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Bees! They're Controlling a Huge Immersive Sculpture

Wolfgang Buttress's 'The Hive' uses real-time bee activity to bring thousands of LEDs to flickering life.


The Hive at dusk Credit: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew

Did you know that bees hum in the key of C? For Wolfgang ButtressThe Hive, a near 56-foot high, 40-ton lattice structure designed to look like a swarm of bees, a symphony of vocals and cello was composed to complement this phenomenon. Thousands of LEDs linked by accelerometer sensors to a working beehive create an epic immersive sculpture surrounded by wild flower meadows. The nearby beehive triggers activity in the installation in real-time, bringing to life the flickering LEDs and orchestral soundscape. The sound and light fluctuate with the pace of the hive so visitors can experience the buzzing lifestyles of bees vicariously.

The Hive made its debut as the centerpiece at the UK Pavilion at last year's Milan Expo. But that wasn't the end of it, because it was then packed up and brought back home to be reused at London's botanical Kew Gardens for an installation which opened to the public on 18 June. Says Buttress, "The Gardens offer the perfect environment to host this multi-sensory experience that integrates art, science and landscape architecture.”


GIF by author. Video courtesy of Kew Gardens.

The plight of the bee, in Britain and elsewhere, has been a constant headline generator as their decline—attributed to multiple factors like climate change, disease, pesticides, parasites—has caused huge concern because bees are excellent pollinators. Along with aiding the fertilization of wild plants, they also help to produce food: fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and livestock feed like alfalfa are grown on crops that require pollinating. According to Michigan State University, "bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat."

So, yeah, they're pretty important. And the installation at Kew is not just there to look pretty and create an abstract representation of bee activity, but also be a focal point for talks, tours, films, and generally educating adults and kids about bees, their role, and how we can help.

"My approach to a sculpture seeks to frame nature so one can experience it more intimately,” Buttress tells The Guardian. “I want visitors to feel enveloped, wrapped-up and involved in the experience, rather than adopting the position of an external observer.” Check out The Hive below:


The Hive at Kew Gardens Credit: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew


View from beneath The Hive Credit: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew


Inside The Hive  Credit: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew


GIF by author. Video courtesy of Kew Gardens.

The Hive is on at Kew Gardens, Richmond, Surrey, UK now until October 30, 2016. You can learn more about Wolfgang Buttress' work by visiting his website here.

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