Wolfgang Buttress and The Hive

In recent posts we have been discussing the ways artists and others use a wide variety of information and resources to inspire and inform their work. Today’s post explores a multimedia sculptural installation inspired and informed by the daily life patterns of honeybees.

The installation is titled The Hive. It was created by a team of collaborators led by artist Wolfgang Buttress. The team included engineer Tristan Simmonds, the architecture and landscape design firm BDP, and the manufacturing firms Stage One and RISE. It was originally built as the UK’s pavilion for the Milan World Expo in 2015. The exposition had the theme “Feeding the Planet” and The Hive won the gold medal for best pavilion.

Wolfgang Buttress's environmental installation "The Hive," that uses honeybees sounds and metal rods

After the Milan Expo closed its doors The Hive was recreated in England and is currently on view at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London. It will be there until November 2017.

Wolfgang Buttress's environmental installation "The Hive," that uses honeybees, sound and metal rods

Wolfgang Buttress is an English sculptor who specializes in collaborative works for specific public spaces. He often gets his inspiration from the cultural history and politics of the site.

Buttress first imagined The Hive after reading about the decline of the world’s bee population and England’s role in postponing a EU ban on pesticides largely blamed for the problem. Doing background reading on the subject he discovered the research into honeybee communication by physicist Martin Bencsik at Nottingham Trent University. Bencsik’s research became the impetus for an installation that makes a very real connection between viewers and honeybees.

Buttress wants The Hive to be “…a harmonious synthesis between art, and architecture and science.” “I want visitors to feel enveloped, wrapped-up and involved in the experience, rather than adopting the position of an external observer.”

Visitors to The Hive first encounter a field of wildflowers surrounding the sculpture. The field includes over 34 native species of flowering plants and is usually alive with honeybees.

The 50 ton sculpture is 17 meters tall (55 feet) and resembles a swarm of bees hovering around a hive-like core. The larger swarm shape is made of 170,000 pieces of interconnected aluminum tubing.

Wolfgang Buttress's environmental installation "The Hive," that uses honeybees, sound and metal rods

As viewers enter the sculpture they encounter hundreds of flickering LED lights and a low humming sound. The rhythm of the lights as well as the pitch and intensity of the sound are controlled by sensors in actual beehives located off site. The activity level of the bees varies throughout the day and depends on what they are doing. The lights and sound in the sculpture vary accordingly.

When The Hive was installed in Milan the sensors were in beehives located thousands of miles away in Nottingham, England. Now that the sculpture is in Kew Gardens the sensors are in beehives located around the garden grounds.

At the Kew Gardens installation visitors get the extra opportunity to feel the different vibrations bees make as they communicate with each other.

Wolfgang Buttress's environmental installation "The Hive," that uses honeybees, sound and metal rods

The varying sounds generated by The Hive’s bee activity are also the inspiration for an album of ambient music. It features the work of musicians assembled by Buttress…plus the humming and buzzing of 40,000 bees. The musicians and technicians collaborated to develop a computer program that responds to the bees and translates their activity into musical passages. Here is a promotional video for the album. For those receiving this through email click here to view the video.

Read more about Wolfgang Buttress and “The Hive” here.


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