Interview with Mark Clare Conducted by Kate Strain

 ... And even if bees had revealed to us nothing more than those mysterious flashes of brilliance in the all powerful night it would be sufficient for us not to regret the time spent in studying their economy and humble customs which are so often far removed from, and yet so close to, our great passions and proud destinies.

Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life Of Bees, 1901

Through the ages, the metaphor of the beehive has been employed to describe a variety of (sometimes conflicting) political and economic ideologies, social tendencies, and philosophies. The mobility of the beehive as analogy is evident in the fact that it has been repeatedly appropriated by ideological opposites, with minor adjustments. From Bernard Mandeville’s early (1705), to a more recent study by Juan Antonio proposing a direct link between modern apiary and the development of Modern architecture; there seems apparent something about the world of bees that captures our collective imagination, and drives us to form comparisons between the social structures they inhabit, and our contemporary reality.

Monoculture an exhibition by Mark Clare, recalls this beehive metaphor through the physical staging of a gridded system of rational beehives, at Broadcast Gallery, Dublin, October 2013.

KS: Can you describe the working process behind the making of this large-scale sculptural installation?

MC: Laborious, mechanical and repetitive would be three words I would use to describe the process, which is pertinent really because while the beehive has often been presented Symbolically as representative of a 'harmonious' society this is also a reality of labour.

KS: Can you talk a bit about your materials of choice? Your use of wood for the modular beehive structures is interesting, paired with the addition of copper pipes, and the copper-green hue of the paint.

MC: The choice of wood is easy; it is an organic material from which all modern hives are constructed. As for the choice of colour, originally I had painted the hives many different colours and this came from seeing hives in South America, which were like this - numerous coloured structures stacked on top of each other. I found this exciting, almost representative of a collective cultural attitude. I was used to seeing either all wood or white hives and this just seemed so conservative and restrained compared to these far more glamorous, exciting and liberated hives. However what I perceive, from my privileged position, as spontaneous and carefree may have boiled down to economics and necessity, who knows. When I put them together in Broadcast it did not work, the installation did not gel, dictated mainly by the space. Somewhere along the way I had picked up this copper-green paint, which for me is very institutional looking, the kind of colour you would find in a hospital corridor or school, and it just worked. Painting all the hives one colour homogenized them, took all individual character away, and this for me is more reflective of the original concept and the space in which it is presented somehow. As for the copper pipes: this material again is organic, it is also associated with construction and domestic spaces, for its use in plumbing (in fact it is almost defunct now in this area, replaced by plastic pipes). Copper is a precious metal and still demands high prices that fluctuate daily on the stock market. In fact more recently there has been an investigation into the fixing of copper prices by the holding- houses and brokers. I find this fascinating! Now most of the worlds copper is bought up by the Chinese for use in the manufacturing of a variety of technological goods. It is this duality of the material that particularly interests me and relates back to hives and the notion of labour and value and commodity. The other aspect is that copper, over time, due to a chemical reaction will turn a similar colour to the paint on the hives and I guess there is some kind of continuity in this as well.

KS: Curiously, the gold-leaf beehive sits apart from the others, at the entrance lobby to the building. Can you tell me a little about this?

MC: This hive is the manifestation of authority and the trappings that go with that. It is an amalgamation of the house-on-the-hill and temple. In close proximity but removed.

KS: Outside of your artistic practice, do you have an interest in apiary?

MC: when I first went to art college I lived on a smallholding in Devon and there were two beehives kept on the farm. As a kid from suburban Dublin, I was fascinated by them, and the ritual of maintenance that goes with them. I knew nothing about the Honeybees role in the environment, however this fascination has stayed with me, albeit remotely, until more recently. Over the last number of years I have had an allotment. This has made me acutely aware of the importance of the bee in farming and agriculture, and the issues it faces in the larger scale of environmental issues.

KS: Practically speaking, the sculptural manifestation of this beehive system in the gallery is non-functioning, that is, on the surface it appears to replicate the model of a network of rational beehives, but the hives are empty. Is this inherent emptiness in the sculpture of particular significance for the work?

