Broken Phone Art : “Bee”

Bee: this statement piece fuses the yellows and blacks of the bees with hues of honey and sky into a droplet of pure energy.
“Bee” fuses yellow and black bee-markings with blue-sky streaks and hues of honey into a droplet of dynamic inertia.

I shut my mobile in the car door last weekend. “Broken Phone Art” was born ! Here’s the prototype image: “Bee”.

Fittingly, I was arriving at a rather refined exhibition by proper artists Jenny Hall and her sister Jeanine when this transformational moment in the course of Western crossover culture occurred. Anyway, here’s a straw poll on “BPA“:

Jess Maidytup, Future Art Historian, enthused: ““Broken Phone Art was a profoundly democratic artform. Smashing down the fine art barricades, this literally ground-breaking genre allowed the hand-held zeitgeist to break free. Any dolt with a volt could do BPA – in fact, the clumsier, the better!

Noh Dhal Toan, a south-east Asian/southern-oriental London mobile performance artist concurred: “Yes, a £9.98 Samsung from Tescos can be transformed into a timeless, mute masterpiece.” He then mimed: The bee-image floats like a water-lily on the screen and, beneath, the SIM-card hangs, still as a koi. Mounting his unicycle, he tweeted on a tablet: “Yet to reach the SIM at the core, you have to slay the screen. Schrodinger’s Cat, or what ?

Somewhat less poetically, recently-divorced art-collector Charlie Tiffmeister said: “BPA has recycled the cultural bandwidthI’d like to shake this guy by the larynx. But I think I’ll just wait for Damian to knock off a couple of 4Gs for me.”

The general public was singularly unimpressed:“Nah…looks like some geezer’s run amok with a fried egg to me, guv. These food bloggers will photoshop anything nowadays, if you ask me. Look, I ran over this bloke’s iPhone 5 outside Tate Modern yesterday…so does that make me Salvador bleedin’ Dali ?” remonstrated Bermondsey taxi-driver Terry Fearne-Homard.

Back to Jess Maidytup for the final word on the passing of this phenomenon: “BPA has put transience on the map forever. It was the crest of a wave, a wharholian tsunami, sluiced down a Bazalgette sewer. Fundamentally, the art world recognized this for what it was: the movement of a moment.”

Private View of “Bee” at the O2: One night only (last Monday)


Bermondsey Street Honey
Bermondsey Street Honey

It’s time to think about honey, now that August is going out in a blaze of glory and September’s honey-harvest is fast approaching. But let’s not lift the lid on the conventional toast-and-butter outcome just yet. There’s more to that jar of golden honey than meets the eye.

Take, for example, this sciencey look from the Smithsonian at the curative qualities of honey. It set me thinking: “cure” is an innocent-looking word. But while the Smithsonian acknowledges the role of honey as an ancient wound-dressing, the medicinal sense of the word “cure” is not the only one which can be applied to bees and honey.

At its Latin root, “curare means “to take care”. From that we derive the ecclesiastical term “curate” (as a shepherd for souls) and museums like the Smithsonian get the word “curator” (as someone who organises and maintains a collection of artefacts).

So what is a beekeeper, if not a bio-curator ? We use our experience and empathy with the bees to provide the optimal environment to develop the collective good, which generally finds its expression in a healthy honey crop.

And just as a curator doesn’t create the exhibit, the beekeeper doesn’t actually make the honey. Yet the way in which a beehive is orchestrated, or the craft with which individual artworks or exhibits are displayed, will have a vast influence on the final reckoning. A curator should understand the biology of art, and a beekeeper should interpret the aesthetic of the bees.

And to complete this catalogue, there is one final sense of the word “cure” to consider, one which carries an intensely local resonance for the Bermondsey Street Bees, whose hives are situated on a rooftop opposite both Morocco Steet and Leathermarket Street,  just north of Tanner Street.

Those street names offer a clue: until the last century, Bermondsey was the low-lying tidal epicentre of London’s leather-tanning industry. “Curing” an animal hide – reducing the moisture content to prevent bacterial spoilage – is the first step in the alchemy of leather processing. And let’s not forget that, in the honey factory of the beehive, the bees’ fanning wings “cure” the raw nectar, reducing its water content from 80% to around 18%, to produce the elixir of honey which shines through the Bermondsey Street Honey jar.

But like all good things, it’s really not complicated. So when the toaster pops up, enjoy that spoonful of honey. Just remember to screw the lid back on tight !

In The Apiary : Late August : Prize-Giving

To Boldly Go
Sophia and James – To Boldly Go….

