An Artist and Beekeeper Explores the Phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder

Kelly Heaton is a mad scientist of sorts. A beekeeper who lives in North Carolina with degrees in both science and fine arts, she takes full advantage of her multifaceted background in her new exhibition, “Pollination.” Spanning photography, sculpture (both still and kinetic), painting, botany, homemade art supplies, and hand-crafted perfume, the diverse show is bound together by a central metaphor that compares currents of electricity to the activity of bees. Heaton visualizes and entwines the two invisible forces—electricity and pollination—questioning the relationship between natural and manmade environments.  

As you enter “Pollination” at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in Soho, Heaton’s centerpiece, a large sculpture titled The Beekeeper (2015), is unavoidable. The core is a resin-cast honeycomb, glowing with warm light and encased in a brass net of bees that traces their trajectories through the air, recalling the electron paths surrounding a very large atom. Above this globe, a cone rises into a mass of white hands. Here, Heaton creates a kind of nerve center where the movements and activities of bees and electronics are compounded and propagated. The rest of the works in the exhibition radiate out from this blinking, buzzing production hub. 

Heaton’s process of threading form and concept carries into another sculpture, Colony Collapse Disorder (2015), which features oversized representations of a bee and a transistor. The two parts are arranged so that the transistor appears to loom above the bee, which is abstract and misshapen, facing skyward with the assistance of two thick brass stands. 

Several works in the exhibition, like the wiry sculptures of her “Kinetic Study of Bees” series, move with the help of small motors and motion sensors. The bees in these works begin to vibrate as the viewer approaches, jiggling their thin nets and emitting a familiar buzzing sound. The kinetic quality of these works stands in opposition to Heaton’s photographs, which tend to show everything the bee has left behind, in static environments. One image, entitled With Child (2015), shows the silhouette of a figure outlined by vibrant yellow Holi powder, a substance sprinkled in traditional Hindu Holi festivals (springtime celebrations of color and love), which resembles pollen, and recalls the pollen installations of Wolfgang Laib. Here, the activities of bees, and their importance to the ecosystem, is elevated to a level of worship.

Holi powder is among a group of Heaton’s DIY art supplies, nestled in the last viewable corner of the exhibition. Nearby are her homemade beeswax perfumes, each one with a scent developed to activate a different chakra (energy fields, according to Hindu tenants, that pass through the human body). This infusion of Eastern religion, however, is sidelined by her dual obsessions—hives and circuits, pollination and electricity—and “Pollination” exposes both our dependence on these necessities, and also our vulnerability to their loss.


—Ari Spool



Pollination” is on view at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, Sept. 12 – Oct. 24, 2015.


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