The Power of Bees

Where does the real nature of power lie?

Painted and screen-printed leaded and copper foiled stained glass panel – 2023, Andy Brooke

When we still lived in Essex back in 2019 I took photos of Sizewell B nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast. At the time local people were protesting the siting of a new nuclear reactor being built next to it – Sizewell C. Today sadly, there is more chance of this happening than there was then. It takes time to prepare the way for trampling on hundreds of people’s doorsteps and ignoring the concerns of thousands who have campaigned against it.

I knew then I had to make a window to somehow respond to the situation as a fellow human being. But then a pandemic happened and we moved up to Scotland so it took another couple of years to become a fully realised statement in glass. In the meantime I was looking for a way of connecting another concept to the usual horror of nuclear power to generate a more creative response to questions of power and human survival.

We depend on pollinating of bees for the the food chain to operate. Without food humans will die. So there is an immense power in the existence of bees, a power to match and perhaps exceed the force of all nuclear power stations combined. A frail power which depends on human protection. A contrast to the brute power of a Magnox Pressurised Water Reactor (Sizewell B) which also depends on human protection in a very different way.

Bees are absent but present in the window – in the hexagon structure of the design and also in the patterns of their wings in the tracery of the curved lead lines. There has been a 75% decrease in insect numbers in the UK in the last 50 years – and bees are a part of that dangerous tragedy.

The hexagon cell shapes in the dome and window structure refer to honeycomb as well as the binuclear structures in DNA which create the strong bonds. There are also wind turbine shapes in there somewhere. And graphite, found in nuclear reactor cores, as an allotrope of carbon, has hexagonal structures in layers…

Sizewell B nuclear reactor, Leiston, Suffolk 2019, wet image on silkscreen, Andy Brooke

Bradwell power station is also depicted on the panel – decommissioned from 2009-19 it is now in long-term management, an example of “good practice” in nuclear energy production. Finished in 1962 and a provider of long-term stable employment, it would take 222 million litres of water from the Blackwater Estuary per hour, for cooling. That’s a lot of water. From 1962-2002 it generated 60 terawatt hours of electricity – enough to power 15 million homes for one year. (from Gov.UK figures)

The pale covers over the two reactors have a shroud-like appearance that seems to blend into the sky and beautifully mask the potential long-term menace underneath.

Bradwell decommissioned power station, 2019, Andy Brooke

“Sizewell C will not harm the nature reserve next to it…it is not on top of it.” So says Julia Pyke, director of financing and economic regulation, Sizewell C. The problem is, the new reactor is due to be sited just 3 kilometres from RSPB Minsmere wetland reserve, so this is a very bold claim.

The window I have made has been described as “quiet activism” and I believe that by bringing together seeming or familiar contradictions in a new way, we can trigger unspoken creative responses to old problems. I hope the work will inspire a hope that starts beyond language and translates into tangible positive actions.

As Picasso said: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it”.

The panel will be on display in The Stove Cafe, Dumfries High Street, from 19 Feb – 4 March 2023

Bees image – courtesy Getty Images.

Julia Pyke in The Guardian, 2 Feb 2023.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Amid all of your community art projects, that you have had time to produce more stained glass is a tribute to your energy and creativity. This is a seductive image in which the honeycomb and bees’ wing patterns attract an immediate response and the graduation to blood red guides the eye to the more sinister content. Admittedly for a viewer from the other side of the world some explanation in the form of your foreboding picture of Bradwell decommissioned power station assists understanding of this dilemma caused by misguided government in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aljbphoto says:

      Thanks James, I wanted to use the seductive power of glass to reel in our sense of love for the created world and then cast a different spell in the mind of each viewer…to show we have an uneasy relationship with our environment and so need to be much more careful with it.
      At least, that was the aim! But hopefully works on its own terms too as a piece of art.


      1. It’s beautiful but, yes, with an undertone leading from the gradation of hues in the honeycomb that provokes the viewer to discover more. As always with your stained glass, its is a virtuoso demonstration of skill.

        Liked by 1 person

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