Cole Swanson: Out of the Strong, Something Sweet (2016)
Essays by: Ashley McLellan, Carolyne Topdijan
This publication accompanied Cole Swanson's solo exhibition, Out of the Strong, Something Sweet at the Art Gallery of Guelph, January 21, 2016 – April 10, 2016.
In this solo exhibition, artist Cole Swanson (Toronto) examines profoundly complex trans-species relations, specifically the intersections between human, bee, and bovine biologies. Out of the Strong, Something Sweet features large scale installations of animal bodies, pre-modern art forms, sculptural media, and emergent technologies. Swanson’s practice is informed by his research on miniature painting, the preparation of organic and mineral-based pigments, and materiality and modernity in contemporary culture, conducted through two fellowships at the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute in Jaipur, Rajasthan (2007, 2014).
Out of the Strong, Something Sweet is Swanson’s most ambitious project to date. Through the lens and practice of art, he examines the modern honey bee crisis (mass insect death and the subsequent effects on agriculture and commerce). Swanson’s research has discovered that sudden losses in bee populations were recorded in ancient Egypt, the Middle East, and pre-modern Europe and that early “science” turned to bougonia: the ritualized belief that healthy bee swarms could be spontaneously generated from a cow’s carcass. In Out of the Strong, Something Sweet, Swanson reclaims bougonia as a fictive solution for the modern honey bee crisis and as a metaphor to challenge modern ideological binaries between human and animal, art and science, religion and rationalism, beauty and the grotesque. In contrast to the symbols and metaphors that demonstrate the social construction of the animal-other, Swanson incorporates audio recordings of cattle and bees, which claim space in the exhibition for the distinctly non-human.
AGG acknowledges the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council in the creation and presentation of Out of the Strong, Something Sweet. We are also grateful to The Guelph Community Foundation: Musagetes Fund for their support of the Guelph exhibition and publication, which includes guest essays and a foreword by curator Dawn Owen.