‘The Hive’ by Wolfgang Buttress and Tristan Simmonds in Kew Gardens

Continued interest by artist and designers in the wonders of bees; Wolfgang Buttress and Tristan Simmonds create a giant hive installation that responds to the activities of Kew Garden’s resident bees. LED lighting within the structure responds to the hum within the nearby hives giving visitors insight into the activities and moods of the gardens residents.



Wolfgang Buttress and Tristan Simones (2015) The Hive

A very specific symbolic language

This is an excerpt from an email conversation I had with one of the performers in “Mysterion Mellisius”. It is a nice little look into a very specific form of symbolic link making; the languages that are built up within cosmologies that join images to images, thoughts to thoughts, ideas to ideas, but then, perhaps, cease to function meaningfully outside that cosmology. The symbolic language creates a web that enables the link-maker to find a trail through his or her own thoughts.

An artist like Simon Denny works with link-making in a wider context with a symbolic language that is accessible and understood by a greater audience. This gives his link-making the ability to travel and be read by a large audience, but in many respects it’s the same sort of pattern recognition process being brought forth. A targeted net is cast and the relevant ideas are pulled together for the viewer to discover and question.

Obviously the below quote is rather ‘occulty’ because it’s dealing with that particular symbolic language, but it’s interesting to see how T.P. drew correlations between ideas:

“…the more I thought about C’s divination of the 8 of Disks for the rite the more I thought it was especially fitting…. From the surface level: where the figure 8s we did in the great Disk that was the hive befits the card… To the idea of storing the harvest, which is the traditional “sun in virgo” attribution (and the essential meaning of the word ‘prudence’ in this respect) – the harvest of course being the honey, but also the idea that honey can be used as a preservative for storing other foods. (Indeed, the very life of bees depicts this idea of prudence, in how they work so hard to build hives and store food for their fellows.)… The picture on the card is of 8 whirling red flowers, to suggest the activity of the bees… Even the yellow background of the card suggests honey!” -T.P.


Hive Oracle – April 2015

Hive Oracle – watch movie at Vimeo

Creating this performative video was a real departure from the mediums I’ve worked in so far. I have a list of words and ideas that I compiled after the April Seminar that I’ve been exploring in my research.

– The idea of a shadow world, strangeness in time and space, otherworldly, hypnotic. I want to continue to explore these ideas in my work.

– I need to examine duration in my work. What would realtime do? Authenticity versus affect.

– Tying into that is the use of cinematic orthodoxies and the tropes of theatre. Artifice. I’m curious as to how I can use these in a totally unselfconscious way to produce certain affect. It’s a bit of a fine line between cliched/naff and something that works the way i want it to, it can easily be pushed too far and fall over. The same with earnestness versus parody, it’s tricky but I’m interested in exploring it.

– Trace of Performance. This is important and has been coming up again and again with my work. I’m currently exploring how this can be used and will write a post about what I have discovered.

– Performing to camera. Is this a performance or is it a video work? What makes it one or the other? What happens if the performance is not to camera? There was also quite a bit of feedback from viewers around how they felt the direct eye-contact was challenging which I felt was a positive response to the work.

– I also need to examine the role of scent and sound in the work to create a full enveloping experience. I’ve used scent for some time now and would like to keep that as part of my practice.

Work in Progress January 2015

This is a record of the work I made in January 2015. Overall I think this is the least successful work, but I learned a lot of valuable stuff from actually making it. During the creation of the work I went through a repetitive production process that was bordering on ritualistic in it’s experience. The scent of the wax brought bees into the house and I had to go through a sort of ritual everyday around avoiding them, feeding them (because they got tired) and taking them back outside again at the end of the day. Creating the hexagon tiles involved a long process of heating, pouring, cooling, flattening, being very, very hot, getting burns and dodging excited bees.

After creating this work it became obvious to me that the interest in the piece was within the creative process, not the tiles on the floor. They felt flat and lacking in the energy of their own creation – someone described them as being like a ‘sketch’ rather than a sculpture. During my feedback meeting Anders suggested the inclusion of the tools of making, of somehow bringing the energy of the bees and the feeling of the creation process into the work. This was very valuable for me and has informed my thinking ever since.

Despite being somewhat disappointed in the finished piece, I’m very glad that I made it because I learned so much from what didn’t work and what I needed to think about to make it successful.

Hex (2015)
Beeswax, carbon, sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh



small group




Work in Progress, April 2015

IMG_7460 large retouch small

This is a still from a series of short performative videos I shot this weekend with the help of my partner (he was very good as videographer and production assistant!). I’m currently working on the videos and ascertaining whether they do what I want, whether they work as art pieces, whether I want to do something else with them.

