Installation views.
Dimensions variable.

Twenty-seven globes containing clusters of honeybees found dead on the beach in La Jolla, CA.
Each three-inch globe contains found bee corpses, sand, clay, resin, pigment, and glitter.
Sculptures are arranged across the ground over a fifteen foot area.

 Necropolis. Installation detail. (2017)
Necropolis. Installation detail. (2017)

"We must blow, in fancy, a bubble around each creature... The bubble represents each animal's environment and contains all the features accessible to the subject. When we ourselves step into one of these bubbles, the familiar is transformed... A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal."
 – Jakob Von Uexküll, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

We exist within perceptual bubbles–ephemeral globes that define the contours of our lived realities. These bubbles are formed by our experiences within our environments, by our varied bodily configurations as animals, and by our sensory capacities. With such perceptual bubbles in mind, I wanted to capture the loss these bees, along with their surroundings—preserving the immediate site and context of their passing. I thought I could pay homage to the droves bees through a personal ritual of seeking, acknowledging, collecting, and enshrining their corporeal remains. It was an act of bearing witness, an act of grieving a largely invisible loss, and an act of indexing the grizzly but beautiful context of the honeybees’ last moments of life. Trained visual attunement and endurance-based performance became intertwined in the process of scavenging and preserving these bodies. Resin bubbles were then fabricated as elegies—ceremonial globes for connecting us to the ghosts of critters whose lives were once temporally and spatially bound up with our own.

 Necropolis. Installation detail. (2017)

Step, Scan, Kneel, Pluck.
(Written project documentation, select passages. 2016 - 2017).

November 27, 2016. 

The first time that I saw bees dying en masse, dozens were clustered along the strip of moist, glimmering sand near the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The bees’ formations were curious: dyads and triads of tiny bodies that had been lured to the water’s edge, seemingly to perish together. A few feet away from the shoreline, the sand teemed with more bodies. They crawled aimlessly—trembling forms caked with sand. Some laid supine, their wings engulfed beneath the mud strata, pinning them into the ground. Legs and abdominal segments wriggled in vain. The sight was cryptic, loaded with sudden urgency. My day at the beach abruptly transformed into an ill-conceived rescue mission. I began combing the sand—a painstaking process of separating flashes of black and yellow from the ceaseless expanse of silica grain they floundered in. A napkin-lined Zip-lock bag—my ad hoc ambulance—was used to collect as many half-drowned honeybees as possible.

 Step, scan, kneel, pluck.

Surfers and joggers did double-takes as they passed me. I must have been a peculiar sight to behold: a teary-eyed woman taking one step at a time along the water’s edge, only to crouch down and dig indeterminate things out of the sand, like a chimpanzee foraging for bugs with a twig. I did my best to avoid the surfers’ gaze, desperately wishing that I could be more inconspicuous.

Step, scan, kneel, pluck.

Humans were not the only creatures watching me. Two seagulls waddled close behind, cocking their heads whenever I reached toward the sand. Their line of sight was conspicuously fixed on my hands. Perhaps they wondered what this human was gleaning from the beach that they had missed in their own scavenging efforts. A couple feet away, one of my new seagull acquaintances had also extracted something from the sand. It was floppy and semi-opaque. At first, I thought it a plastic bag, but upon closer inspection, I recoiled in horror, as there was actually a used condom in her beak. At a loss, I flailed my arms and yelped, “Hey, no!” She dropped the prophylactic and stared at me. Something akin to indignation shone in her beady eyes, and I wished earnestly that I could communicate to her that this thing she had found was not nourishment.

Step, scan, kneel, pluck.

My half-baked plan was to free the honeybees on my apartment balcony, far from the ruthless ocean, where they might have some chance at survival. Upon returning home, I placed three auspicious, remaining survivors in a tomato plant pot. Afternoon sunlight warmed the soil beneath soaked bodies. For hours, I waited. I watched. I fretted. I felt helpless. Droplets of water and basil blossoms were provided to aid their recuperation, but the bees showed no interest in either of these offerings. Their prognosis seemed grim. I felt powerless, incapacitated by my lack of knowledge and my inability to ameliorate their continual deterioration. I was fighting a war of attrition. At dawn, I returned to check on the survivors. My feet felt like lead as I approached the tomato pot—cautiously, stomach in knots. Atop the soil, a cluster of tiny cadavers stood frozen stiff.

Step, scan, kneel, pluck.

May 12, 2017. 12 pm. La Jolla Shores. Low tide.
Today, I found three dead bees and two living ones crawling shakily around on the sand. A Canadian tourist asked me if I was a researcher taking samples for the university. I replied in the negative and told her I was collecting dead bees, along with the patches of sand that they died in. She gave me a quizzical look and moved on. Upon returning home, I placed the two survivors among tomato sprouts in my patio garden. A few droplets of fresh water and some basil blossoms were provided to aid in their convalescence, but the bees show no interest in either of these. They move less and less with each passing minute.

May 13, 2017. Morning. My patio. 
Checked on the bees in the tomato sprouts. One is dead, but the second one is gone! Although it’s impossible to guess whether it walked off and died elsewhere, or whether it resurrected itself and flew away, this may nonetheless constitute the first bee rescue from the beach! It has become clear that I need to find some way to establish that the bees are strong enough to  return to the wild. A bee rehabilitation space of some sort should be created for future outings. More research will need to be done on how this space could be best designed to increase their chances of survival.

May 14, 2017. 11 am. Visual Arts Facility, UC San Diego.
I spotted three, fuzzy stiff bodies on the walkway to my studio today—a rapid-fire succession of corpses in an almost perfectly straight line. I wasn’t looking for them. I just spot them everywhere now. All it takes the slightest flash of yellow on the ground, and my brain automatically commands me to stop in my tracks. It reminds me of something I learned in my Perception and Sensation class years ago: that people who become experts in discriminating among a particular class of objects—people like birdwatchers or coin collectors—develop specialized, hardwired tracts in their brains dedicated to instantaneously recognizing and categorizing such objects. Is this what I have done to myself? Have I trained my brain to instantaneously recognize these apian memento mori? Is my mind always on the lookout for itty-bitty iterations of death?

May 19, 2017.  12 pm. La Jolla Shores. Hour-long expedition. 
Lots and lots of beach-goers today. It felt like summer. For the first half hour, I could locate no bees whatsoever. In spite of this project’s intrinsic melancholy, today things felt hopeful. The tide was so low that the sand along the waterline was visibly teeming with ocean life: thousands of tiny hermit crabs darted from shell to shell, flitting about, generally doing whatever it is that tiny crustaceans do in the glimmering sand of their life-world. No dead bees to be seen yet. It was a gorgeous day, and I was relieved that it was not marred by the string of corpses that I usually observe along the waterline. I began to wonder: was the bee die-off seasonal? Were their populations in flux? Were they learning to avoid the cliffs through some kind of collective superorganism intelligence? Can swarms be said to learn from errors made by the individuals within them?

As I approached the tidepools and cliff walls to the Northern end of the beach, I began to rejoice at the conspicuous lack of death. And then, it happened: I spotted one, then two. And then more and more of them. Four of them had died together in a morbid little cluster. Thirteen dead today. No survivors. I had a reusable soup container lined with pink napkins—a little bee ambulance—ready to go, just in case I found some half-drowned creature needing rescue, but today there were no survivors. I wondered if the four I found in a cluster had died together. I wondered if bees, like us, fear dying alone.