ARTIST: Sarah Smuts-Kennedy
ARTWORK/YEAR: For the Love of Bees (2017 ongoing) Commissioned as a two-year project.
RESEARCHER: Kelly Carmichael
For The Love of Bees is a social sculpture designed by Sarah Smuts-Kennedy and co-created with the community. Commissioned to create an art project that activated the Auckland City Centre, Smuts-Kennedy conceived a city-wide collaboration where transformation of the ecosystem can occur through community-led action. For The Love of Bees (FTLOBs) is an art work that creates new ways of thinking, being, and connecting by using bees as a focus for collaborative transformation. It operates on two levels - the physical and the energetic - and seeks the creation of a new cultural context for Auckland based around transforming and regenerating the city’s ecological health.
Drawing on Joseph Beuys' understanding of art's potential to transform society and by using language, intention, action, and object; FTLOBs extends the definition of social sculpture and emphasises co-creation. Critically, the project invites the community to become a creator rather than an observer of the artwork. It is telling that Smuts-Kennedy describes her role not as ‘artist’ but as the project’s ‘Vision Holder’. Ultimately her vision for the social sculpture, and a mark of its success, is to enable a functioning system of community leaders then to step aside, allowing the co-creators to embody their potential and fully demonstrate the social sculpture model. Critically, and by design, there is no room for ‘slacktivism' — the tendency to passively affiliate with causes rather than taking real action to support them. FTLOBs requires practical involvement to co-create the art work; inviting, supporting and connecting Aucklanders to step out of observing the world they live in and become protagonists.
Internationally bees are in decline and, for a city such as Auckland in the midst of a population boom and rapid urban intensification, precious bee habitat is under threat. As the eco-system’s most important pollinators, the health of bees and their environment affects human food security. Sites associated with For The Love of Bees do not focus on hosting hives but instead rewind the equation, asking the community to imagine and create a giant and safe pollinator sanctuary, one regenerative for both bees and humans. FTLOBs has sites across Auckland but its first and most visible location is Griffiths Gardens. This site provides a welcoming points of community connection and learning, enabling co-collaborators to acquire knowledge of bio-dynamic gardening, practical experience, and inspiration. FTLOBs hosted 73 events in 2017 engaging with inner-city communities, and by August 2018 they hosted 66 events across the city. An education programme brings primary and secondary school children from low socio-economic districts to the site to visit and study bee health. Such events are designed to allow people to learn how they can work together to rehabilitate the land.
As an art work For The Love of Bees exists in two dimensions — the physical and the energetic. It is within the realm of energy that the social sculpture truly connects with and creates change for the community and city. Energy relationships are at the heart of Smuts-Kennedy’s practice, which tests and researches the intersection and potential relationships between biological and energetic systems. Her practice questions how energy can be sculpted to encourage outcomes that are beneficial to supporting biological life and explores complex and non-linear concepts, including principles of Entropy and Syntropy (simply explained as the dissipation or concentration of order/energy).For The Love of Bees is a framework within which Smuts-Kennedy has re-coded the systems of energy she explores into a public platform. Her critical insight takes the form of a durational and dialogical art practice, FTLOBs functioning as a tool to create opportunities for an embodied experience of syntropic qualities. “People are encouraged to employ their energy (imagination) to trigger the co-creation of a syntropic outcome called a city safe for bees” the artist explains. “Through daily interventions this energy interacts with matter and generates both qualitative and quantitive outcomes evident in the community and landscape.“ FTLOBs operates on the understanding that beyond immediate human relationships there are much deeper levels of networks and connection.
For The Love of Bees takes the form of a socially and ecologically motivated, interactive and collaborative situation. Its aim is to instigate social change, shake out political apathy, and encourage stewardship of the land by active co-creators. It recognises that cultural and community work is the base on which we build political and mainstream change. As a socially engaged art work, FTLOBs invites people to imagine a world they would like to live in as a magnet for collaborative action and cohesive vision. Understanding FTLOBs as a process of communication and transferal of energy, rather than simply a site or an object, illustrates how the tenets of Smuts-Kennedy’s practice are embodied. Bees are the attractor but, in essence, For The Love of Bees is a social and environmental healing tool in the guise of a bee project. It is a gentle but determined community activism within an art context. In striking contrast to many visions of urban planning - especially those involving high-impact, energy-intensive, and so called ‘spontaneous’ sites of interaction and creativity, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy has quietly forged a successful urban creative strategy where many have failed. Her model of eco-communalism and bioregionalism, realised in collaboration with a local group of interested people, and championing imagination, connection, consensus, and hard work, articulates the role of collective energy in the transformation of self and society.
 Griffith Gardens is a temporary pop-up space developed as an inner-city backyard. A site symbolic of change and urban regeneration, it is FTLOBs central teaching hub offering workshops and weekly learning activities. It includes a traditional Māori medicine garden produced in collaboration with Awhina Mai Tātou Katoa, a group founded by Auckland’s homeless and recently-housed community. Other sites and projects across Auckland include a Seed Bank, Organic Market Garden, bee hives, a monthly Natural Bee Keeping School, and establishing a regenerative park at Highwic Historic House. FTLOBs is extending nationally.
 “Syntropy encourages order whereas entropy generates chaos. Syntropy facilities the concentration of energy where entropy increases the dissipation of energy. The material world is more entropic where as syntropy hovers in the immaterial/invisible dimensions. Entropy is influenced by gravity syntropy is influenced by levity. Entropy is the movement towards the impulse of death while syntropy is the movement of life towards us.” From an email conversation with the artist, 2018.
Image Credits: Gabrielle Message – Facilitator at For the Love of Bees
All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.