Artists, architects and designers celebrate Australia's urban beekeeping revival.
Maybe you didn’t know it, but Australia is in the middle of a beekeeping golden age. While populations around the world are mysteriously plummeting, our bees are as happy and healthy as ever. It’s something worth celebrating, and Swarm Trap—an exhibition of conceptual and functional bee housing structures designed by artists, engineers and architects—is doing just that.
Opening today in Canberra’s Hotel Hotel, Swarm Trap is run by urban beekeeping network Honey Fingers in collaboration with creative curatorial studio MANY MANY. It features architectural structures for bees that have been designed by the likes of illustrator Beci Orpin, experimental collective Field Experiments, and Shauna Toohey from Perks and Mini.
The brief was simple: design small safe houses for wild bees, to be exhibited and then installed in bushland, city and suburban spaces around Canberra and Melbourne this spring. The project aims to raise awareness of urban beekeeping, and create safe homes for wild bees to swarm before pest controllers get to them.
Speaking to The Creators Project about the show, founder of Honey Fingers Nic Dowse explains how he fell into beekeeping by accident while studying architecture at RMIT. “I was given a beginner’s beekeeping course as a gift,” he says. “I bought some bees, become obsessed, caught a swarm and put it in a hive on a friend's roof in Carlton...from there it all just organically grew.”
Swarm Trap explores what he calls “the special culture that exists between bees and humans.” The exhibition in Canberra is one of several planned events and workshops investigating the relationship between bees and humans, and the seasonal rhythms of honeybee swarms.
Dowse explains that swarm traps like those that will be shown at the exhibition are vital to beekeepers. “They are small hives used by beekeepers to catch swarms,” he says. “A swarm trap is a little, temporary home for bees that is designed to be so attractive to their needs that swarming bees decide to move into them...no bees get hurt in swarm traps and the bees can come and go as they please.”
When beginning his beekeeping career, Dowse found himself inspired by researchers like Thomas D. Seeley, who published beekeeping bible Honeybee Democracy. “Seeley came up with a pretty tight summary of what swarming bees were looking for in a new home,” Dowse says.
“And I thought, this is great. This could be a brief for a bunch of people I know who are artists, designers, and makers. They could have a go at designing these things without having too much experience keeping bees, or with too much concern about whether they would actually be good permanent homes—because the idea is that you catch a swarm and transfer it to a hive pretty quickly.”
To curate the show, Dowse collaborated with Rachel Elliot-Jones from MANY MANY. “Rachel and I got together and started talking about how we would curate a series of events that could bring the complex issues facing bees into new spaces,” he says.
“The problems bees face, and their role in pollinating our food are pretty widely known these days. What isn't as known is the fact that Australia doesn't suffer from the Colony Collapse Disorder that is decimating apiaries around the world…. our Swarm Trap show is also about making little tributes to bees that celebrates this good fortune.”
Swarm Trap is showing at Hotel Hotel’s Nishi Gallery from June 30-July 10. Find out more about the project here.