The work ethic of honey bees is often likened to one that people can only hope to achieve: Though they only live six or seven weeks, honey bees are constantly in motion, productive, and focused to an extreme. Artists Tyler Budge and Sara Young take this parallel further in their artistic exhibition currently on display at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. Foraging the Hive examines the way in which the productivity and collaboration of bees mirrors the process of artistic creation.
The piece produced by Budge and Young — both artists as well as beekeepers — is a collection of 8,000 glass test tubes suspended in a swarm-like formation. Mimicking the way in which bees collect and manipulate pollen to create honeycombs, Budge and Young spent 13 years collecting and manipulating items into tiny sculptures, each housed in its own tube.
“The glass test tubes allow us to collect, manipulate, create, store, and record our artistic thoughts and configurations,” said Tacoma artist Tyler Budge. “They are sealed with beeswax to store and preserve our intellectual ‘crop.’ By collecting these tubes, we have created a glass hive.”
The items may seem odd and random — a piece of hair bound with a zip tie, a photo negative of the Mona Lisa, a hair band wrapped around a straw — but both artists can identify where each item was found and the purpose behind the structure it ultimately created. Though each test tube is simple, composed of mundane and invaluable objects, the collection of them together is nothing short of extraordinary.
The exhibit, which speaks to the beauty that can come out of a collective endeavor, has already impacted the community, including the museum staff, since the exhibit’s May 26 opening. Visitors bring in their own objects — or take advantage of material provided by the museum — to make their own test tube sculptures, which are then hung in a hive curated by the community.
Employees at the Museum of Glass were also encouraged to make their own test tube at a staff meeting, where Curator of Education Andrew Henley made a comment that nicely captures the profound nature of the project: “Like pollen accumulating on bees, the tubes capture the things that accumulate in our lives,” he said. Creating meaningful test tube sculptures has thus become a personal labor of love not only for the artists who envisioned the project, but for those now joining their creative hive as well.
As an extension of the test tube swarm, the museum’s outdoor plaza has been transformed into a functional apiary. The structure housing the four beehives — an elegant collection of white hexagons — was built primarily by Budge, who also cares for and maintains the hives. Eventually, the plaza will be home to 70,000 bees.
Sara Young and Tyler Budge hope that their artwork will educate visitors about the importance of bees while also inviting them into a collective artistic process that shifts the way we think about the simple materials we interact with every day. Defined by its determined, collaborative, and patient spirit, Foraging the Hive illustrates the possibility that something beautiful can be built at modest intervals — comb by comb and tube by tube.