Bee Kingdom’s summer exhibition is sure to be sweet

“Most people think of glass as a very fine and delicate art form” says Mary-Beth Laviolette. “Bee Kingdom brings something different.”

She should know. With over 30 years’ experience Laviolette has been covering the Canadian art scene longer than any of the members of Bee Kingdom have been alive. She has witnessed the evolution of Canadian glass arts seen Bee Kingdom rise and create its own unique niche and she is excited to put their cutting-edge artwork on display at Glenbow.

In Bee Kingdom: Iconoclasts in Glass Laviolette has brought together nearly 60 individual creations from the Calgary collective. Spanning the last five years these pieces serve to highlight the group’s creative energy their technical skill and their artistic evolution.

Based out of their northwest Calgary hive Bee Kingdom’s Ryan Marsh Fairweather Phillip Bandura and Tim Belliveau have been crafting their molten art since first joining forces at the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2004. It was there that they first learned the intricate dance necessary for team-based glassblowing and hatched the plan for their communal home studio and gallery. “We were trying to find a place to live and practice in Calgary” says Belliveau acting as spokesman for the Kingdom “and realized that we would have to create our own opportunities.”

Create them they have. Graduating from craft fair vases and Christmas balls used to finance their early artistic experimentation over the past 10 years the trio has been collected by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts had their work displayed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and the Glass Furnace in Istanbul and most importantly were able to quit their part-time jobs.

“It’s been a roller-coaster” says Belliveau. “You go from wondering one day how you’re going to afford Kraft Dinner to showing in a major international institution like the Pergamon in Berlin. It’s a weird tension between feeling like you’ve achieved your dreams and the daily struggle.”

Despite their burgeoning international success Iconoclasts in Glass marks a high point for the trio at home. The vibrant displays contemporary — often provocative — subject matter and experimental techniques that set Bee Kingdom apart will be featured in Calgary’s largest cultural institution during its busiest season.

Central to this display will be Bee Kingdom’s signature “Mythpoets.” These small-scale sculptures modeled on the idea of the “exquisite corpse” bring together the highlights of each artist’s practice. As the individual sections are contributed separately the results cannot be predetermined and while playful and fun are surprisingly expressive.

Yet to be an iconoclast there must be something to rebel against. Showing alongside Bee Kingdom Glenbow will also be presenting From Our Collection: Glass an exhibition highlighting more traditional pieces from the museum’s extensive collection. With works of art spanning over 100 years this complementary exhibit serves to highlight how Bee Kingdom has taken customary techniques and subjects and ran with them towards something new.

“It’s really exciting and gratifying for us to see our work on display next to a collection like this and see our place within the context of Canadian and historical glasswork” says Belliveau.

With their character art environmental themes and experimentation in two-dimensional works as well Iconoclasts in Glass is sure to change your perspective on glasswork. “They seem to have a lot of ingredients that make me think of their work not only in appearance being very contemporary but also in subject matter” explains Laviolette. “I hope that the audience will leave with a sense of surprise and maybe even a bit of confusion. This is not your mother’s cut crystal.”