Birds do it, bees do it, even artists do it

Scientists and artists come together to explore a complicated subject.
Birds do it, bees do it, even artists do it

Image: Work by Deborah Kelly, Birth of Beeness, 2017. Supplied.

The phrase “the birds and the bees” has been employed as a euphemism for courtship and reproduction since at least the 1880s. Like most polite terms, it is still used as a way to sidestep any awkwardness when discussing sex by presenting the subject indirectly. 

In September this year, the annual event Siteworks will eschew such bashfulness by exploring the inner workings, the mechanics, and even the romance of the birds and bees in multiple inventive ways. 


Held each spring, Siteworks brings together artists, scientists and community voices to share ideas and knowledge evolving out of the environmentally and culturally significant Bundanon Trust. The former home of Arthur Boyd and his family, Bundanon Trust is located on 1,100 hectares of bush and farming land on the banks of the Shoalhaven River, on the NSW south coast. 

This year the theme “birds and bees” encourages a closer examination of local wildlife and the ecosystems our winged friends help shape. The event will also engage with the subject of sex and reproduction through performances and engaging scientific research. 

The entire event is a manifestation of what Bundanon does across its diverse programs each year. 

‘We bring together our education program, which has workshops for kids; we bring together our artistic program where we commission works from a variety of artists; and we bring together some of our natural environment works by asking the artists to respond to the site in various ways,’ said Chief Programs Officer John Baylis.

Siteworks 2015. Image: Supplied.

‘In the past we’ve had artists and scientists respond to the idea of “the feral”. Other years we’ve had themes like biodiversity, and another one was about the future of food.’

About the 2017 program

Each year the program begins around midday, providing audiences the opportunity to leisurely explore the site along with the unique works commissioned for the event. In 2017, artist Barbara Campbell will make a series of portable bird hides — like the ones bird watchers disappear into so they can view the wildlife from close up. 

‘The bird hides themselves will be quite exquisite artworks, but will also allow audience members to get inside and then go out into the bush and experience life closer to the birds,’ said Baylis.

Another work, by artist and musician Elia Bosshard, is a collaboration between herself and four other flautists. Together they will perform a version of Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. ‘It will be in a natural setting, probably in the garden of the homestead at Bundanon, and the flautists will be placed around the audience,’ explained Baylis.

‘This will create a wall of sound that the audience will experience from within.’

The program also includes a new work by the local over-60s performance group, directed by Philip Channells and Annette Tesoriero, and exploring romance and sex in a person’s older years. If you’ve ever been curious about the subject of age and intimacy, here’s an opportunity to have all your questions answered.

‘A couple set up in a caravan will have conversations with whoever wants to visit them and talk to them about what they are up to — they’re in their mid-eighties — and in the evening there will be a performance where other people in our over-60s group will present a work,’ said Baylis.

Image: Sue Broadway (pictured) will wear a Lyrebird costume for her performance. Supplied.

Four speakers will also share their research and insights. The ABC’s Robyn Williams will be joined by Mandyam Srinivasan, a neuroscientist from the University of Queensland, who will share his particular interest in bee navigation while Grainne Cleary, a biologist who researches how birds and humans interact, will explain how our habit of feeding birds impacts on their lives.

‘Another speaker is Rob Brooks from The University of NSW. He is not so much about birds or bees, but more about sexual reproduction. He has focused a lot on the mate choice behaviour of different species and how evolution shapes life through sexual choice,’ said Baylis.

But Siteworks is not an adult only event; there are also a range of child-friendly activities and workshops. 

‘People can camp on the site. We encourage them to in fact because Siteworks goes from midday until late into the evening and some of the most interesting stuff happens late at night. It is great if you can just roll into your tent rather than having to drive home,’ said Baylis.

Bringing science and art together has always been an important part of Bundanon Trust’s ethos. 

‘It is a significant artistic site for its association with Arthur Boyd and his family, as well as running the largest artist-in-residence program in Australia. So many artists across all art forms have been through Bundanon Trust … It is also a significant environmental site with all kinds of interesting things to explore and we have had a number of scientific and environmental protection projects happen here,’ said Baylis. 

‘Bringing those things together seems like the most natural thing in the world to us, and I think a lot of artists are very interested in bringing them together as well.’

SITEWORKS takes place on Saturday 23 September 2017. Find out more at

Brooke Boland

Friday 4 August, 2017

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.