It was all posh frocks and minding your ps and qs in the Bermondsey Street Apiary in late August. Not flustered, exactly, but the Bermondsey Street Bees were delicately enervated. You see, a visitor is a rarity on their Bermondsey Street roof-top and here were two coming along all at once: Sophia and James Hill. James, lending brotherly support, all the way from Barcelona and Sophia on the way to her Birthday party at Cave on Bermondsey Street.

Like most big events, a little planning goes a long way. I had earlier given the Bees a brief reminder on etiquette, along the lines of: “Please be kind to the nice civilians”. I had also impressed on them that these were no passing wayfarers: they were more like visiting royalty, since Sophia won our Bee-Haiku competition earlier this year and was coming to claim her title of “Queen Of Bee-Haiku” and her prize of an introduction to the Bees. Not to mention her smuggle of Bermondsey Street Honey to Burt’s Bees HQ in North Carolina two years ago. Yes, I reminded the attentive Bees, Sophia has what we in South London sweeney-talk call “previous”.

Sophia, Queen Of Bee-Haiku

And similarly, even with the Bees’ honoured guests, the pre-visit, ritual interrogation was brusque: “Have you ever been stung by a bee? Do you suffer from vertigo? Good idea to leave your high heels at the door. Now please step into these bee-suits which will considerably enhance your personal appearance and yes, Sophia, the gloves are a very nice colour, but that’s not why we wear them.”

Find The Queen
Playing “Spot The Queen”

So we suited up, mounted the parapet, smoked the hive, met the bees, spotted Primrose, Queen of Thames Hive, tasted the honey on the comb (spoonfuls courtesy of Shard Hive – Tasting Notes from Mrs G: “Intense; as Complex as the Prizewinning 2011) and we said our farewells. Decorum reigned. Calm bees and rock-steady rookie bee-handlers. A delight.

Next up in the Bermondsey Street Apiary: it’s the end of August, so here’s the drill: whip the supers off, get the varroa treatment on, feed the bees, read them a story and tuck ‘em up for the winter. Classic beekeeping…

Assassin Alert

Asian Hornet copy
Asian Hornet

No need to panic, but a “credible sighting” of the Asian Hornet has been reported close to Maidstone, Kent.

This prolific honeybee assassin has been at large in France for several years and it has been feared that it would only be matter of time before it crossed the Channel.

Here is a rap sheet for the Asian Hornet : please report any sightings of this deadly interloper by e-mail to:

The Sweet Spot

Potters Fields 4
This Afternoon In Potters Fields

It’s late in the season, but the Bermondsey Street Bees are still bringing in nectar – thanks to the efforts of local urban gardeners like Ian Mould. Ian is head gardener at Potters Fields by Tower Bridge (ably assisted by Albert, his pug!) and he has planned in lots of sequential planting, prolonging the forage season.

Potters Fields is open 24 hours a day, hosts over 50 major events each year and still manages to dish up the sweet stuff for the Bermondsey Street Bees in late August, when most other nectar sources are tapped out.

Potters Fields may be in Boris Johnson’s City Hall back yard, but I like to think of it as Ian and Albert’s front room!

BLink: Bee Sky Bee Or Bee Bee Cee?

Bee Sky Bee_edited-1
Bee Sky Bee

Last year, I came back from holiday to find that a satellite dish had been installed directly on top of White’s Hive, making beekeeping access to the hive impossible (beekeepers raise the roof to inspect our beehives, so to speak).

Irrationally, the first thought which crossed my mind was that the bees must have clubbed together for a Bee Sky Bee subscription. Swiftly and mercifully, a second thought: a Banksy/ Kapoor collaboration? Then thought three cascaded in: of course ! A secret camera would be filming my little rooftop headscratching and tut-tutting dance for prime time TV. Then the penny finally dropped – this was the genuine article: a satellite dish installation atop a beehive. Next day, my delightful neighbours, aghast that their contractors had been so inconsiderate, swiftly resolved the problem.

But I thought that this image would make a fine overture to this BLink to the BBC, which offers an equally visually arresting picture contained in a report about bee-based data transmission and reception (in the BBC story, a radio antenna is glued to the bee itself and is as tall as the bee is long – and weighs “only” 10% of the bee’s bodyweight!) enabling research into honeybee foraging and related issues:

BBC News: How do you track a honey bee?

At the foot of the BBC magazine article, I came across a link to the website of the earnest Berlin-based Menzel Research Group: neurobiologists who are involved in many different and fascinating research projects into honeybees. Luckily, the transcripts are in English:

Menzel Research Group

Two BLinks for the price of one! Having discovered the Menzel website, my preference is for the Science channel over the News channel!

