“There’s this joke that beekeepers are the absolute most evil landlords,” Mike Bianco tells The Adelaide Review. “We just break in every once in a while, and steal all their savings.”
A love of cooking prompted the Perth-based artist to engage more deeply with the species essential to a third of all food production. Now, Bianco’s honey bee-centric work is a reflection on how humans engage with the natural world in ways that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always complicated.
“We’ve produced this industrialised food system that is very brittle,” he says. “What I mean is it’s designed to produce surpluses, and so in that sense is meant to be strong. But at the same time, like iron it has this ability to break. I think one of the great examples of how brittle it is is the fact that the American food system is largely dependent on this one pollinator, despite there once being this rich variety of native pollinators on the continent.”
Of the many ecological and social issues that fill our social media feeds, ‘the bees are dying!’ is often shared but rarely understood. But Bianco’s aim isn’t a simple, placard-friendly call to ‘save the bees’, but instead to “demystify and deescalate people’s anxieties” around the insect, and navigate those complexities and contradictions.
“Really the honey bee as we know it was introduced to America from Europe in the 17th century, and in Australia I think it’s early 19th century. So honey bees are actually very, very new on this continent, and they’re part of a settler colonial project, they’re about taking a Eurocentric food system and exporting it.
“People ask ‘are
they invasive?’, and they’re not necessarily. In a Western Australian
context honey bees are a major stressor for native endangered black cockatoos
because they take up their nesting cavities. Bees are absolutely vital, and
essential to our food system, but they’re one of many species we need to be
taken care of – they’re kind of a gateway species.