Extract of an essay by Amber Gosden on Wolfgang Buttress’s The Hive

The Hive communicates the plight of the honeybee through complex mechanical systems that stimulate visual, spatial and aural senses. The simultaneous experience immerses the audience in the wonder of bees, and provides the opportunity for humans to connect with nature, to actively undergo positive, physical encounters. This brings to light the physicality of art and Being, where very physical experience of The Hive intimately links human-beings and bee-beings to heighten the emotional and behavioural impact of the work.

Buttress demonstrates practice-led artistic research into bees, where practice develops via the handling of physical and conceptual materials to generate new knowledge and understanding of the world. For example, ‘knowledge about spatial acoustics is relatively recent’ compared to that of visual space, ‘our culture does not have a long tradition of designing aural spaces’ (Blesser and Salter 2009, p. 215). This proposes The Hive as pioneering because it encourages our innate ability to be acoustically attentive and sense space. Contemporary standards concern about how things look, but what about how they sound? We predominantly and constantly engage with visual stimuli, as is demonstrated by the dominance of visual art in the contemporary art scene. Thus, The Hive combats the previously absent topic of aural experience by motivating our senses, to quench our unrealised, natural thirst for multisensory stimulation.hive meadow

Hereby, Buttress’ material-led thinking questions the institutions, practices and discourses that surround the production and reception of art today. The Hive was constructed externally to the internal, artificial gallery context; it is still in the artificial environment of Kew Gardens, but it now stands in an artificial natural environment. This is significant to contextualise The Hive in its natural premise, and connect the audience to nature.

The Hive also situates Buttress’ practice within current critical thinking, especially in the aforementioned areas of interdisciplinarity, collaborative working, ecological crisis, experience culture and site-conscious artwork. Furthermore, The Hive displays the significance of interdisciplinarity in extending the boundaries of what art is, which develops thinking around what constitutes art and its application to ‘intellectual problems’ (UCL 2017). This supports a shift in arts culture, where boundaries become less-defined due to the comorbidity of previously categorised subjects. Music, science, and art cooperate in a holistic approach to creative practice, which utilises skills from across practices, together, practically.

Consequently, The Hive is a highly relevant artwork in the current environmental and socio-economic climates. It manipulates our senses to disseminate the current environmentalist agenda, which is of popular interest. This is illustrated by the recently successful campaign to ‘ban the pesticides that are killing bees’, that gathered support from over 335,000 signatures (38 Degrees 2017). Therefore, The Hive strives to direct attention towards the plight of bees and action further conservation through continuing environmental discourse. This is realised through the multiple dimensions of The Hive, such as the ability to perform the soundscape elsewhere, to spread the message beyond the location of The Hive, initiate wider-reaching discussions and actively address the global issue.

Finally, The Hive can be viewed as a collaborative effort to embody bee-kind and champion their environmental importance. Artists and scientists engage in poesies, where artful and meaningful investigation utilises craft and imagination to find a place in the world to live, together, as artists and scientists, and bees and humans.



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