BLink: Bees In The City

searching for the queen small
Bees In The City

An awful lot of poppycock has been written about urban bees by people who should know better (or, more reprehensibly, abuse their positions by promoting their own seed mixes, agency photographers or honey sales without disclosing those personal commercial interests).

As an antidote to the twaddling classes, here is the British Beekeepers Association’s sane, simple, one-page commentary on “Bees In The City“.

‘Nuff said !


BLink: High-Fliers

Bermondsey Street Bees From The Shard
Bermondsey Street Bees Viewed From The Shard

There are many bountiful rooftop gardens around Bermondsey Street. Not every plant is bee-friendly, but enough are to make a major contribution to the forage for the Bermondsey Street Bees. “Thank you” to all my green-fingered neighbours. Here’s a high-end Bermondsey Street garden featured in The Independent:

Room With A View

The eagle-eyed amongst you will be able to see the Bermondsey Street Bees apiary in the middle of the picture above, taken from the viewing gallery of the Shard: on the roof of the nearest tall, thin building facing the street. And you can just make out Shard Hive, a light rectangle, just to the right of the chimney-stack!

Hallowed Ground

St Mary Magdalen Churchyard - October 2012
St Mary Magdalen Churchyard – October 2012

London’s churchyards are hallowed ground for bees as much as for people. Expanses of grass, criss-crossed by pathways and anchored by the solidity of an ancient edifice, are important mid-town sanctuaries. What is more, there are approximately 450 churchyards in the Diocese of London! I would like to invite you to take a closer look at one of them in particular: St Mary Magdalen Churchyard in SE1.

In 2011, I applied for a Cleaner, Greener, Safer grant from Southwark Council to fund Bee-Friendly Planting in the churchyard of our local 13th-century Church (St. Mary Magdalen), which was then being renovated.

The grant was awarded in May 2012 and the planting of 363 plants and bulbs (11 each of 33 different varieties chosen from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Pollinator-Friendly Planting list) was performed on 25th October 2012 (special thanks to Southwark’s Rupert King, Jon Best and Jillian Houghton!). The picture above is of the plantings in their first week.

St. Mary Magdalen Churchyard - May 2013
St. Mary Magdalen Churchyard – May 2013

While my bees thrive on the annual summer Lime flow (see “Lime Time Is Prime Time“) and nectar, pollen and propolis from many other trees, which together with municipal plantings and private gardens form the bulk of forage in London, the little seasonal flourishes of the plantings in St. Mary Magdalen Churchyard provide colourful and nutritiousForage“.

St Mary Magdalen Churchyard - July 2013
St Mary Magdalen Churchyard – July 2013

This enlightened initiative has ensured the planned provision of forage for local bees and other pollinators throughout most of 2013, as well as brightening up the margins of the churchyard for everyone to enjoy this summer.

Anyhow, this post is my way of saying “Thank you” to the council-tax-payers of Southwark and, listen very carefully, I shall say this only once: “Thank you, Southwark Council !”

ps. See also the British Beekeeping Association’s “Bees In The City” statement

BLink: Who Goes There ?

Guard Bees
Guard Bees

At this time of year, wasps, in particular, are tempted by the aroma of warm honey to invade beehives. In fact, even honeybees can be enthusiastic robbers of other colonies’ stores, if the entrance to the hive is not staunchly defended.

Guard bees do a great job of controlling entry to a hive entrance: the simple “password” is the smell of each individual bee attempting to enter the hive, since the particular pheromones of every individual Queen will be transferred by trophallaxis to each bee which belongs in her colony. Each hive has a different odour, a unique group password. For human beings, things are more complicated….

Recently, Google Apps conducted a study of 2,000 people to learn more about their methods for choosing account passwords. The research revealed a worrying fact: Most people choose passwords based on readily available information (ie from social media sites). This means a surprising number of accounts can be hacked using a few simple, educated guesses.

So, what are the most common passwords? The top (bottom?) 10 list is as follows:

  1.                         Pet names
  2.                         A notable date, such as a wedding anniversary
  3.                         A family member’s birthday
  4.                         Your child’s name
  5.                         Another family member’s name
  6.                         Your birthplace
  7.                         A favourite holiday location
  8.                         Something related to your favourite sports team
  9.                         The name of a significant other
  10.                         The word “Password”

So take care that your own “Guard Bees” are up to the job, or you might be robbed of your hard-earned “honey” !

Click to see the full article, from the deliciously-named (!) Fox Van Allen’s blog