Honna Veerkamp’s Honeybee Collectives Exhibit: The Honey Side of the Street

Honna Veerkamp’s Honeybee Collectives Exhibit: The Honey Side of the Street

Who: Honna Veerkamp
What: Honeybee Collectives (multimedia art exhibit)
When: 2015-03-21
Artist Honna Veerkamp’s multimedia exhibit Honeybee Collectives will take place Saturday, March 21 a
K. Brattin

Artist Honna Veerkamp’s multimedia exhibit Honeybee Collectives will take place Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at the Hughes Gallery at 1603 Edith Street in Murphysboro, with live performances that start at 8 p.m. The installation is free and open to the public.

Veerkamp who began keeping bees about a year ago, documented her learning process and has incorporated it into her art. The resulting installation combines a variety of media— including sculpture, audio, video, and performance— to explore bees and social engagement in a boldly interactive show that engages all the senses.

The show is the thesis project for Veerkamp, a master of fine arts candidate in the SIU College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. Before coming to SIU, she worked in print and radio journalism and also made paintings, but these two parts of her life were separate. With Honeybee Collectives, Veerkamp brings documentary journalism into conversation with fine art.

Bees, says Veerkamp, have been a part of human life since ancient times. Eight-thousand-year-old cave paintings in Spain depict people harvesting from their hives, and honey has been discovered in some Egyptian tombs. Bees helped feed our ancestors and entered folklore traditions around the world. Today, though bees are not native to North America, they are used in commercial agriculture, pollinating a large percentage of the food we eat.

The way we think about bees may be limited by our very dependence on them, though. “I’m interested in the idea of bees having an intrinsic value as organisms,” Veerkamp told Nightlife. Her art interrogates what an ethical relationship between bees and beekeeper might look like. Can there be reciprocity?

Veerkamp has hands-on experience with this question; she and a friend installed a simple top-bar hive last May on another friend’s property in Murphysboro, and Veerkamp spent the summer learning the ins and outs of beekeeping. This was truly a communal project; in addition to the assistance she received from friends, she found the community of experienced beekeepers in Southern Illinois to be supportive and welcoming. Veerkamp watched as the bees built honeycombs and checked them for pests and diseases, always on the alert for indications of swarming. Meanwhile, she filmed, recorded, photographed, and blogged about the bees and about the learning process itself. Her installation incorporates this video and audio footage in various ways.

In her art, Veerkamp considers groups of honeybees not as colonies— a word associated with exploitation— but as collectives. Bees are social insects who function together as a superorganism. Though their extreme degree of cooperation may not be possible for beings as individualistic as humans to emulate, it’s inspirational. Veerkamp, who has been a part of worker-owned businesses and art collectives, finds that bees can be used to explore principles of collectivity among people in a playful way. She collaborated with local dancers, who choreographed a piece for the installation inspired by the ways bees make decisions by consensus through movement. The piece will be performed in the gallery, accompanied by a track of bee-sounds and music that Veerkamp composed.

The growing threat posed by colony-collapse disorder, which causes bees to abandon their hives and disappear, is an important undercurrent to Veerkamp’s work. Experts believe colony collapse is caused by a confluence of factors, including pesticide use and mono-crop farming. The health of human communities, then, is directly related to that of bees. Veerkamp told Nightlife that she hopes to use her art to get people’s attention.

“Part of the job of an artist,” she says, “is to take in information and offer it back through a creative filter.” Veerkamp points out that there are concrete ways that concerned individuals can help— by thinking about the pesticides we spray in our own yards, for instance, or by growing flowers that attract honeybees and other pollinators. “By becoming more aware, we can change our relationship with bees,” she asserts.

Veerkamp found that her foray into bee collectives has left her with more questions that she started with. She says, “I hope to leave visitors with that too— learning, but with more questions and more interest than they had before.”

Visitors to the exhibit will move through the rooms of the gallery independently, interacting with the large-scale sculptures and enjoying the performances. Bee-related refreshments will be served.

Learn more about Veerkamp’s art at her website, at <http://www.HonnaVeerkamp.com/bees>.

who: Honna Veerkamp

what: Honeybee Collectives (multimedia art exhibit)

where: Hughes Gallery


when: Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m.