For centuries, bees have provided inspiration for visual artists, writers, architects and creators. The reduction in bee populations globally has raised concern, with a certain boom in bee related artistic work and art events observed since 2006; alongside an upsurge in awareness of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) and the increasingly complicated living conditions the bees have to endure.
The 20th century artist and activist Joseph Beuys was a predecessor of “ecological and bee artists”, and was strongly inspired by the writings of Rudolf Steiner. He worked with the topic of the bees throughout his life from 1950’s onwards. The most famous of his bee related works is probably the Honey Pump at the Workplace installation, that was pumping honey and margarine for one hundred days at the Documenta 6 exhibition at Kassel, in 1977. Many other artists followed and plenty of bee related art, cultural events and art-residencies have been organised over the recent decades. Architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Antonio Gaudí observed bees and applied their experiences to design bio-inspired buildings.
Among artist beekeepers, we can observe approaches that vary from technocratic ideas and practices to spiritual experiences. Many artists who keep bees do not emphasise honey production, but exhibit and play with the morphology and materials of the bees, alongside human-made or human-invented constructions. The technologically minded artists often equip their hives with digital apparatus, to collect data and record video and sound inside the hive. Some of these interventions and resulting representations are purely artistic, others point towards a citizen science* approach.
An art exhibition called Beehave was opened in one of the most prestigious art institutions of Catalunya, Fundació Joan Miró, in February 2018. The exhibition showed bee related contemporary artworks and interventions in the gallery and around the city of Barcelona. Melliferopolis took part to the exhibition with two installations, Homage to Pomona, at the gallery of the Foundation, and The Other Side, a site-specific audio space at a historical cemetery of Poblenou.
The mundane, and most obvious reason for the human interest in bees is thanks to the precious products they produce. One of those products, honey, the viscous substance created and stored by various species of bees, is the most concentrated natural source of sweetness. A famous rock painting discovered near Valencia, Spain, illustrates a person harvesting honey from a wild beehive at altitude. El Hombre de Bicorp, (The Man of Bicorp) was painted 10 000 years ago.
Melliferopolis has collaborated with several contemporary artists, such as environmental artist Charli Clark (UK), visual artist Kaisa Illukka (FI), artist/researcher (anthropology) Lesley Kadish (USA), artist/researcher (audio engineering) Till Bovermann (DE), artist/researcher Nigel Helyer (AUS), illustrator Lina Kusaite (BE) and artist Hanna Kaisa Vainio (FI). These collaborations have continued for several years and some of the outcomes can be seen in the portfolio, in the collaborative section.
Other artists and collectives whose work was inspired by Apis mellifera, or who placed bees to an artistic context:
–Pierre Huyghe, Untilled 2011-12, Dokumenta, Kassel