George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

The bee's knees: Mason beehives involved in collaborative art project

August 19, 2016   /   by Jamie Rogers

These sculptures, created with the help of honeycomb-building bees, are part of the Living Hive Project of artist and Mason adjunct instructor Elsabe Dixon, and are a collaboration between The Honey Bee Initiative of Mason's School of Integrative Studies and the School of Art. Photo provided by Elsabe Dixon.

Faculty and staff of George Mason University were minding their own beeswax all summer.

As part of the Living Hive Project, artist Elsabé Dixon, a Mason alumna and Mason School of Art adjunct instructor, placed sections of a 12-part sculpture prototype made of plaster form and a drywall compound inside the hives of George Mason's The Honey Bee Initiative in May to track the activities of the honeybees.

The bees create a “skin” for the sculpture, which was lined with a sheet of commercially produced beeswax to encourage wax building, she said.

The bees were severely limited, because they were unable to get out of the hive during the “flow” — a short period of the year when the majority of plants produce pollen that bees harvest.

“This spring, it rained for 22 days straight. Bees cannot fly in the rain so they could not harvest anything during this time,” she said. “Initially, the bees robbed most of the wax off the sculpture … it was fascinating to watch.”

Eventually, the bees got around to building comb when they could once again could forage and collect pollen.

The project, funded in part by a $5,000, Tier-3 grant awarded by Mason’s Provost Office to Dixon during her tenure, is to promote multidisciplinary activity at the university. It was a collaboration between The Honey Bee Initiative of the School of Integrative Studies and the School of Art and is meant to facilitate the difficult conversations around the issues of pesticides and changing ecological conditions, Dixon said.

“The bees have always been the first builders and makers. Humans are the ones that have emulated them,” she said.  “It is time to listen again to what they are saying instead of imposing stressful systems that work against their nature.”

The bees’ work was collected in June along with the 11 other parts of the sculpture that were placed at apiaries, or bee hives, from Fairfax to Danville, along Virginia’s Route 29 corridor.

That corridor was chosen because it runs past Dadant, a large bee supply company that services Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative, which started in 2012.

The Danville Museum of History and Fine Art, where the re-assembled structure is on display until Oct. 9, is also located along Route 29.  Money for the project was raised in Charlottesville is off Route 29, too, she said.

Dixon said she worked with Mason conservation studies professor Stephanie Lessard-Pilon to include the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation apiary in Front Royal, even though it isn’t located right along Route 29.

“I think [the collaboration] happened beautifully with this project,” she said. “We pulled off something quite unique.”

Schools & Programs