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September 24, 2014

A trip to town

by blakehiltunen

This past weekend I was invited to participate in a city-wide public art event called City Drift in Portland, ME. With public interaction as its core principle, there was an ongoing schedule of performances, video projections and site-specific installations. The entire cityscape was the viewing platform. As there have been some snags around the legality of the trailer for the mobile hive (which has now been sorted out), I took the opportunity to create and show a more compact observation hive.

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After conferring with Master Beekeeper Erin Forbes about bringing bees into the public sphere, it was clear that the hive was open for interpretation as long as it had adequate ventilation and was completely contained. Because of my research this summer I know that the bees themselves are enough to draw a crowd so I decided to keep the hive simple; two frames, one over the other like a cross section of a standard Langstroth hive, set in a wood and acrylic cabinet with a handle for easy transport.

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Part of the objective of the mobile hive on the trailer is allowing the bees the freedom to fly. However, with a small hive and bringing the bees to crowded areas of the city, it was best to keep them enclosed. Though the direct relationship between foraging bees returning to the hive with local pollen from the surrounding landscape wasn’t possible for this outing, the ease of transport of the small hive allowed some unexpected abilities, like stopping into Starbucks for an afternoon coffee. And searching the city for ready-made pedestals on which to place the hive to quietly change the landscape.

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Over all the weekend went off without a hitch. I spoke with many passers-by, folks from around Maine as well as talking with some visitors from England who empathized with our plight as English honeybee populations have been dwindling as well. I met many people who knew about the troubles we are having with bees but who had never seen a colony close up. I introduced little kids to the wonders of the hive and had them search for the queen. And when the sun set, I brought the hive back to the gallery and displayed it as an artwork.

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The City Drift exhibition will be at Space Gallery in Portland, ME for the next two weeks, showing the documentation of the events that occurred around the city. Of course the bees couldn’t survive being enclosed for two weeks so I will bring them back for Portland’s First Friday Art Walk happening on October 3rd.

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