Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education

The Prehistoric Bee Society

The Prehistoric Bee Society Annual Competition


The Prehistoric Bee Society is a research-based art and action group devoted to those tiny flying hexapods without which flowering plants might no longer need or want flowers, and the world as we know it would no longer exist.  It seeks to understand the fate of the bees not only as a statistical problem but also as an instance of mythopoetic collapse, a failure of meaning or reality.  In collaboration with like-minded organizations, the group works to counter the rapid decline and continuing disappearance of the bees and secure their perpetuity amid Colony Collapse Disorder, major environmental degradation, and questionable agri-technological and genetic practices with high consequence. 

Toward this end, members of the Society research, aggregate, interpret, and make vivid everything known about bees, from studies of bee vision to ancient bee cults, from honeycomb architecture to urban beehives, from the waggle dance to parthenogenesis, from Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees to Karl von Frisch’s The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees to Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive, from archaic ritual uses of milk and honey to the social and political usage of swarms and hives.  More importantly, we seek to make humanly meaningful this information, integrating it into quotidian life and thought as well as contemporary forms of political awareness and efficacy.  We create and elaborate already existing symbolic systems and pattern languages for the expression of an optimal consilience of life and world and insist on the right of political challenge, contest, and negotiation in the pursuit of this goal.  The poet and scientist Gaston Bachelard offers a model for the kind of melding of mind and world, matter and meaning, nature and culture, we have in mind, his writings having been penned with black pollen, as he liked to call ink.

Although we are accustomed to thinking about crises in the largest ways possible—oscillations in weather patterns, chunks of the polar ice cap melting, Grizzlies starving, we can also begin with the smallest creatures, bees, to demonstrate the crisis.  Through a series of projects that operate at multiple levels, we will show that, without the bees, native varieties especially, one-third of all fruits and vegetables vanish, along with the order of nature.  We provide the necessary aesthetic to make real and undeniable this imminent danger as well as to create effective counteractions and interventions, for the urgent task facing us today not only entails conducting research on important native species of bees and other pollinators and building awareness about what they do but also working to foster the conditions for making sense of this information.  Even the well informed seem to find the current predicament unbelievable, the catastrophe being curiously devoid of reality.  How can we turn things around as quickly as possible, bringing attention to the predicament of the bees and engaging the participation of thousands, if not millions, of people? 

How can we provide bees with a habitat network to support ecological resilience?  How can we lend urgency to the situation?  Bringing together people with diverse talents, proclivities, forms of intelligence, and experience who share common ground and common purpose, we work toward locating powerful antidotes to widespread feelings of apathy, futility, and hopelessness.  Coming together in order to accomplish what neither one of us can do alone, we propose to develop jointly a series of projects and events at the intersection of information and aesthetics, knowledge and ethics, theory and practice.  Through partnerships, we hope to generate a range of ideas, honing in on the most feasible and the most likely to result in meaningful action directed at climate change. 

We aim to bring together a diverse array of people united by a common cause, from farmers, artists, and urban planners to entomologists, etymologists, and monk-beekeepers, from ecologists, musicians, and restaurateurs to filmmakers, winemakers, and seed-bankers.  Artist-philosopher Tom Zummer and master printer Jim Reid of Gemini G.E.L. Press, Los Angeles, created the inaugural poster for the group in support of its goal and mission.  The Institute will sponsor a prize for work that makes clear the ramifications and implications, present and future, of CCD and the high stakes of a failed agricultural system while suggesting positive ways to move forward.