The installation Honey Hunters has a conceptual circularity: at its core is a sound artwork I created, from a performance piece using sculptures carved from a defunct beehive. Bullroarers, which occur in different parts of the world, were used by the San for communication over long distances and for attracting and landing swarms of bees. I sculpted a number of them from a defunct handmade beehive donated for artistic purpose, using the dimensions of original San bullroarers, located from archival references.
When swung in circular patterns, the bullroarers emit resonant frequencies that vary according to the cut of the wood, the length of the rope, the arc and speed of the swing, and other spatial variables. Brendon Bussy made the sound recordings of my performance, recorded in an artist’s studio in Salt River, and I edited the raw audio into a sound piece. The composition has a very particular aural affect of dissonance, and at only one point in the track the composition comes together in a brief resolution before dissembling out once more.
In Honey Hunters, the soundtrack is listened to on earphones inside a floor-to-ceiling installation of the stationary bullroarers, which enclose the listener in a circle formation. Their sisal twine tails in increasing length are knotted towards a single end point above. This mimics ladders, also terminating at single end points, which were another more prosaic honey-gathering technique of the San, according to the same archival material.
This work was exhibited on ‘Ecotopian States’ at UJ Art Gallery (2010), curated by Jacki McInnes to reflect contemporary anxiety around environmental issues while suggesting that alternative knowledge systems might offer new ways forward.
This work is largely inspired by archival documentation of San cave drawings specifically relating to the Ndedema gorge in the Drakensberg mountains, and brings them back to life. I also exhibited partner paintings, a series called Bringing it Down.
Honey Hunters is included in a book about bees, authored by Heather Swan, called Where Honeybees Thrive: Stories From the Field: Chapter 3: Bulroarers, Elephants, and Honeybees - Gallery 3: The Art of Kim Gurney, p.59-66.
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