UAM’s new exhibit gives visitors a glimpse into the experience of a bee
Words and Photos by Renee Schmiedeberg
Though Cal State Long Beach’s own University Art Museum recently opened several new exhibits, Jessica Rath: A Better Nectar seems to be the one causing the most buzz. Curated by UAM Curator of Exhibitions, Kristina Newhouse, this show brings the experience of bumblebees to human-size. Through the exhibition’s fascinating, multisensorial works, visitors gain a better understanding of how a bumblebee goes through its day-to-day life. As a viewer, I was able to have a glimpse of their world through the exhibit’s creative use of sculpture, light, and sound.
“Resonant Nest” is the name of the exhibit’s feature, which consists of human-scaled forms of nest cells that the bees crawl out of during their pupa stage. From inside these beige, tulip-shaped cells emit supernatural-sounding “bee scores” created by CSULB’s Bob Cole Conservatory of Music Chamber Choir. Music’s subconscious power is especially crucial in setting the atmosphere of this exhibit. During the exhibit’s press preview, Rath mentioned the inherent collectivity of a choir of human voices, a characteristic essential to bumblebees. Amazingly, the bee scores change depending upon current weather, season, and time, in addition to the proximity of the viewers.
“The larva move around in the cells,” Rath began, moving her hands familiarly around the wooden nest cell mold. “And like the plug mold, they eat their way out of the cell, forming the edge themselves at birth. I love the idea that the thing inside forms the shape and acts as a sort of stand-in for the bee in the show.” When she mentioned this, I realized that almost nowhere in the exhibit (besides the research station) is an actual bee shown. The only place a physical bee is presented is in a photograph of a dead bumblebee queen, whose face is hidden in a cell cavity she had put her head in just before dying. The photograph of the single dead bee queen is strangely tragic.
When led around the exhibit by artist Jessica Rath, she emphasized the extreme importance of the work bumblebees do—to pollinate. Without pollination, all of human life, animals, and plants too, would die.
In the light portion of the exhibit, two ethereal, white sheets are stretched out and placed together, forming a V shape. Lights from somewhere above are projected onto the sheets and the visitor is told to stand directly in the opening of the V and view a humble recreation of what a bumblebee sees while it traverses throughout nature. However, this light installation, Rath explained, is not accurate to a bumblebee’s actual vision. It is a mere interpretation of a bumblebee’s vision, for if we were to actually experience that kind of vision, it would be far too hallucinatory.
I have seen many exhibits arrive and depart at the UAM and A Better Nectar and is definitely one of my favorites. Everyone should check out the exhibit and while you’re there, visit the museum’s other new exciting exhibits.
For the bumblebee, there is no emphasis on the individual—a social mentality vastly different than that of our Western society. But standing between those two ghostly planes, watching the only things in front of me, pastel purple and white oval lights flickering in and out, I thought otherwise. I could feel the soft light and angelic voices of the choir lulling myself into a trance. Slowly, I began to feel what I imagined bumblebees feel. I would follow the lights in front of me too, follow exactly what I was told to do for the collective good of my nest, without even knowing how much life depended upon it.