Dwindle - installation at The Coal Loader

The Coal Loader is an intriguing site where many paths of history intersect. Located on the Waverton peninsula, on the Northern side of Sydney harbour, it was a place of physical and spiritual sustenance for the Cammeraygal people who lived on this peninsula for thousands of years. A large rock carving survives at the site and is central to the new Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability. The Coal Loader operated as a transfer depot for coal, from the 1920s to the 1990s. A large coal stockpile was housed on the elevated platform and the coal was dropped through chutes down into skips in the tunnels beneath, where a railway system took the coal out along the wharf to the vessels in the harbour. Today the site has been transformed into a leading Sustainability Centre. The old industrial structures and historic buildings have been incorporated into community gardens, native bush nursery and regenerated park lands. For the next ten days The Coal Loader will also host the contemporary art exhibition Toward 2020.

Kath Fries, Dwindle, 2013, beeswax, branches, bark and thread, (detail view)

When I first visited the Coal Loader site, I was looking for specific elements that related to human influences on cycles of nature. There were many possibilities, but I decided to focus on just two. In the veggie patch and herb garden I noticed numerous bees working away at collecting pollen. Down the hill, I was interested to learn that the endangered eastern bent-wing bat (a type of Micro-bat) uses the alcoves and coal loading chutes in one of the tunnels as a seasonal nesting site. These tiny furry mammals eat insects and are smaller than the palm of your hand.
My resulting site-responsive installation, Dwindle, is situated in one of the historic buildings at the Coal Loader next to the veggie patch and herb garden. Made from beeswax, branches and thread; the installation arches overhead, drawing the visitors attention to the architecture of the building and leading outside into the trees, escarpment and garden. The work's sense of fragility and tenuous interconnection is enhanced by the winter sunlight illuminating thin sections of beeswax, held by contorted twigs swaying gently in the breeze. 

Kath Fries, Dwindle, 2013, beeswax, branches, bark and thread, (detail view)

Bats and bees are thriving at the Coal Loader site, but further afield both species are being adversely affected by the use of pesticides, which has dire implications for sustaining agriculture and global human food production. 'Dwindle' is a term that has been used historically to describe instances of honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD). I am interested in our frequent lack of awareness towards the nuances, complexities and interdependencies within nature. My installation, Dwindle, is a metaphoric reflection of humanity’s tunnel vision through the complex cyclic nuances of bats and bees, and nature’s finite ability to adapt to human impact.

Kath Fries, Dwindle, 2013, beeswax, branches, bark and thread, (detail view)

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon amongst European Honeybees, in which worker bees from a beehive abruptly disappear. Although such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, and were known as 'Dwindles' (such as Spring Dwindle and Fall Dwindle Disease), the syndrome was renamed Colony Collapse Disorder in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honeybee colonies in North America and Europe. Increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides - the most widely used pesticides in the world, has roughly tracked with rising bee deaths since 2005. Neonicotinoids affect bees through toxic dust, pollen, and nectar; making the bees immune system weak and their behaviour lethargic resulting in them not returning to the hive. CCD is compounded by a combination of factors including mites, parasites, and viruses, genetics, habitat loss, environmental change-related stress, malnutrition, and migratory beekeeping. Many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by European honey bees. In April 2013, the European Union passed legislation banning the use of several neonicotinoids for the following two years, in an attempt to stop bee populations from declining further. 
Globally about 90% of plants rely on bees to transfer pollen for fertilisation and reproduction. European Honeybee pollination is responsible for more than 30% of all food consumed by humans around the world. If these bees all became effected by CCD, then a third of our food supply will also be lost and consequently human population could not be sustained at its current level.

Kath Fries, Dwindle, 2013, beeswax, branches, bark and thread, (detail view)

We may need to teach ourselves about the 'bats and the bees' if we want to keep feeding ourselves... 

Kath Fries, Dwindle, 2013, beeswax, branches, bark and thread,
280 x 140 x 300 cm

Bats are necessary for keeping many types of crop-eating insect populations from swarming, and their populations are becoming dramatically reduced due to the widespread use of pesticides on our crops. All bats play a vital part in assisting the seeding of bushland and the regeneration of rainforests. They can be very successful at keeping down insect pests if left to populate an area. Bats are protected in Australia and have inhabited this continent for many thousand years. Despite popular concern, they actually pose minimal risk to humans, providing you leave them alone and do not have physical contact with them. Studies show that bats are particularly sensitive to pesticides, but these threatened animals are generally ignored in pesticide risk assessment procedures. Current widespread immunosuppression among bats is believed to be caused by pesticides. In both bats and bees pesticides weaken the immune system in both bees and bats, allowing infections to take hold.

References and further reading:

Kath Fries, Dwindle, 2013, beeswax, branches, bark and thread, (detail view)

Dwindle is being exhibited in Toward 2020 
The North Sydney Art Prize

27 July - 5 August 2013
The Coal Loader
2 Balls Head Drive, Waverton, NSW

Toward 2020 - The North Sydney Art Prize, event invitation