Chinese artist Ren Ri successfully combines his love of beekeeping and art to create accurate honeycomb maps of various countries and continents.
Ren works closely with honeybees; in fact, he considers himself more of a beekeeper than a professional artist. He started beekeeping in 2007, and within a year, he mastered the basics. As he got more proficient, he began to think of ways in which he could manipulate the bees’ movements, by controlling the queen bee. Over time, he started creating meaningful beeswax patterns, and he eventually managed to produce a world map.
To create the map, Ren placed a map of the world inside the beehive. He then manipulated the queen bee to move in different directions and angles, so that the bees would build the hive at the locations he desired. “The bees continued to mould the beehive, and this moulding affected the original shape I had given the piece, through a process of addition and subtraction,” he said. Once the world map was ready, Ren created individual maps of several countries as well. He called the series Yuan Su I: The Origin of Geometry.
“The title of this work – Yuan Su – can best be understood by splitting it into two parts,” he said. “Yuan signifies nature, the origin of life, while Su signifies the part that is man-made. Therefore, Yuan Su signifies the relation between man and bees: that is, man and nature, the relationship by which the two are unified.”
For his second project, Yuansu II, Ren started by building a cross structure inside a plexiglass case, and placed a queen bee inside it. He then turned the box 90 degrees every week, causing the bees to produce wax in abstract shapes. “It deals mostly with space, time, and mass,” he explained. “These concepts are intrinsic to the construction of sculptures and installations. This is spatial art.”
Ren said that the process of working with bees has taught him a lot. For instance, the human construction process is upward, while for bees it’s the opposite. “Man battles against gravity in order to build upwards,” he said. “As for the bees, their way of building is a downward process; they do not challenge the force of gravity. I find this thought very interesting.”
He added that he did get stung a lot when he first started working with bees, especially when he tried to interfere with their operation. “I may have been attempting to achieve something, but the bees only stung me in order to protect themselves. But as he became more familiar with the bees, he understood how to handle them better.
Ren’s beeswax art works have been displayed in galleries in Taipei, Shanghai, Milan, Beijing, and Venice. His most recent exhibition was at Pearl Lam Galleries Soho, called Ren Ri: Yuansu Projects.