Swarm (1996)


SWARM (1996) was an interactive installation inspired by some of then current thoughts about biological machines and ‘hive mind’. Briefly, the concept of hive mind is based on the premise that an insect colony is not merely the analogue of an organism, but is an organism, 20,000 insects united and behaving like a unitary whole, “maintaining its identity in space, resisting dissolution …neither a thing nor a concept, but a continual flux or process” (Morton Wheeler, “The Ant Colony as an Organism”, 1911).

3 larger than life-sized hives were laid out in the gallery, on first sight these appear normal garden hives, but on closer inspection it is clear that they are custom-made with the plastic-coated surface associated with computers. Each hive houses images in a different way. The second beehive (shown in the middle of the space) controls images from an artificial algorithmic swarm housed on a PC (which is stored in the beehive). Moving images of 3 swarms are projected out of the hive and onto the wall. The swarms move in real-time across the wall corresponding to the movements of visitors whose position is tracked as they walk on a floor covered with 64 pressure pads. Up to 16 people are tracked, with the swarms breaking into smaller groups to follow each person. Another hive contains 5 screens, displayed so that they resemble honeycomb racks. Gallery visitors can interact with the screens, pulling them up from the hive in the way a beekeeper pulls up frames of honeycombs from a bee hive. This triggers small video sequences which are projected from a nearby video projector and ‘caught’ on the screen of the raised frame.

For the hive with its lid open, images were captured on video and used to produce a single tape piece which are housed in an open- topped bee-hive, the monitor is visible when the viewer looks down on the hive. The right hand side image shows a close up of the video screen with the image of a brain MRI is combined with video of bees on a honeycomb and overlaid with scrolling phrases in orange. The final component of the installation is a wall made up of of jars honey illuminated from behind. When a visitor stands near to the honeywall all the interactive projected swarms converge on them.