Urban Beeing

    OPENING: Thursday 20 November from 6 pm, Hive Synthesis Performance by Bioni Samp

    DISCUSSION with urban beekeepers: Friday 21 November from 6 pm

    The exhibition is dedicated to both city beekeeping and artistic projects involving bees. Beekeeping attracted the attention of artists from day one: the prehistoric cave painting of the honey gatherer, the Man of Bicorp, in the Cueva de la Araña near Valencia in Spain is probably 8000 years old. One of the modern forefathers of artists/beekeepers is Mark Thompson who let his body be covered with a swarm (Immersion, 1973-76). Later in Live-in Hive, 1976 he would display his head in a beehive to become temporarily part of the bee population. Later on he would repeat the work in a more political sense, as a metaphor for the division of East and West Berlin (A House Divided, 1989).


    City beekeeping a few years ago has become a popular pastime, and today we can see hives on the rooftops of cultural institutions, restaurants and shopping centers, or in city parks and gardens. Naturally, urban beekeeping is not exclusively an artistic phenomenon, although it is remarkably often associated with artists and art institutions. One thing that they share with many city beekeepers: the desire to do things differently, but not with the primary goal to harvest as most of the honey as possible (although the honey from Opéra Garnier in Paris probably sells well). In her book The Year of the Flood (2009), Margaret Atwood describes the rooftop Gardeners/beekepers, living in peace and symbiosis with their bees, as those who are best prepared for an ecological disaster. Many of the city beekeepers began to do it in the most bee-friendly way, reacting to the dangers caused by pesticides and monoculture forms of agriculture. In addition, in cities more than in the countryside various forms of community beekeeping are being established. Even non-beekeepers have the opportunity to support the beehives in their neighborhood, for example by symbolically ‘adopting’ bees or hives.

    Thanks to the specific organization of bee “society”, bees belong to the most popular insect. At the same time they are bestowed with various superstitions (a bee that flies into a house signifies a visitor, but when she dies there, the visit won’t be happy; the habit of announcing to the bees the death of beekeeper is described in Babička – Grandmother – , the book by Czech 19th century writer Božena Němcová). Bees are also part of various “pranostika’s” (prognoses based on observations in nature), of which we can mention the current November one: “When it thunders in November, the coming year will be fruitful year”; or “When bees fly on St. Ondřej (November 30th), the year won’t be fruitful”. Also one tip against thieves is worth mentioning for Christmas Day, which can be paraphrased like this: “To prevent stealing the bees, on Christmas Eve at 12 midnight, the father of the house should spin a thread, being completely naked, and when the church bells start ringing for the first time, he should run naked three times around the apiary, and circle the thread around it, while not looking behind. When the thief steps in the apiary, he cannot come out, until the father of the house lets him go.”


    Perhaps artists (as well as others) are attracted to beekeeping because of this interconnection between agriculture, crafts and gadgetry, and potentially also other disciplines (phenology, meteorology, chemistry…). The ideal beekeeper is a wo/man of various talents (like an artist…?), preferably a bit of a carpenter, an ecologist, and a cook. Our exhibition is a small cross-section of contemporary approaches to beekeeping vs. art. The selected artworks are from the border of art and research, whose authors are mostly practicing beekeepers. The exhibition will feature artists from all over Europe and elsewhere:

    Bioni Samp (GB)

    Annemie Maes / Okno (BE)

    The Bureau of Melodramatic Research (RO)

    Julie Andreyev (CAN)

    Jan Karpíšek (CZ)

    Eric Tourneret (FR)

    Gerda Johanna Cammaer (CAN)

    The discussion will be focused on the practical experience and motivation of urban beekeepers, the way of working with local communities, the various problems and specifics of bee pasture in big cities. Do the city bees really produce more honey? Is the bee pasture in cities really more varied and does the honey from cities taste differently? What dis/advantages does the close coexistence of people and bees bring?

    Organized as a part of Alotof – A laboratory on the open fields