art. www.nancymackophotography.com
Featured images (top to bottom): ©Nancy Macko, Hexagons, 1991-1994; Lore of the Bee Priestess, 2004, digital video, 13:43 mins; Intimate Spaces,IS05: Decammys (DECAM 13), 2011, archival digital print, 17 x 26 inches (Edition 5); Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata), 2018, archival digital print mounted on white sintra and faced with Plexiglas® 40.5 x 40.5 inches; Decompositions, Odalisque, 2020, archival digital print, 42 X 65 inches ;portrait of the artist by Mary MacNaughton, 2021.