After the Bees

Today’s post is by Deborah from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum who takes a look at the current exhibition, After the Bees.

After The Bees: A heartbeat before the Apocalypse

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”

Responding to these unsettling words, artist, photographer and filmmaker, Megan Powell explores the consequences of a world without bees. The bee is the symbol of the city of Manchester, adopted by the Victorians; seven bees were incorporated into the city’s coat of arms in 1842 – so perhaps Manchester, of any city in the UK, should be particularly concerned about the dramatic decline in the country’s bee population.

Art has long been influenced by nature and Megan Powell has delved into the fabric of the Hive and used the correlation of the human form with the effects humans have on the planet to contemplate the reality of a world without bees. Megan came into the museum to give an insight into her work and outlined the extensive research which underpinned the exhibition and the themes explored. These included collective living, mutual benefit and symbols of death that infer we are only a heartbeat away from the Apocalypse.

After the BessElectron Microscopy: Untitled 1 © Megan Powell

The electron microscopic images are of bees who work together for the success of the hive, individually and with a collective conscious. Pheromones, chemical substances released in the hive, affect the behaviour of all the bees. They pollinate without destroying, creating a mutually beneficial exchange. Day to day humans do things that will negatively affect the next generation with seemingly little understanding of the impact for the future. We have the knowledge to affect change – but don’t do it. The images in the exhibition reflect the connection of nature through art exposing details such as mould on the bee that imitate scenes of seascapes and coral, itself under threat. The Raven and the Crow add to the undercurrent of darkness in the narrative, reflecting the inability to use the knowledge we have effectively to halt the impact of modern life on the habitat of the bees.

After the Bees 2Crow and Raven Portraits © Megan Powell

Inspiration for the exhibition also came from the Museum’s taxidermy collection, New York photographer Francesca Woodman and the Fibonacci sequence.

Francesca Woodman’s images use her body to connect and disconnect with the world around her, and are inextricably viewed through the knowledge of her suicide at the young age of 22. This vulnerability and fragility radiates through; the photographs become otherly, sylphlike, almost spectral – a visitation or an apparition from another realm, a commentary on the fragility of human nature. In After The Bees, the Hive and the Body are also connected and disconnected.

Left: Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Boulder Colorado, 1972–75 (Courtesy and copyright George and Betty Woodman). Right: The Hive and The Body Untitled 4 © Megan Powell

Mathematic sequences are reflected in nature and repeated through the exhibition in the form of the Fibonacci spiral, where the next number is the sum of the two previous numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21…. A Fibonacci sequence is created when bees procreate and can be seen below in the navel and in nature such as in the Ammonite and on the body and eye of the bee.

Left: Fibonacci Sequence. Centre: Ammonite (LL.15938.286, Manchester Museum). Right: The Body and the Hive, the Hive and the Body Untitled 1 © Megan Powell

There are also layers within layers both in content, context and construction such as the 13 images and 3 circles of Hive: film stills. There are also 3 tiers of language, scientific, art and nature plus notions of Self, perception of others and the whole.

The inner life of the hive is viewed and the bees are exposed in high definition, looking at their complexities and exposing their anatomy under the microscopic lens. Scrutiny and video observation capture the lifespan of the bee with the final moments showing the last burst of energy.

There are no titles on the photographs other than to identify the group name: The Body and the Hive, the Hive and the Body and Electron Microscopy leaving the images to speak for themselves and exposing emotions within the viewer with no literal direction from the artist. The Hive is at the heart of the exhibition, surrounded by electronic microscopic images of the bee, exposing the smallest details that often surprise and continue to reinforce the themes.

Electron Microscopy © Megan Powell

The crossed arms of the bee are symbolic of the death and decline of the bee population. The wealth of the golden plated bees, created by microscopic filaments of gold dropping down onto their bodies are displayed, resembling religious relics or emphasising luxury, elevating the bees and the products they pollinate to the highest status. Only those with the means would be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour in a world without bees.

Deborah Ward

No bees were harmed in the making of this exhibition.

After the Bees is open now, and runs until July 2017.

Further links:
Megan Powell
Manchester Museum
Manchester Art Gallery Bees
Friends of the earth The Bee- Cause

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