Bees help shape experience inside The Hive

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The Hive at Kew Gardens in London is a new installation inspired by recent research on bee communication(Credit: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

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The Hive, an installation from sculptor Wolfgang Buttress that is made from 170,000 pieces of aluminum formed into a 17-m (56 ft) tall lattice resembling an enormous swarm of bees, is coming to London's Kew Gardens. The metal's hexagonal shapes are also honeycomb-like, with the light-, sound- and vibration-emitting structure controlled by the activity of bees in an actual beehive on the garden's grounds.

Originally created as the centerpiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo, The Hive was inspired by scientific research into the health of honeybees and their vital role as pollinators.

Visitors walk through a one-acre (0.4-ha) wildflower meadow – presumably filled with pollen-gathering bees – leading up to the art piece. Once inside the structure, the intensity of the lights and the beehive-type sounds change with the energy levels in the real beehive, giving a sense of what life might be like inside an actual hive.

The piece works through vibration-sensing accelerometers that are placed inside the beehive, which pick up the activity from the bees and send it to The Hive in real-time. Those signals are then translated to the 1,000 LED lights, growing brighter or dimmer in response to the bee's activity. In addition, a soundscape from a 40,000-bee colony, a musical ensemble and human voices created by the band Spiritualized, accompany the modulating lights.

For the vibratory experience, bone conductors installed under The Hive convert sound into vibrations. If a visitor bites on a wooden stick connected to the conductor, one of four types of vibrations travel directly to bones in their skull. They can "hear" tooting and quacking signals the virgin queen bee emits when challenging other queens for hive leader. Begging signals come from bees requesting food from another bee, and the familiar waggle dance signals the exact whereabouts of pollen sources.

This is said to represent communication between bees, which are believed to "talk" through vibrations, as was recently discovered by physicist Martin Bencsik at Nottingham Trent University. Buttress, who is also from Nottingham, was inspired by the research in his design of The Hive, which will be on display at Kew Gardens through 2017.

Source: Kew Gardens

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