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

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

Target Ovarian Cancer

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

  • The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    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...

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...

Films

Vice President and climate action advocate Al Gore returns with…

Films

A new Netflix documentary investigates the dire state of the…

Books

After two years, you’d probably think it nigh on impossible…

Books

Not for intrepid travel writer Norman Lewis the melancholy tea…

Books

Twenty-year-old Nigel Halleck – Kief Hillsbery’s many-times removed uncle –…

Books

Jason Hickel’s bold book is full of stark facts and…

Books

Bridges are more than just a means of connection, writes…

Exhibitions

A wildlife exhibition in central London is displaying huge artworks…

Reviews

Exploring ancient Japan in a serene game of tactical beauty

Exhibitions

With a blue whale skeleton due to be unveiled in…

Exhibitions

An historic exhibition at the National Maritime Museum unveils the…

Books

Ryszard Kapuściński was a journalist who was dangerously good at…

Books

John O’Groats to Land’s End may not be the most…

Books

Oil prices haven’t made headlines for a while, but they…

Books

BW Higman has a sixth sense: he sees flat surfaces.…

Books

Thomas H Cook is an accomplished author of crime novels,…