My route to the ‘bee-house’ and the ‘mellifera’ project…

The shift from culturing my own stem cells in the laboratory to observing bees at the ‘bee-house’, Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) might, initially, seem like quite an arbitrary one. Certainly my knowledge about bee behaviours when I began my residency with the Visual and Sensory Neuroscience group at QBI was pretty average – social communities; queens, drones & workers; swarming and painful stings probably about summed it up! In fact the open-ended methodologies that characterise my art/science practice have fostered the evolution of organic, relational networks with many points of entry. So, from this perspective, honey bee research offered an exciting opportunity to develop a number of disparate topics related to my art practice.

In the biomedical sciences I had the opportunity to observe cellular life at a molecular level. I developed a growing interest in living systems and the respective functions of “brain” and “mind”. As my focus on these areas increased I began looking for a possible collaborator at QBI and I became acquainted with Professor Srinivasan and his research into perception and navigation in the honey bee. I was particularly drawn to his investigations into the cognitive capacities of the honey bees’ small brain which have shown that, amongst other things, an understanding of visual processing in insects may provide simple, novel solutions to problems in machine vision, artificial intelligence and robotics. I felt that there was a definite connection between this research and my on-going interest in the developing role of technologies both in the scientific laboratory and in the various ways they empower viewer/participant interactivity in artworks. Through a series of artworks, beginning with one of my earliest interactive installations: ‘Temporal Intervals’, I investigated the role of the Internet in both real-time and virtual interactivity and the disparity between ephemeral data and analogue processes. Fragile traces left by virtual viewers in the real-time gallery space can create a complex interplay between participants, machines and locations – merging and rupturing identities, data and spaces.

More recently, the advent of programmes such as Second Life offer other ways to explore system-environment constructs in burgeoning, widespread communities. Significantly for our MMUVE_IT project, these virtual participatory tropes can be extended and modified to incorporate real-time locations and participants. In this context models from the natural world are of particular interest – for example: cardiac cells are programmed to seek each other out, cluster and synchronise their beating; whilst individual honey bees must function as a unified community in order to survive. The MMUVE_IT project will explore the artistic possibilities presented by Professor Srinivasan’s Visual and Sensory Neuroscience honey bee research. The scientific data combined with our in-depth observations of honey bee experiments at QBI will be reinterpreted from an artistic perspective. The aim is to develop a human/computer interface system in both on-line and real-time participatory environments that reference the sophisticated communication systems and behaviours of honey bee communities.

Trish Adams, July 2008.