Will Camfield recently traveled to one of London’s many popular attractions: The Hive. This work of art was not only pleasing for the senses, but it also got him thinking of a critical issue. This is his story.
Imagine this: as you wander through the Kew Gardens around twilight, you notice a glow just beyond a hill. Naturally, for curiosity’s sake, you head that way. Providing you don’t get lost in the 326 acre park, you find a very odd thing indeed: The Hive. With a massive structure comprising of an interconnected latticework of spiraling metal, the Hive is imposing. As you draw closer, you realize the glow is coming from thousands of LEDs pulsing in different shades of yellow, orange, and red. You enter the structure to the oscillating sounds of classical strings and haunting vocals; a crescendo here and a diminuendo there. At this point you ask: is this what it’s like to be in a bee hive?
All of this made me think of a quote (supposedly) from Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left.” While there is little evidence he ever said those words (or even took an interest in bees), it does raise an interesting question: what would our lives look like without bees?
It wouldn’t be good. According to the BBC, bees “pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.” But it’s not just food: the type of cotton we use to manufacture clothing – you guessed it – also needs pollination. And, of course, no more bees means no more honey. So yeah, bees, they’re kinda a big deal.
Now comes the disturbing part: American beekeepers lost 44% of their hives in 2015-2016. 44%, almost one in every two bees gone. Then in 2016-2017 another 33% vanished. This is commonly called Colony Collapse Disorder.
So what exactly is happening? For years changing weather patterns and the liberal use of pesticides (namely neonicotinoids) have been driving down the global bee population at an alarming rate, especially in North America and the UK. And yet, the real problem concerning this issue is not pesticides or weather patterns – if only it was that simple – rather it is this: there are so many other dire (or seemingly dire) threats whirling around us, it can be easy to overlook the little buzzballs. Bees don’t get a lot of press. Now and then Vice will publish some vaguely apocalyptic article about how the bees are vanishing, but these are rarely geared at solving anything and more at mining a few million clicks from their ‘doom-and-gloom obsessed faithfuls’. More conventional news outlets are similarly silent, usually preferring the appeal of pundits at opposite ends of a shiny table yelling at each other, instead of a productive discussion between mutually respectable experts.
While the press may lack interest, Dr. Martin Bencsik, from Nottingham Trent University, is an exception. In recent years, he has taken up the bee’s cause and became involved by studying beehives through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Although we know that bees communicate through dances and vibrations, we understand very little of what constitutes their language. Bencsik’s work may have gone largely unnoticed, and underfunded, for years if it were not for Wolfgang Buttress. Buttress, an English born installation artist with an excellent beard and a fine arts degree from Nottingham Trent University, learned of Bencsik’s work. The two partnered together, and from this partnership came The Hive.
Soaring over 30 feet from the soil it stands on, its aluminum framework was designed with the Fibonacci sequence as a guiding principle. More than an elegant structure, it acts as a visual and auditory graph of a beehive. But not just any beehive, a local Kew hive, whose vibrations are recorded 24/7 and broadcasted live throughout the installation as music and light. The strings, vocals, and light intensity all correspond to fluctuations in the hive’s vibrations. And yet here’s the cool part: Bencsik’s graphs are more than two dimensional, more than just time (X) and intensity of the sum vibrations (Y), rather the hum we hear when near a hive is just that, a sum. If you listen closely, bees click, babble, quack, and bloop (all highly scientific terms). These amount to words in the bee alphabet. These elements of emotional valence are Bencsik’s true gift to the installation, which are reflected in the complexity and circuitous nature of the piece’s physical being. The effect is sublime, it is ethereal, it is just one of those things you cannot experience without grinning as a huge internal “wow” expands within you.
The Hive is attracting visitors in swarms. It represents a powerful manifestation of the presence bees have in our lives. It functions as a locus of discourse on how to make sure those little winged honey makers stay around for a long, long time. At the very least its beauty is enough to get people talking.
If you are interested in becoming more involved in sustaining your local bee population, check out the non-profit below. Your help can make an immediate and lasting difference.
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(Especially if you want to save the bees too!)