Every few years Kew Gardens plays host to something extraordinary in terms of a work or works of art which, when placed in the landscape, invite visitors to learn something about the natural world as well as contemplate how we humans impact the environment. Exhibitions that I’ve seen in the past have included the sculptures of David Nash, an Alice in Wonderland table of edible plants and the magnificent Henry Moore statue by the lake.
I don’t think it’s possible to compare any of these large scale works of art, but I have to admit that for me, the Hive has been the most exciting and immersive piece yet. The Hive, created by Wolfgang Butress, was originally designed for the Milan Expo of 2015. Not only is the Hive visually stunning as a sculpture in its own right, but it’s loaded with literal and metaphorical meaning. There’s a real beehive located somewhere in Kew to which vibration sensors — ‘accelerometers’ — are connected to measure the activity of the bee colony. These vibrations are sent in real time to the Hive and converted into lighting effects in the form of 1000 LED lights lining the inside of the Hive. Their illumination represents the bees’ activity. Added to this is a musical accompaniment composed of bee sounds and instruments.
My first visit to the Hive was at dusk, as the sun began to set over Kew. I made another visit in the very depths of winter on a rather grey, wet afternoon (blogpost upcoming). When I have visitors over, I always recommend the Hive as a completely unique and marvellous experience in London.