Bee Kingdom create metropolises and citizens take root at Ruberto Ostberg

Don’t go looking for civic boosterism or a diatribe on urban sprawl at Cities Bee Kingdom’s exhibition at Ruberto Ostberg. Instead expect whimsical glass sculptures that introduce the imaginary metropolises of Phillip Bandura Tim Belliveau and Ryan Marsh Fairweather. A sprinkling of paintings drawings collages light boxes and a documentary film supplement the show. With 82 works in all this is one of those fertile exhibitions by talented artists in the early stages of their careers that contains enough ideas to keep them busy for a while.

Before graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2005 the trio of glassblowers formed a collective to produce and present their work using a residential property in northwest Calgary as their studio and home base. They named their operation Bee Kingdom in 2007 and a year later were selected as the 30th anniversary Centerpiece Designers for the renowned Pilchuk Glass School in the state of Washington. This year Cities travelled to Berlin Banff and Athens before coming home to Calgary.

Bee Kingdom makes glass sculpture as a collective enlisting the skills of each member and co-ordinating the way they handle glass to make things that could not be made by any one person. Clustered in the gallery are groupings by Bee Kingdom: impossibly attenuated Pelican Sails and Beacons wall-mounted and freestanding shiny towers of vividly coloured and brightly patterned orbs stacked on top of each other like triple scoop ice-cream cones. As well each member is developing their own individual voice and this exhibition shows real growth on all fronts.

Phillip Bandura uses the urban theme to explore a variety of effects he can get with glass. He combines simple geometric forms (cylinders spheres and cones) to suggest a built environment and elicit different moods. Slender cylinders of transparent jewel tones evoke memories of childhood pleasure in Sandcastles . In the three Interference Cone s spots streaks squiggles and brushstrokes of colour swirl in layers some softened as they spread in the expanding hot glass and others neat and trim on the surface marking a kind of personal walk through a complex space. The three-dimensional drawings are reminiscent of the improvisations of Russian abstract painter Vasily Kandinsky.

Belliveau draws on mythologies of ancient cities — the origin of Rome and the tale of Romulus and Remus suckled by a wolf or the native American creation myth of the world supported on the back of a tortoise are recast in shaped graphics on plywood and fanciful glass hybrids. He inserts modern cities and makes a dark but clever reversal. If we think civilizations came out of wilderness it may be time to reconsider the relationship. In Capitoline Bell Jar a clear bell jar with the head of a wolf protects an island of grey towers a feral force field around a fragile life form.

Fairweather engineers a friendly post-apocalyptic world of cute culture robotics and whimsical beings. His sugar-coated anime-inspired characters are drawn from his larger fictional mechapolis the Weathermachine Universe. Some two dozen Electrophones — bulb-and cloud-shaped darlings — hang together on the wall. Fairweather describes them as “a reliable and sustainable replacement for the loss of the natural fauna of the past brutalized planet.” Many are bi-ocular with small coloured bumps for eyes and outfitted in skins of striking colour combinations or just blushing slightly.

Their appendages — fins nubs tails (or tongues?) — are transparent. I’ve taken a special liking to Citri Poof and Milanki. The cast of Poka Jooba figures is also sweetly likable. As the artist writes they are “large sentient beings each carrying a cloud counterpart a home to vast digital data libraries.” Fairweather crafts them impeccably of rounded forms and soft colours. One supports a cloud of pale frosted yellow the perfect whisper of colour for the turquoise orange-eyed host.

If you happen to be in Cheongju Korea this month you can also see Bee Kingdom’s work at the Canadian exhibition at the 2009 Cheongju International Craft Biennale. In Calgary we don’t have many venues where we turn the spotlight on contemporary fine craft so the opportunity to see this exhibition by Bee Kingdom is a special one.