Art

The Honeybee as Artistic Messenger

Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Installation view of ‘Kelly Heaton: Pollination’ at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted)

In 2013, artist Kelly Heaton had a vision of a magnificent bee appearing in the darkness, illuminated by an iridescent aura. Over the next few years, she explored bees from every angle, learning beekeeping, building kinetic sculptures based on hive behavior, crafting perfumes from bee-friendly flowers, and painting an interpretation of that initial insect manifestation. Her multifaceted approach to bees and how they can reflect everything from fertility to technology is on view in Kelly Heaton: Pollination at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

Kelly Heaton Shamanic Bee, 2013-2015 Pastel, ink, and acrylic on paper Paper: 45 3/4 x 61 inches Frame: 55 x 70 inches Photo: Casey Dorobek Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
Kelly Heaton, “Shamanic Bee” (2013–15), pastel, ink, and acrylic on paper (photo by Casey Dorobek, courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York) (click to enlarge)

Heaton explains in an accompanying catalogue:

I am an artist because I am actively pollinated by the spirit world. Without this, I would have nothing of merit to show you. Pollination is not about bees per se, but about a fertile exchange in which supernatural fertility is a priori.

Accordingly, Pollination hovers across media and themes, but the highlight is the huge sculpture, “The Beekeeper” (2015), that dominates the first of two galleries. In it, a sun made of white hands looms over an illuminated hive orbited by robotic bees, representing the energetic hub of the exhibition, as well as something of a self-portrait with various “chakras” contained in the hive. Nearby, the “Emergency Queen Cell” (2014) shows an inverted outline of the Virgin Mary oozing below a hive, referencing the chaos of a colony when it loses its queen. Opposite, the more abstract “Colony Collapse Disorder” (2015) features a larger-than-life bee and electric transistor, responding to a bee colony in disarray. Other works feel more like experiments than completed ideas, such as “Pollen Nation” (2015), a beekeeping frame, and a crossword puzzle charting endangered pollinators.

The precarious balance of hive colonies and the influence of technology (which may be contributing to the disappearance of honeybees) are ideas also evoked in “Kinetic Studies of Bees” (2013–15). The kinetic bee sculptures activate when viewers come close, inspired by the way honeybees hover at hives when they’re newcomers or learning foraging. Then there’s a whole wall of perfume, some made from flowers like thistle, mint, and goldenrod, another from dollar bills. Packed into two galleries, it’s a lot to take in, but Pollination buzzes with energy and encourages a closer consideration of the humble honeybee as messenger, bearing not only Heaton’s initial vision but also a bridge between science and art.

Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “Colony Collapse Disorder” (2015), a sculptural interpretation of a stressed hive
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “Emergency Queen Cell” (2014)
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “The Beekeeper” (2015)
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “Pollen Nation” (2015), a beekeeping frame in the shape of the United States
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “Study of Bumblebees” (2013)
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Installation view of ‘Kelly Heaton: Pollination’
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “Bee the Flower” (2015), human pollination kit
Kelly Heaton: Pollination
Kelly Heaton, “Smells like Weeds (The Queen of Hungry Spirits)” (2015), a bespoke perfume for pollinators

Kelly Heaton: Pollination continues at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts (31 Mercer Street, Soho, Manhattan) through October 24. 

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