The Hive at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

The Hive at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
22 Jul
2016
A new installation at Kew Gardens gives visitors a hands (or teeth)-on chance to interact with the secret life of bees

Over a meadow of wildflowers comes the sound of low, ominous droning. It’s ‘The Hive’, an equally ominous-looking metal structure that spirals 17 metres into the air. Suddenly, it erupts with the sound of church organs. Things are about to get weird.

That’s because bees are weird, and The Hive wants to help you understand them. British artist Wolfgang Buttress modelled the angular sculpture on the perfect hexagons bees create to store their food and larvae. Inside, the yellow filaments of 1,000 lightbulbs flicker in response to the flux in insect activity. ‘There is always some activity going on,’ says Stratton Meyer, one of the installation’s ‘Explainers’. ‘Even when most of the worker bees are out gathering nectar, others stay behind and vibrate to keep the hive a constant temperature. That explains the incessant humming – the bees aim for a cosy 35 degrees so the queen can lay her eggs.

The Hive is not an ordinary exhibit, in that the thought behind some features are not outwardly obvious. For example, an intriguing pillar slotted with what looks like USB portals waits to be touched with a wooden stick. ‘If you clamp your teeth on the end of the stick, and cover your ears,’ explains Meyer, ‘you can hear the vibrations in your skull, which our brains interpret as sound.’ It’s a human translation of how bees hear each other through their feet. The abstract presentation speaks to the mysteriousness of bee society, and piques curiosity. For such an immersive piece, it works to have human explainers on hand instead of blocks of text.

hive2

The data being streamed into the lights and speakers comes live from a real hive located off-site – a honeybee colony that is also being monitored by bee researcher Martin Bencsik at Nottingham Trent University. When the bees get excited – apparently they’re at their busiest around 2-3pm in the afternoon – the droning baseline lifts to other instruments, recorded by Bencsik and Buttress, turning the twisted metal into a chamber of sound. Eerie riffs from yawning cellos and church organs mimic the the ‘piping’ or ‘tooting’ of queen bees to their colony and the ‘waggle dance’ between worker bees explaining where to find food.

What results is an arresting exhibit to see and hear. A place to sit and consider the intelligence of the bees, the creatures that we depend on for 30 per cent of our food, but which are increasingly threatened by a lack of biodiversity. ‘Luckily, the bees at Kew don’t seem to be sharing the same fate as those the rest of the country,’ says Meyer. ‘It could be because they are not short of biodiversity here.’

The Hive is open for viewing at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew from June 2016 until November 2017. Hive Lates will occur in September, when the site can be seen in the dark. Entrance to the gardens – Adults: £15, Concessions: £14, Children: £3.50. Free for Friends of Kew and children under three. For more information visit www.kew.org/thehive.

Enter our great competition to win a ticket to view The Hive along with a copy of The Hive at Kew book! Click here to enter!

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Get the best stories from Geographical delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital has a green future, ...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

At the turn of the 17th century, the idea of…

Books

Mountain regions host a disproportionate share of the world’s conflicts:…

Books

Kit Mayers offers a lively account of Anthony Jenkinson, the…

Books

From food packets to fuel company manifestos, ‘sustainability’ is everywhere.…

Books

Mark Evans is a geography teacher, curious and adventurous, with…

Books

We humans have named ourselves Homo sapiens – ‘the wise…

Books

John Harding is modest about his mountaineering achievements: ‘I might…

Films

Showing at the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s UK tour, The…

Books

Water is ‘the principle of all things’, the element from…

Films

Based on true events, a journey through time and space…

Books

Some adventure stories are all bravado and bluster, a tirade…

Books

A great deal has been written about the dramatic rise…

Books

Panic, Fiennes tells us, is to be avoided at all…

Books

By the late 10th century, Oxford was the crossroads of…

Books

David Moffatt’s charming account of his time as a PhD…

Books

Bettany Hughes describes Istanbul as a ‘place where stories and…

Exhibitions

Thousands of tropical butterflies have come to the glasshouse at…

Exhibitions

An exhibition by Stephen Turner explores the natural life of…

Books

How it could be that a fashion and portrait photographer…

Books

Natural disasters are inevitable but the death toll is up…