Bees hum in the key of C. That is such a wonderful fact I am not sure I need to say anything more. Except to add that my beloved Frank Turner reminds us, “…we write love songs in C. ” Now I could just drop in a few stunning photos and…..voila, latest post finished.
Oh, but I can’t help myself. I WANT to drone on (ha ha, little pun there) about The Hive, the gorgeous and heartwarming installation at Kew Gardens, in celebration of the humble and extraordinary bumblebee. And the buzz of scientific research (ha ha again) that has gone into creating something that is not only beautiful to look at, incredible to experience, but is a statement on the future of our existence on this planet.
Built for the 2015 Milan International Expo, the theme of which was “Feeding the Planet-Energy for Life” the UK committee knew it needed something extraordinary. In part of their pre-planning research, the committee polled non-UK nationals as to the UK’s reputation. Hannah Corbett, UK Milan Expo 2015 Commissioner General & Director, discovered that the UK was considered “unusual in its preference for eccentricity and its love of the quirky.” Well, eccentric and quirky have always been positives in my book, and The Hive delivers magnificently on both. Another was that the UK has a long, solid history of engineering brilliance. Just think of all those amazing things the Victorians built. Railways, bridges, greenhouses. Yes, greenhouses. Which revolutionized their influence on worldwide food production. Suddenly seeds and plants from vastly different environments could be cultivated and studied, it was the impetus to re-inventing Kew Gardens in the 1840s…., from a place of elite leisure to one of serious science, which continues today.
But let’s get back to the bee, the lovely, precious bee, which we have taken for granted for so long we now find ourselves in rather a panic about its demise. The reasons are varied but with a common denominator. Us. Climate change, industrial farming techniques that prefer one crop over a variety, the widespread use of pesticides, the invasion of other bee varieties. Many types of bees feed on just a tiny selection of plants. Remove them and the bee population will soon follow, or vice versa. As 3 out of 4 of plants rely on animals for pollination and of that 75% is done by bees, well, they are rather important. Albert Einstein did NOT predict that humanity was done for without the bee, but an Belgian Nobel prize winner by the name of Maurice Maeterlinck did. Maybe the attribution was reassigned to give the quote more weight. Because it may not be far from the truth. But don’t fear. There are lots and lots and lots of bee champions out there and beekeeping has suddenly become the “in” past time. We are rather keen on self-preservation after all. I am an optimist.
The Hive is one more method of awareness raising, and a spectacular one at that. It sits nestled in a wildflower meadow at Kew, rising magnificently skywards like the most fantastic Meccano built greenhouse, without the glass. Instead the Hive offers lights and music, lights and music that are controlled……dramatic pause…wait for it, wait for it….a real hive at Kew. The bees humming and movement activate the light and sound sensors in the installation, waxing and waning throughout the day and seasons. The experience is amazing. It is like standing in gorgeous, non-reflective hall of mirrors with invisible walls of sounds, not unlike waves, crashing all around you. Does any of that simile work??? Suffice to say it is a marvelous, beautiful sensory overload. And an Instagrammers” dream. From all levels and angles.
Back to bees. They communicate through vibration, rather than hearing, as we do. You are welcome to imitate the affect by “listening” holding a wooden stick between your teeth. The sensation is rather like being at the dentist. But the Hive is filled with sound we can hear with our ears as well. I started this piece by stating that bees hum in the key of C. The artist approached a team of musicians to “work” with the bees to create an orchestral accompaniment to their humming, in the key of C, using cello, voice, piano, mellotron and steel guitar. The musicians didn’t impose their own playing, rather reacted to what the bees were doing in a sympathetic manner. The result is a stunning, often haunting soundtrack. So much so that it has gone on tour, even making an appearance at Glastonbury, and the album ONE is available to buy.
The artistic genius behind The Hive is Cumbria born, Nottingham educated Wolfgang Buttress. Known for being someone comfortable outside the box, he was concerned, and I quote, “how could one produce a response beyond something glib and tokenistic.” It had to be meaningful, but not boring and earnest. It needed real wow factor. And wow, did Buttress deliver. But like all masterpieces, it wasn’t a one man job. Bee specialists, musicians, engineers, landscape architects, contractors and gardeners all played roles in this extraordinary installation. “It was a true collaboration in that egos did not restrict us, instead our different disciplines enabled us to let go where necessary and create when required, ” explains Buttress. Oooh, if only more groups of people could think this way, what a happier (and perhaps more productive) place this world would be.
Have I convinced you to visit? What if I tell you that Kew Gardens is thinking of hosting adult evenings in the Autumn with drinks and the chance to experience The Hive at night, lights and sounds shining and buzzing and humming to our heart’s delight in the Autumn air. Well sign me up, certainly.
And see, I wasn’t just using bees as an excuse to quote Turner, as if I need an excuse, we really do write love songs in C. The bees perhaps writing the greatest one of them all.
Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion