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Ways of Learning, Ways of Knowing

Learning from the Bees, a conference about natural bee husbandry, took place in Holland a couple of weeks ago. It was a brilliant coming together of contemporary thinkers and do-ers who are actively engaged in changing the narrative about honeybee protection. There were over 300 of us coming together from over 30 countries, and that in itself felt momentous. Our common ground held the container for the different approaches of our work; bee scientists presented their research about treatment free beekeeping, conservationists shared their research of wild hives in rock faces and trees, activists spoke about their projects be it through education, large scale pollinator forage planting, the legal system, rewilding, awareness raising through social practices, the arts, and seers spoke of their experiences of the subtle aspects of bees and the land.

It felt like we were inside the inner workings of the somewhat abstract notion of paradigm change; participants telling their stories, adding facets to a growing understanding that the bees themselves can show us all we need to know about caring for them when we observe them carefully. We were not talking about saving the bees, we were talking about how to relate to the natural world in new ways, ways that respect the honeybee as a wild being, part of the multiple tapestry of life, of which we are part.

As the title of the conference Learning from the Bees indicates, this event brought together voices expressing multiple ways of learning and different ways of knowing that were enabled, through the organizer’s invitation, to complement each other in order to create a picture of what is needed from us as a next step. This is a systemic approach where no voice is marginalized but all have something to contribute. Science, art and spirituality, were all invited to the table. The conversation was so multifaceted that it seems to me that we have to take time and care to listen to the new thoughts that emerged from the fusion of disciplines.

An art exhibition was curated especially for this event, bringing the work of 20 International artists who have worked directly or indirectly with bees and their multitude metaphors. We often speak about art as a means of expressing what we know of the world around us in ways that are sensuous, embodied, symbolic and ineffable. As one of the curators of the exhibition (together with Kyra Cramer, Pol Parrhesia and Jorge Gallardo), I agree that indeed art is a wonderful tool for sharing and communicating what we know about something, or how we feel about something, but I want to also make the case for Art Based Research; Art as a way of learning.

Art Based Research methods of inquiry include making art as a way to come into relation with the qualitative aspects of phenomena and processes that are being studied. The creative process helps explore a pre-verbal / pre-idea stage by creating forms which may offer insights that would not be obtained otherwise. Artists can thus access ways of knowing that are sensory, sonic, kinesthetic, and so on and make a qualitative investigation.

Tom Barone and Elliot W. Eisner who first coined the term Art Based Research in 1993 were interested in blurring the boundaries between art and science. They refused to dichotomize arts based research and research that is primarily scientific. “We became convinced that the premises, principles, and procedures employed by artists can serve certain purposes for engaging in social research, that in important ways, complement those of the sciences.” (ABR, 2011)

Lydia Heath / Be.Clean (lament), 2016 VIDEO PERFORMANCE, 2’

Lydia Heath exploring movements that mimic the bodily acts the bee performs when cleaning itself and compacting the pollen collected during foraging. This ritual was for her a meditative contemplation of the relationship between landscape and bee, bee and human, human and landscape.

'Through using my limbs to explore my own body, I was able to reflect on their impact in the natural world - lamenting my inability to be in symbiotic relationship with the earth.'

I am very grateful that Learning from the Bees conference opened the possibility to hold conversations between researchers in the fields of arts, spirituality and biology to re-imagine together humanity’s relationship with the bees and with the landscapes they all depend on. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

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