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Matina Galati

Caring for the collective:
The Bee Dance

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Caring for the collective : the Bee dance

The bee does this by performing a dance, a set of precise movements which acts as a map for the others to follow, in order to find the desired resources. The angle of the dance orientates the position of the hive in relation to the position of the sun, while the duration of the middle meandering section of the dance determines how far the food is from the hive. What initially appears as one bee excitedly running and waggling in circles, is actually an individual effort of achieving collective intelligence. The bees survive and thrive by serving each other; by caring for one another; by looking out for each other. When one of the other bees witnesses the dance, but she has had a bad experience at the location that the dancer is prompting the others to go to, -she could have been attacked by a spider or a wasp-, she will use the “stop signal”: a vibration strong enough that will freeze the dancer in place momentarily, thus acting as a warning for the rest of the collective. She will do this by vibrating her wing muscles or by butting her head against the dancer to make her stop. She will essentially use any means necessary to disrupt the dance, thus protecting her collective from a potentially dangerous situation.

 On the same walk on the foothills of mount Hymettus –this time it is late March-, I contemplate on the ways humans can draw parables from the ways of the bees and implement them into our own societies. I find an abandoned beehive; the cover is open and inside are placed three old hive frames. More work seems to have been put into one of the frames by the bees; a large organic shaped protuberance catches my attention. The petrified beeswax testifies to the passing of time and perhaps to the negligence of its beekeeper. When did we stop caring about each other? Did we really stop or our collective care is just not finding its way through our current sociopolitical models? A bee will try to help or warn the others by vibrating her entire body, by taking up space, by giving her own unique performance of care: this is her special, spatial, embodied language that becomes shared knowledge of all the other bees witnessing her dance. I wonder when we will vibrate ferociously our entire bodies and take up all the space that is needed until we arrive to our collective nectar source.

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 During a November morning walk on the foothills of mount Hymettus, I noticed something strange: dead solitary bees laying inside opened Crocus cartwrightianus flowers, dotting the rocky ground. They seemed as if they were sleeping or maybe resting, but with a closer inspection, the reality of what was going on sunk in, leaving behind an unsettling feeling. It didn’t feel natural or normal: this feeling was even more accentuated by the beauty of that particular November faint dawn light, which made the appearance of the red stigmas of the Crocus flowers even more vibrant. 
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Matina Galati is a landscape architect  based in Athens.

The presence of death in this context of harmony and beauty seemed unfitting and absurd. Later I was told that these bees had most likely been confused by the deceptively good temperatures. They were leaving their hive in search for food on the occasion of the mellow weather; and then a sudden frost would freeze them in their position, making them unable to return in time to their home. This explains why they looked almost stunted in place, suspended in time, like a still from a film.

 The presumed confusion of these bees was just not sitting right; in reality it was an indicator of unusually abrupt weather fluctuations. Bees are extremely intelligent beings with cognitive, behavioral and physiological abilities, as well as sophisticated communication systems that determine their subsequent decisions as a collective. One of these means to communicate with one another is the bee dance. When a forager bee finds a significant food source, she will return to her hive to share the news.

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