Honeybee Navigation and Communication

Honeybees navigate according to a map-like spatial memory
Using radar scientists tracked the flight paths of displaced bees – the bees are captured leaving the hive or a feeder they are familiar with and are released in unexpected sites in their general territory. Behavioural routines are recorded:
1) Straight flights in which they fly the course that they were on when they were captured on a foraging flight or that they learned from directions given from bee dances (those are called recruited bees).
2) Slow search flights where they fly with frequent direction changes in order to get their bearings.
3) Straight rapid flights to the hive or the feeder even from unexpected places in their territory where they have no visual connection to either hive or feeder.

“Two essential criteria of a map-like spatial memory are met by these results: bees can set course at any arbitrary location in their familiar area, and they can choose between at least two goals. This finding suggests a rich, map-like organization of spatial memory in navigating honey bees.”
Menzel, R. et al (2004) Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (website) http://www.pnas.org/content/102/8/3040.abstract


Diagram showing homing flights via the feeder (Fs) to the hive (H)

It is commonly accepted that bees use the sun as a reference point in both communication (waggle dance) and navigation, and that this is an innate understanding. Attempts to model this have apparently been unsuccessful.

Karl Von Frisch received the Nobel Prize for discovering one of the most difficult to fathom complexities of honeybee behaviour; their ability to ‘talk’ to each other abstractly through the Figure 8 Dance of the honeybee. The direction the bee moves in relation to the hive indicates direction pf pollen source. If it moves vertically upwards the direction to the source is directly towards the sun. The duration of the waggle signifies the distance. A waggle dance consists of one to 100 or more circuits, each of which consists of two phases: the waggle phase and the return phase. A worker bee’s waggle dance involves running through a small figure-eight pattern: a waggle followed by a turn to the right to circle back to the starting point (return phase), another waggle run, followed by a turn and circle to the left, and so on in a regular alternation between right and left turns after waggle runs. Waggle-dancing bees produce and release two alkanes that also seem to act as additional communication.

Unusual fact: Apparently honeybees cannot see white, hence the colour of beekeeping suits.

Yuansu II – Ren Ri

Beijing based artist and beekeeper Ren Ri has created a series of works for a piece called ‘Yuansu II’ (roughly translating to Element II). He has collaborated with bees to create works using honeycombs inside plastic polyhedrons of different configurations with a queen located in the centre. The structure of the bee’s construction is further randomised by the artist determining a rotation of the polyhedra every seventh day with a roll of the dice.

Ren Ri states that one of the purposes of Yuansu II is to “eliminate the subjectivity of the artist” via “the mediation of bees”. I would argue that he is also re-injecting the artist back into the work by his rotation of the hives thereby taking away some of the design decisions of the bees through randomisation of their construction.

Ren Ri states that he enjoys the instability of beeswax and the fact that it can change shape with temperature. This is something that I also enjoy about the material. Apart from the use of beeswax I relate to the uncontrolled geometric growth at play in this work. I enjoy multiples of objects and in this case the multiples are the hexagonal cells of the hive. I do love the polyhedral containers from a purely aesthetic standpoint, but I’m not sure they actually contribute to the work as a whole? I can’t tell if the shapes of the containers significantly change the structure of the hives or extend the work in any way.

Ren Ri’s Beeswax Sculptures




Rudolf Steiner’s Bee Lectures from the book ‘Bees’

Over the last week I’ve worked my way through an audio recording of the 8 lectures Rudolph Steiner made available in his book “Bees”. It has been a pleasant, if somewhat waffly, look into Steiner’s worldview and the place that bees have in his overarching thesis on the interconnectedness of nature. I found a lot of the content was of little interest to me because it was based around pseudoscientific health principles strange musings on things like formic acid and milk. The parts that have come away thinking about are more to do with the organisational structure of the hive and the relationships between the hive and the human body.

Here are a few notes that I’ve made to think about further:

Developmental stages of the 3 types of bee from laval to maturity:
Queen 16 Days – closer to laval stage, interesting the the queen requires the least time in larval stage.
Workers 21 Days – significant: the sun revolves once on its axis (link to the sun) the worker bee experiences every single effect the sun can have on it and is instilled within the worker bee – a sun animal.
Drones 23-24 Days – the sun is past, the drone is an earth animal.

Macrocosm and microcosm ideas, particularly ideas around the blood cells in the body being the worker bees and the human body, the hive. The queen sits at the centre like the heart and the workers move around her like red blood cells. (Would that make the drones white blood cells seeing as they do the ‘protecting?’)

I don’t quite get what he was talking about but the is a correlation between milk/honey/quartz (six sided effect). I want to have a look into this because crystalline structures are another interest in my work. I’ve made a note that says “Quartz crystals and bee cells?? whats he talking about??” so I’d better investigate!

Bees can sense fear, anger. A hive establishes a relationship with a human – the beekeeper. It takes the hive time to acclimatise with a new beekeeper.

Beekeeping is so old that there is no record of what bees did and how they lived before domesticated bee keeping (I need to check the veracity of this statement!)

The queen can produce eggs without fertilisation. She can produce drones from unfertilised eggs, but workers and other queens only hatch from fertilised eggs. This makes the drones seem like quite a different sort of creature, they also have the longest maturation time.


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