The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Undergrad Research Uses Honeybees to Probe Society’s Gender Roles

Christina Dietz Honeybees and Homemakers: Pollination and Gendered Labor

What do traditional gender roles of women and domestic work have in common with the non-visible labor of honeybees? Through her $4500 Apes Valentes Undergraduate Research Award, Christina Dietz, who is double-majoring in visual arts and psychology, spent her summer drawing connections between the two. What she found is that, in both subjects, the value of labor is lessened based on the lack of visibility it receives.

In the video from Dietz’s research project, Honeybees and Homemakers: Pollination and Gendered Labor, she follows three young women in their imagined workday as they perform the task of pollination. As part of the project, Dietz built a small house structure and also produced a research video. Two observation hives are installed in the windows of the house, allowing the viewer to get a glimpse of what goes on inside of a beehive. So, the structure is a viewing place for the honeybees and their practices, as well as the video. In the video (available in late September), the women blur the lines between work and leisure, as they must uphold a lovely appearance while toiling in the fields. Their hats perform as reproductive aids as they use the long proboscis to spread pollen from one flower to another. At the end of the day, they brush pollen from their skirts and collect their soiled gloves, both retiring for the day but preparing to work again tomorrow.

“I hope to bring attention to the occurrence of a shift in perceived importance when the member that performs a specific labor changes. The roles and processes of bees become more visible when humans perform in their place,” said Dietz of her project.

Dietz, a B.F.A. candidate, is making the most of the research opportunities afforded to her during her time at Penn State. “I’ve been able to experience one of the most wonderful parts of Penn State this summer. As a research school, we have access to so many professionals that are incredibly passionate and willing to share about their field of specialty. I was able to use both the visual and person-to-person communication skills I’ve learned from my studio professors and translate some of the knowledge I’ve been given through the Department of Entomology. Sculpture and Entomology; Insects and Feminism; Pollination and Gendered Labor — the most exciting things happen when two seemingly disparate subjects are tied together.”

Working on a large-scale project has been an amazing educational experience for Dietz. Not only has she learned to write a proposal, but also to break down a detailed project budget, and direct a team of people including actors, a videographer, and a photographer, all while communicating across colleges, and coordinating many variables.  She’s learned how to build a small house structure, from floorboards to shingled roof, while keeping in mind the specific conditions that a bee colony needs to thrive.

“Managing such a complex project has been a practice run for life as an artist after graduation. It is invaluable to be able to work through a daunting project with the safety net of supportive professors and instructors around me.”

“Christina has always been a hard worker, yet I feel this project propelled a new approach to focus and risk in her creative workflow,” said Bonnie Collura, faculty mentor to Dietz throughout her project. “To translate her idea in both 3D and 4D space, Christina needed to take on the responsibilities of fabricator, film director, prop builder, scenic designer, and budget manager. To get her project done on time and to a standard that she held herself accountable to, Christina simultaneously embodied creative discovery and deft direction. This is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do; it was inspiring to watch her take on so much with such aplomb.”

Dietz’s installation was recently on display at the Great Insect Fair at the Ag Arena. It will  be installed for public view on the Penn State campus, with a location and dates on display to be determined.

The Apes Valentes Undergraduate Research Award is provided through the Center for Pollinator Research. Successful candidates receive an award of up to $4500 to be applied to wages and other project costs related to their research. These awards can involve the development of educational or art projects related to pollinators.

Video cinematography and editing by Michelle Nash, graphic design by Julianna Dietz, set photography by Helen Maser.