MC: No because each unit does have the potential to become a functioning hive. What I think is unavoidable is the lack of life within the installation. We see no movement and we hear no trace of activity and I think this is eerie. This is why I am using the homemade steam whistle in the work to highlight this lack of life. A bee-less beehive is just an architectural structure. This is an important aspect of the work. Architecture, for me, is representative of the development of society. Its utopian ideals subverted by humanity, a paradox if there ever was one. Here we are unsure if it is functionless or waiting to be activated.

KS: Your interest in the beehive as an architectural entity is evident. Tracing the development of the form of the beehive from the rustic tradition right up to rational beehives illustrates how architectural design has substantially altered (or enhanced the efficiency and productivity) of the hives inhabitants. Any radical change in the design of the beehive implied a notable increase in benefits for the beekeeper. An interesting adaptation you have incorporated in your beehive colony is the addition of connected set of copper pipes. Notably, this ‘root system’ that interlocks the community of hives, is linked into the infrastructure of the college architecture. This allusion to the hives relating physically and symbiotically to the space gives rise to potential questions about associations between beehive economies and the art educational schooling system. Could you comment on this?

MC: I will start by saying that the work was not conceived for this site. The premise of Art Education is to give people the tools that allow them to think for themselves and be creative. This is in complete contrast to the principle of beehive culture. In saying that the art education system in Ireland is systematically being decimated. Funding is being cut and emphasis is being placed on courses aligned to industry. It feels to me that we are moving towards an American style of education, one that is dominated by industry sponsorship and I don’t think this is good. But this last paragraph has nothing to do with beehives or probably your question even!

KS: There’s a strange analogy drawn by Maeterlinck (author of The Life of Bees) between bees and men, in the fact that both creatures seem destined for a certain kind of ‘brain’ production. He states that men, like bees, were “created to transform what we absorb from the things of the earth into that strange fluid we call brain power”ii. For the bee, that strange fluid is honey. For humankind, with a little leap of faith, that energy manifests through arts and humanities. In the same way as bees accumulate much more honey than they actually need for survival, without knowing who is going to consume it, we are equally unaware, argues Maeterlinck, of who will benefit from our cerebral output. This somehow puts me in mind of the art school as a site of continuous production, and entirely appropriate backdrop for your work.You describe the work as acting as a metaphor to represent the growth of modern society. Central to the potency of this gesture is the ability of the constructed   assemblage to incite associations and evoke questions. In bringing together a complex array of contexts (beehive culture, ecology, growth and sustainability, the art narrative, the educational setting, commercial cultivation and over- production etc.) you certainly inspire a myriad of connotations. Are there any specific links or critiques you are more interested in than others?

MC: Recently I was at a talk by Ahdaf Souefif where she talked about her book describing the initial revolution in Cairo that toppled President Mubarak in 2011. After there was a brief space for questions and answers and Souefif answered each question in great detail, as such a topic demands. Afterwards she apologised for not answering more questions but, as she said the “Devil is in the detail” and I guess this is true in relation to this question for me. Obviously I am not likening a sovereign revolution to my installation but on a philosophical level the construction of a modern society is extremely complex and the topics you mention are fluid and have a knock on effect on each other so for me all these topics are interconnected and part and parcel of the same conversation.

KS: The modular nature of the grid system suggests that this sea of beehives is potentially reproducible – expanding or decreasing in size in relation to the context of its immediate environment. Do you see a future for the work in its relocation to another context?

MC: Absolutely. This has been a major concern of this piece from the outset, that it can grow or shrink to whatever environment it is placed, be it an interior or exterior space.

KS: I wish you the best with the exhibition, and thank you for sharing with me your insights behind the work.

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I Juan Antonio Ramirez, The Beehive Metaphor – From Gaudi to Le Corbusier, Reaktion Books, 2000

ii Jethro Bithell, The Life and Writings of Maurice Maeterlinck, London, 1913, p.115