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Trish Adam, HOST (video still), original cinematography Carla Evangelista Trish Adam, HOST (video still), original cinematography Carla Evangelista
FOR CHILDREN, BEES ARE THE SUMMER TERROR OF THE CLOVER LAWN. OUT THE CAR, ACROSS THE PARK TO THE BEACH, PRICKLES ARE BAD BUT BEES ARE WORSE. (I’VE JUST CONDUCTED A SURVEY OF ALL THE PEOPLE I CAN IMMEDIATELY FIND WITHIN 20 METRES OF WHERE I’M SITTING AND THEY ALL REMEMBER THEIR FIRST BEE STING.) SO BEES ARE THREATENING, YET HERE BEES ARE, IN TRISH ADAMS’ HOST, GLIDING ABOVE AND GENTLY SETTLING ON HER UNPROTECTED HAND.

Trish Adams has previously collaborated with scientists at the University of Queensland where she worked with Associate Professor Victor Nurcombe on the transformation of her own stem cells into cardiac cells (machina carnis, www.realtimearts.net/article/issue68/7937). This time she worked with Professor Mandyam Srinivasan’s Visual and Sensory Neuroscience group at the Queensland Brain Institute. Srinivasan is famous for his work on bee vision and navigation.

[Three interesting facts about bees: 1. Bees can be trained to detect camouflaged objects. 2. Bees navigate by using the speed at which images move across their eyes—they fly down the middle of a tunnel by keeping the image speed the same at both eyes; they land by adjusting their descent speed so that the image speed at the eye remains constant. 3. Bees are lateralised in their learning, just like people are right and left handed. ]

Into the Bee House goes Adams and finds no protective suits, just your normal everyday science types, thousands of bees and an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability. A couple of researchers, Dr Peter Kraft and Carla Evangelista, help out by filming the feeding sessions (high speed at 250fps) and providing the skills and patience needed to train the bees to feed from Adams’ hand. Film is edited, a soundscape designed (by roundhouse, www.roundhouse.tv), and the installation set up at the UQ Art Museum—a bland corporate box of a building refurbed into a gallery.

Enter through the glass doors, straight ahead to the far corner and down the stairs. Step off the stairs and a waft of honey rises up, faint, but clear. Small room, low ceiling, padded lowset bench. Sit and face the end wall/screen. Glass panel walls to the right and left shine in the darkness, recursively reflecting the far end projection. This is the installation space, quiet, intimate. Maybe two or three people can get in there without violating personal space rules. The screen shows a video laterally split between two images. One third is honey, dripping in real time, close up, luminous and golden. Two thirds are a cropped detail of hands. The hands are crossed lightly, one nestling in the other. Inside the cupped palm of the uppermost hand is the honey the bees were trained to seek. The hands are still, incredibly so, one slight thumb movement the only action. Around the hand float soft, purposeful bees, huge and close-upped, paced slow by the high speed video. They glide about, land to feed, take off, land on a finger, wait, take off again. They make no sound. It is as if the bees hover weightless above a familiar surface, collecting samples before returning to base.

And throughout are the hands and an unconditional offering of food. The bees too act without conditions, offering their labour to the continuity of the hive. The food they collect is not only for themselves but for others, just as the glistening honey in the palm is not for the palm itself and the outstretched hands are for the bees and not for the hands themselves. The artist feeds the bees, the scientists film the artist. We watch the bees, the honey and the hands. An exchange between systems. Biology.


HOST, artist Trish Adams, The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, March 6-April 6

RealTime issue #84 April-May 2008 pg. 31

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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