6000 Flowers Arts Project creates a buzz for bumblebees as Cornwall welcomes the first day of Spring

A new art show launched yesterday at The Environment and Sustainability Institute’s Creative Exchange as Cornwall welcomed the arrival of Spring.

Artist Josie Purcell alongside some of her work for 6000 Flowers

Artist Josie Purcell alongside some of her work for 6000 Flowers

‘6000 Flowers’ is artist Josie Purcell's response to the 'Farms for AONBees' pollinators’ project currently in progress between Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (CAONB) and The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), University of Exeter.

Spring sees bumblebee queens visiting up to 6000 Flowers per day to collect enough nectar and pollen to establish her colony. However at this time of year there can be a shortfall in the availability of high quality flowers across agricultural landscapes.

Josie is a photographer with a passion for alternative and historic photographic processes that have as little impact on the environment as possible. The image making technique she has implemented for this exhibition is the anthotype. This makes the most of nature's bounty through the use of a photosensitive emulsion made from the juice/pulp of plants, flowers and berries. The resulting delicate monochromatic images are produced within several hours or weeks depending on the solution used and the duration/strength of sunlight.

One of Josie's images

One of Josie's images

The ‘Farms for AONBees' project is seeking to make a significant difference to the quality of our landscapes for conservation and food production. At the core of this project is a computer programme developed in Prof. Juliet Osbornes’ pollinators research group at the ESI that replicates the foraging and colony survival of bees in realistic landscapes. The ESI and the CAONB are currently doing real time testing of the computer programme on agricultural holdings by working with 5 farms across the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Josie's exhibition draws on the science behind this project and its importance in helping us understand more about bees’ health, survival and the pollination they provide.

Researchers from the ESI with Josie

Researchers from the ESI with Josie

Colette Beckham, CAONB Partnership Manager says, “It’s great to see how science and the arts can come together through a project like Josie’s, to illustrate just how important it is to find solutions to the shortages of forage that can affect Cornish bumblebees whilst they’re on the wing right now”.

Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, the ESI Research Associate on the project says, “I am fascinated by Josie’s environmentally friendly techniques, powered by plants and combining traditional methods with modern technology, the perfect interpretation of our Farms for AONBees project”.

Josie with Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, ESI Research Associate and project lead for Farms for AONBees

Josie with Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, ESI Research Associate and project lead for Farms for AONBees

The 6000 Flowers exhibition is open to the public and will run in The Creative Exchange from 21st March 2017 to 12th May 2017.


 Farms for AONBees


The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI)


The Creative Exchange programme


Josie Purcell Artist Statement

As a photographer, my interests lie mainly in alternative and historic practices yet include the digital world we now live in, particularly smartphone photography.

I set up a participatory photography enterprise, ShutterPod, a few years ago to introduce some of the now antiquated photographic process to new audiences. Despite the ease and accessibility of digital photography (since the 90s), which saw more traditional processes diminish, I believed that the tactile nature of these older techniques would eventually gain traction with new audiences and this is currently being borne out in a resurgent interest in them.

Many of the participatory workshops I run use the natural world as a means for creating artwork. Wanting to take this a step further, I began a MA in Photography with Falmouth University in 2016. A number of the older process or products I am interested in can use potentially toxic chemicals and as someone whose current practice is focussing on our human impact on the environment, the MA is providing an opportunity to research which photographic processes will have the least effect. 

Therefore, I am now using both the anthotype and cyanotype processes. The anthotype uses sunlight and the juice of vegetables, flowers or berries to create ethereal images in a variety of single colours, while the chemicals in the cyanotype produce beautiful blue and white shades made by the action of sunlight that can be washed in the ocean. Both are precursors to the official invention of photography as we know it. Their discovery is attributed to scientist, Sir John Herschel. It was botanist Anna Atkins who first used the cyanotype process to create the first photo-book to detail her botany research on British algae.

One of the peculiarities of both processes lies in their predisposition to fading if not cared for appropriately, while the anthotype in particular requires exposure times of hours, days or weeks.

The 6000 Flowers project is an amazing opportunity to showcase how science and art can come together to support our environment for the benefit of bumblebees.

It is through the use of the nature that I aim to reflect the aims of 6000 Flowers and its new software, created by the Environmental Science Institute researchers to monitor and, in turn, support pollinators on farmland within Cornwall’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

My images include rural landscapes but I have incorporated Victorian botanical drawings to represent (some of) the missing flowers needed to help bumblebees thrive. The flowers are currently not there in reality but it is through work such as this that it is hoped flowers will bloom and bumblebees will flourish.

By using processes with a kinder environmental impact, ones that use nature to create themselves and ones that require time, patience and ongoing care to prevent them fading away, I hope to spark curiosity for 6000 Flowers and conversation about our impact on pollinators and what can be done on an ongoing basis to bring about benefits for all.