When Bread Met Honey

Words by
Sally Wilson
Images by
Tom Ross
| February 3, 2016

As if there weren’t already enough reasons to visit Canberra! Hotel Hotel and the National Arboretum have been on my wish list for ages. Now, popping up in Hotel Hotel is a spectacular exhibition showing off bees for the Gaudi-esque architects they are.

It’s called Bread + Honey and it’s a downright plausible excuse to hit the road, book yourself a room and spend awhile with heart-stopping art. Bread + Honey is a collaborative sculptural series by Italian artist Giorgia Mocilnik, Honey Fingers Creative Projects Studio and, sublimely, the beautiful Apis mellifera, or European honeybee.

Half baguettes are transformed into thunder clouds, or perhaps magic hats, by Italian artist Giorgia Mocilnik, Honeyfingers Creative Projects Studio and the European honeybee, Apis mellifera.
Half baguettes are transformed into thunder clouds, or perhaps magic hats, by Italian artist Giorgia Mocilnik, Honeyfingers Creative Projects Studio and the European honeybee, Apis mellifera.
Ever wondered how bees knit their comb onto the sliced surface of a trio of baguettes? Well, here's the secret of their workmanship!
Ever wondered how bees knit their comb onto the sliced surface of a trio of baguettes? Well, here's the secret of their workmanship!

From Saturday the 6th of February until the 20th of March, Canberra’s Hotel Hotel plays host to twelve unusual objects in its ground floor lobby: the fragile, ephemeral results of bread inserted into bee hives and removed once the bees have worked their comb-building magic. The works are the collaborative brain-child of Giorgia Mocilnik and Nic Dowse of Honey Fingers, who worked together to conceive and pull off this extraordinary sculptural feat. The artist duo could not work alone: they called on bees in hives maintained by Nic in Melbourne for artistic assistance. Despite their relative wildness, the bees returned the compliment and built freeform honeycomb structures right onto the surface of the familiar, everyday bread positioned – conscientiously – into their hives.

But why the combination of Bread + Honey? Essentially, the works highlight the intelligence of bees as animal architects, as well as the connection between bees and the food we eat. “Bread has been a dietary staple for millennia and honey has been hunted, robbed, produced and consumed for even longer than that,” says Nic. “These materials are immemorial and can be traced to the ancients via archeological sites throughout the Mediterranean – jars of (still edible) honey were discovered alongside treasures in Egyptian tombs; loaves of bread were found, intact, in the ashes of Pompeii.”

We have gently, but deliberately, tested the adaptability of bees as animal architects in this experimental work. Bees build comb and make nests in many places: wall and tree cavities; compost bins; service pits in footpaths… and on baguettes, pretzels and dinner rolls,” Giorgia explains.

The artists took simit rings, pretzels, baguettes and dinner rolls and allowed the bees to intervene, with spectacular results.
The artists took simit rings, pretzels, baguettes and dinner rolls and allowed the bees to intervene, with spectacular results.
Each sculptural piece tells a beautiful tale of bees, the bread we eat and the delicate act of creation; placed together they form an epic!
Each sculptural piece tells a beautiful tale of bees, the bread we eat and the delicate act of creation; placed together they form an epic!

Bees are the diligent pollinators enabling vast amounts of our food crops to thrive, in an age when bees themselves are subject to threat on various fronts. Headlines across the world read “colony collapse disorder” and “varroa mite disease” in tandem with reports on the decline of populations of European honeybees, but in Australia we are free of these threats for the present. “In some ways, Bread + Honey is a tribute to the last golden age of beekeeping in Australia,” says Nic. “Inevitably, the problems linked to beehive deaths internationally will appear here. But in the meantime it is important for me, as an urban beekeeper producing small batch, raw honey, to enliven community awareness about bee health and how food is pollinated.”

Given the chance to collaborate in the Bread + Honey works, the bees certainly spoke strongly. Look at the combination of bread and honeycomb and the results are hypnotic – and difficult to conceive of as unintended. Wasn’t there a grand plan in the background, to guide the bees in their architect’s work? The short answer is no. “The shape of the bread was known, but the comb the bees made was always a surprise,” explains Giorgia.

This is a true collaboration with the bees. The outcome – the shape, size, colour and number of comb segments – was pure improvisation by the bees, in the hive.”

Bread and honey is one of the classic pairings in life. Bread, honey; bread, wine; bread, triple cream brie. Sometimes I can’t fathom a Friday morning without the one-two punch of sourdough toast, honey, and perhaps a little melted butter. Hotel Hotel’s exhibition of Bread + Honey offers a tempting proposition: order room service, venture down to the lobby, and start your day off right with a thick slathering of honeycomb.

Bread + Honey is open to the public at Hotel Hotel from 6 February-20 March, 2016.

All photos in the Bread + Honey series by Tom Ross of Brilliant Creek.

The works communicate how adaptable, and surprising, animal architectures can be. Take this exclamation mark for instance, obviously built by an emphatic hive of bees!
The works communicate how adaptable, and surprising, animal architectures can be. Take this exclamation mark for instance, obviously built by an emphatic hive of bees!
Dinner rolls, flying into Hotel Hotel, Canberra from 6 February to 20 March.
Dinner rolls, flying into Hotel Hotel, Canberra from 6 February to 20 March.

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