Melissographia by John Burnside and Amy Shelton

The lives of bees are the subject of the artist’s book Melissographia by poet John Burnside and artist Amy Shelton, both of whom profess a warm liking for the creatures. Close observation of bees and their behaviour has inspired this work of delicacy and fragility. The materials in the book are thin and gossamer, as in the antique onion paper interleaving between pages, the spots of gold leaf, and the delicate colour of bees’ pollen from specific flowers which are reproduced. The images of bees are drawn in small scale, and actual pressed blossoms are enclosed in waxed paper. This aesthetic of delicacy and of observation ‘in the field’, as verification of ‘the real’, is matched in Burnside’s poetry. His signature style is one of meticulous details from daily life, here distilled in a language that is eloquent and sonorous, which lulls us with the drowsy hum of the bees themselves: ‘the blond light cutting us off/ from the edge of the world/ ‘til all we know for sure/ is a cirrus of bees’. It is the marriage of material fragility, the closeness of observation and the minute scale of the bees and pollen that produces the richness and subtlety of this piece. The title refers to a book of the same name, Melissographia, published in 1625 with drawings of bees which are early examples of the use of a microscope for detailed illustration. Magnification generates a process of intersection of text and vision in this bookwork.

John Burnside, poet and novelist, was born in 1955 in Dunfermline, Scotland, and now lives in Fife. He studied English and European Languages at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. Former Writer in Residence at Dundee University, he now teaches at University of St Andrews. His latest collections of poetry are Gift Songs (2007) and The Hunt in the Forest (2009).

Amy Shelton's research and practice has a documentary motivation that involves slow time to observe and contemplate the small wonders of the everyday. She uses earth-bound materials such as clay, beeswax and paper, in which to embed the intricate complexity of life-stories within the natural world. She is launching her new project Honeyscribe in February 2011, which includes a new collaboration with John Burnside, Bee Myths.