Art

A Mini-Ecosystem Creates a Buzz at Socrates Sculpture Park

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Meg Webster, “Concave Room for Bees,” (2016), earth, steel, pollinator plants, 6 x 70 feet (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

As numerous dump trucks circled a corner of Socrates Sculpture Park, transporting several tons of new soil, what appeared to have been routine landscape maintenance was actually the curation of a new mini-ecosystem,Concave Room for Bees.

Meg Webster’s Concave Room for Bees is featured as a part of LANDMARK, “a summer-long series of artist commissions that both physically and symbolically mark the land.” Socrates Sculpture Park and its surrounding area in Queens have transformed economically, ecologically, and socially since the park’s opening in 1986. It once existed as an industrial landfill, and was frequently utilized as an illegal dumping ground. Over the last 30 years, Socrates has become an institution serving the surrounding community through accessible public art and the Community Works Initiative Program, where participants learn basic landscaping and horticultural skills in workshops given by the park’s partners Plant Specialists. 

In her projects, Webster installs large-scale structures made of organic elements like salt, soil, twigs, and moss. Rather than marking the land like some land artists of the 1970s, like Michael Heizer and his metal or stone objects, Webster instead shapes the soil itself, nurturing plant life as a living installation that will grow and transform.

Each of the 40-plus species of plants in the installation is also a pollinator, creating a small ecosystem to support the area’s bees. Over 1,000 individual plants, provided by Plant Specialists, populate the space. The room’s walls stand six-feet high, creating a circle that is 70 feet in diameter. As plants bloom, the color composition of Concave Room for Bees changes over time, creating what Webster described in an interview with Hyperallergic as a “living tapestry.”

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Meg Webster, “Concave Room for Bees,” (2016) (exterior view), earth, steel, pollinator plants, 6 x 70 feet
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The soil incline in Meg Webster’s “Concave Room for Bees,” (2016), earth, steel, pollinator plants, 6 x 70 feet

Webster hopes that the piece will contribute to the surrounding natural world, not just aesthetically please human spectators, or send them a message. The endangered pollinators have had their urban ecosystems torn apart and Webster is attempting to recreate them. “I’m trying to do it for the bees and the butterflies, not for the people,” she said. After the installation, the structure will be dismantled and spread as a new layer of topsoil for Socrates Sculpture Park, a gift from Webster to the park for its 30th anniversary.

Although independently curated, one of the other LANDMARK installations has formed a symbiotic relationship with Webster’s piece. The bees in the “Concave Room” mostly travel from a hive stationed in Jessica Segall’s Fugue in  B♭. The piece was made from a repurposed piano frame, which houses a beehive inside. The frame was chosen as an homage to the nearby Steinway Piano Factory, which has been a major part of Astoria’s ecosystem since the 19th century, forming the longtime heart of the neighborhood once known as “Steinway Village.”  Together Segall and Webster’s bee installations realize a similar dynamic, as commuting bees shuttle pollen from the “Concave Room”‘s flowers back to their honeycombs.

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Jessica Segall, “Fugue in B♭”, (2016), piano, bees, sound, 67 x 56 x 12 inches. The bees travel through this hole in the piano’s frame.
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Maintenance at the park and development in the distance, featuring Meg Webster’s “Concave Room for Bees,” (2016), earth, steel, pollinator plants, 6 x 70 feet
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Close-up of soil and steel frame in Meg Webster’s “Concave Room for Bees,” (2016), earth, steel, pollinator plants, 6 x 70 feet
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Honeycomb close-up of Jessica Segall’s “Fugue in B♭”, (2016), piano, bees, sound, 67 x 56 x 12 inches
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Jessica Segall, “Fugue in B♭”, (2016), piano, bees, sound, 67 x 56 x 12 inches

LANDMARK continues at Socrates Sculpture Park (32–01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City) through August 28.

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