Bee Breeder Melanie Kirby has a window art installation as part of the Annex Windows exhibit coordinated by The Paseo Project. The name of the exhibit is "Hive Mind Alchemy: 2ning in2 2morrow's Future." Kirby said she felt inspired to make her art based on bees because "it takes a community to raise bees, they need flowers and healthy landscapes. I would like to encourage folks to think about how the smallest of fuzzy beasts help to feed them and their families. And that in return, perhaps we can plant more flowers and trees for them and avoid using toxic pesticides and other applications such as fungicides that can poison pollens and nectars and hurt all of our diverse pollinators. We are all interconnected and we give and take, like the broadcaster and the receiver, exchanging energy to promote life and music for each other."
Tempo caught up with the busy artist and bee breeder and asked about her inspiration for the project. Here is what she had to say.
Please describe the moment when the inspiration for this installation happened and how it evolved?
In 2009 I was in the CAV thrift store. They had a hollow, blue glass mannequin head as a prop to display jewelry. I thought how cool that would be to put inside a hive and have the bees build honeycomb inside. I asked if it was for sale and the clerk at the time said so many people ask about it, but, no, it wasn't for sale. However, the idea stuck with me and then a year later in the fall, a friend was visiting and I took them to the iconic Taos Plaza. We meandered through a few stores and found a store called Seconds on the Bent Street shops. We went inside to look at all the recycled items. On a very low shelf under the front window, I glimpsed a glass head and when I bent down to see it, I saw that there were several available, all made from recycled glass in Spain. I bought four of them at $25 a pop and took them to my bee farm where I kept them until the following spring when I decided, now's the time.
I am a landless farmer. This is not by choice. Even though I am born and raised in these enchanted lands and a registered tribal member of a non-recognized tribe in southern New Mexico I do not have access to my ancestral lands. In the future I would love to nurture a property of my own in Northern New Mexico, but until then, I navigate my landless beekeeping efforts as a collaborative course. I am always seeking persons, organizations and land stewards who will host my hives. If someone is interested, then I go to check out the location and we discuss where might be a suitable spot to establish the apiary (a place where beehives live, like an aviary but apiary (api means bee in Latin). If we find a suitable spot, then I can prepare the space and bring a few hives in. I offer honey and other hive products in exchange.
For this collaborative bee-and-keeper venture I chose an apiary I had established in Chamisal on the High Road to Taos at the home of Juliet and Eduardo García-Gutiérrez. They are phenomenal traditional farmers [with] acequias. I use a vertical hive design that allows me to add and remove boxes (called supers) as my bees need space to grow in population and to store their pollen and honey reserves. So as the nectar flow began up on the mountain, I placed what they call an excluder which is like a spaced grill that allows the worker bees to pass through, but which prevents the queen from passing through into an upper chamber. In an upper super placed above the excluder, I placed two of the glass heads.
Over the following month, as the forager worker bees collected nectars, they would enter their hive and carry their nectar load up into the upper chamber. They build beeswax comb from sweat glands they have on the underside of their abdomens and so when there is a lot of nectar and the temperature is nice and warm, they will sweat out wax and pass it from sister to sister where it is pressed and formed into a comb, like seamstresses working together, to build a cathedral out of their converted liquid starlight. They build honeycomb inside the heads and on the outside. One head used to have a mohawk of honeycomb, but it was so heavy with honey that it broke off during one time when I was sharing them on my honey stand at the Taos holiday market.
It was a few years later when I was just admiring the heads and all the glory my bees provided in a reverential mood, the inspiration came to me: that the heads of comb would look neat spinning around so that you could see them from all angles. I put them on a lazy susan and then the idea to place them on turntables manifested. I sat on this idea for almost another decade before making it a reality with this Hive Mind Alchemy installation here in Taos.