The most wonderful (sparkling, luminous, head-scratching) art I have seen of late is a floor covered with sifted hazelnut pollen at MOMA, in the Marron Atrium – that big open space where I have also seen Marina Abramovic stare at someone for hours on end (she stared for hours, I did not), and also a collection of a Chinese woman’s hoarded objects that included every used toothpaste tube she ever had.
Since CSB built our observation hive, I have become far more intrigued by, and intimate with, pollen than I ever could have imagined. Every spring the bees start bringing it home in their pollen baskets, and packing the nutritious grains into their honeycomb. Because we have such a variety of plants here, we get to see a wide range of pollen, in colors that go from carnelian red to orange orange to sunflower yellow. For a brief time when the scilla take over a patch of lawn, they bring in blue pollen. But never very much blue pollen, never enough for the atrium at MOMA.
The pollen covering the floor at MOMA is hazelnut pollen, which the artist, Wolfgang Laib, collected personally on his property in Germany. Given that Laib is not a honeybee, and is not anatomically blessed with pollen baskets on his back legs, he has to collect the pollen manually, purposefully and laboriously. Accompanying the show is a video of Laib in Germany, with jars full of yellow pollen, sifting pollen through a cheesecloth, and collecting pollen from conifers. Sadly, the video does not show him collecting hazelnut pollen. Which is rather a shame.
When I described the show to my friend LB her nose started to twitch and her eyes started to tear up. “How many allergy attacks were there?” she asked. It had never occurred to me that this pollen field posed a public health threat. “With all that pollen flying around?”
“It wasn’t flying around,” I insisted. “It was just sitting there on the ground, glowing.”
“But with all those people breathing and walking around, it had to be agitated.”
This seems like it should be the case. But I was staring at this big square of pollen, and I did not see anything flying around. Not a single grain. LB suggested that the artist or the museum must have secured the pollen with some fixative. But I insisted that there was no fixative. And the more I consider it, I think the reason the pollen shimmered is that it was in fact moving just the tiniest bit.
Especially because it was hazelnut pollen, which is anemophilous. Most fruit trees bloom and then pollinate in the springtime, but not hazelnut trees. Their pollination occurs in the winter: wind carries the pollen from the male catkins to the female flowers, and there it rests until spring when the actual fertilization occurs.
We still don't know why there wasn't an epidemic of sneezing at MOMA last month. Yes, last month. I regret to say that as usual I saw this show at the last possible moment, and as of yesterday the show has closed. Wolgang will be sweeping up the pollen and funneling it into jars - a process that is sure to agitate the grains even more than your breath or mine - and then he will sell the jars to collectors, who will probably not feed it to their beehives.