This Hive Makes Visitors a Part of the Swarm

This Hive Makes Visitors a Part of the Swarm

By Jenny Xie
London’s Kew Gardens welcomes a sound and art installation that captures the vital role of bees in global ecosystems.

Rising from an acre of meadow and native wildflowers in Kew Gardens, a latticework of aluminum spirals off the ground, drawing visitors inside with a humming soundtrack of bees and recorded music. Its 170,000 aluminum pieces angle towards the light while LED bulbs flicker across the spherical interior. The lights are controlled by an accelerometer that senses the vibrations of a real beehive in Kew Gardens, immersing guests in the natural rhythms of a colony.

To create the Hive, Wolfgang Buttress collaborated with structural engineers Simmonds Studio and physicist Dr. Martin Bencsik in addition to a team of audio, visual, and lighting designers. Landscape architects BDP envisioned a meadow filled with native plants that would attract the garden's bees to thenusher guests into the structure. 

The Hive was originally created by artist Wolfgang Buttress for the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo, where the theme was "Feeding the Planet Energy for Life." Buttress found inspiration in the research of Dr. Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University, who discovered that honeybees communicate through vibrations: virgin queen bees toot and quack in challenge to each other, and the waggle dance alerts others of a food source. The 15-yard cube, which hovers above the ground on stilts, abstracts the honeycomb and has a twist in the structure that suggests a swarm.

Once inside, guests hear a soundtrack comprised of 40,000 bees and the stylings of a motley musical ensemble: Buttress's daughter, Bencsik's wife, and members of the band Spiritualized. The crew also recorded musical stems that are triggered by the activity of a real hive in Kew Gardens. The resulting album, entitled One, was named one of the best albums of 2016 so far by The Guardian.  

Renowned as a scientific resource and a leader in sustainability, Kew Gardens is an apt second home for the award-winning installation. Visitors can bite a wooden stick attached to a conductor to experience the buzzing language of bees, or they can attend one of many informational programs centered around bees and horticulture.

An oculus allows visitors to see the sky above.

"My approach to a sculpture seeks to frame nature so one can experience it more intimately, and I am really happy how the Hive has been harmoniously integrated into its new home at Kew." -Buttress

Over 3.3 million visitors poured into the Hive during its tenure at the Milan Expo, making it the most popular British paid attraction across the globe in 2015. It is the first UK pavilion to move to a second venue. 

The Hive will remain at Kew Gardens through November 2017. To get more information and book tickets, visit the website.


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