At the start of April, two invitations appeared simultaneously in my facebook newsfeed. One was from a friend (a climate change researcher), the other from Bybi (the Oslo Urban beekeepers association). Though worded slightly differently, it transpired that the events were in fact, one and the same.
In connection with the international climate conference COP21 (December 2015), the Institut Français in Oslo has invited the French artist collective Le Parti Poétique to open the next installation in their artistic, political, environmental, and social project in Oslo. This project, which goes under the name The Honey Bank, among other things aims to produce life, movement and a general mobilisation of the people.
- invitation text
I was intrigued. A honey bank. What might it entail, and how would it work?
On the 9th of April I joined dozens of prospective account holders at the French Institute, to listen to Oliver Darné speak about Le Parti Poétique and the Honey Bank project.
The Honey Bank project started from humble beginnings in 1996 in Saint-Denis, Paris, when Darné had some rooftop hives. He felt that when he collected his first honey that it really belonged to the community.
Bees fly up to 3km to collect honey, this means that one hive pollinates up to 3000ha. It is an interesting idea to be able to cultivate the city, without having to own the land. - Oliver Darné
In 1997 he installed hives on the Paris city hall, and where at first there were 4 hives, the numbers increased (The Honey Bank now has approximately 100 hives, and 8 million insect workers, in addition to 5 permanent staff). The bees' work is invisible around the city, but Darné was surprised by the amount of honey that the hives produced. He wanted to allow people to taste their cities, and so arrived at the idea of Miel Béton (concrete honey). The honey had a very complex flavour and under analysis was shown to contain traces of up to 250 different types of pollen. Soon, simply producing honey wasn’t enough. Darné formed a collective -The Parti Poetique - and became interested in the public service aspect of bees, wanting not only to share honey with them, but also the very intimate lives of bees. They hunted for laws surrounding the positioning of hives, and found that while these were present for agricultural use, there were no laws hindering the placement of hives in the city.
In 2003 they placed a glass fronted hive of 80 000 bees in the centre of Paris on the sidewalk. In so doing, they hoped that people would experience them by chance, and that this would accelerate people's curiosity toward bees.
In 2007, the Parti Poétique expanded beyond simply placing hives. At the Centre Pompidou they installed a room in the plaza, with a hive inside, where people could experience the world of the bee. It was termed ‘the room of pollination’. Once invited inside, the public could sit quietly in the room that held the hive - in this process, the group hoped that fear would be transformed into curiosity and that visitors would form an impression of the divine.
In the same month they installed a standard agricultural hive 20km from Paris. After the month was up, they weighed the honey collected from the two hives; the city hive had produced 12kg of honey, and the rural hive just 400g. Darné felt that this was due to the monocultural aspects of farming – rapeseed in this case – that unless hives are moved, the food sources for the bees quickly boom and bust, leading to food scarcity issues for the rural bee populations. However, with the abundance of public green spaces and flowering gardens in the cities, the bees thrive.
In Utrecht the group created an installation for an art festival – the House Without Walls. It was essentially a house frame with a roof and a door, open to the sides. At the far end of the house stood what looked like a wood-burning range, although it was actually a hive, where the bees exited through the chimney. Other smaller hives had been placed in the city, and the party organised an armoured security vehicle for the collection of these after a month. This symbolised the preciousness of the honey. It was collected as if it were a treasure – but also solemnly, as though a funeral – recognising the insecurity of future collections of honey. The procession through the city was led by the mayor. All the honey was bought back to the house without walls, where it was shared out among participants.
Later, in the bankers' quarter of Geneve, Darné installed a Honey Bank. Unlike the house without walls, this building was completely black, symbolising the lack of transparency of the banking system. On the left was a strongroom, where members of the bank could deposit money into a safe, on the right was a room of pollination. Funds were literally transferred between the two through a funnel tube. The Honey Bank also stepped up their financial tools. They created the bee savings account. The account essentially allows people to become a member of their local honey bank, generating funds for the production of the installations, and is repaid in honey when the season ends.
In Oslo, the Honey Bank will be supported by Bybi and the French Institute. It will open from a lofty home atop the Oslo Opera house, timed to coincide with World Environment Day on June the 6th 2015. We may not yet know what form it will take, but my account is at least open for business.
To find out more about the work of Le Parti Poétique, and/or the Honey Bank, head over to www.banquedumiel.org