Olivier Darné is a “graphiculteur”, a contraction of the French words “graphiste” (graphic designer) and “apiculteur” (beekeeper). For more than 10 years, he has been leading a project to “pollinate the city” with a collective of mixed-media artists, graphic designers, researchers, builders, etc.
Olivier Darné reintroduces bees to the city. Through artistic installations in public areas (walks, bee races, naps under the hives, the installation of “urban collectors”, etc.), he questions the relationship between people, bees, nature and the urban landscape. He aims to
raise public awareness of the pressures that people can exert on the environment they inhabit. The relevance of this issue is highlighted in the two crises we are currently experiencing: the ecological crisis (ecosystem damage, drop in the bee population, etc.) and the economic and financial crisis.
The project is also closely linked to biodiversity. The honey produced in the beehives installed by Olivier Darné in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis has been named “Miel Béton” (Concrete Honey). A pollen analysis of this honey, which since 2001 has won several medals at the Regional Agricultural Competition, showed that the bees act like a “filter” against pollution: there was no sign of the toxic materials usually present in the urban atmosphere. It also showed the very rich botanic diversity of Saint-Denis, with over 400 different pollens detected in Miel Béton. In fact, urban bees produce 4 to 5 times more honey than rural bees: in the French countryside, herbicides and pesticides impair the environment – paradoxically, urban biodiversity is quite well preserved in comparison.
Art and ecology
In March 2012, Olivier Darné won the COAL (Coalition for Art and Sustainable Development) Art & Environment Prize for another swarming project, the “Banque de Reines” (Queen Bees Bank), an urban hive managed by beekeepers that shelters and farms queen bees. These will later repopulate hives in the countryside, where queen bees have tended to disappear over the last few years. In the eyes of the COAL judging panel, composed of artists and experts in sustainable development, the “Banque de Reines” constitutes a sort of “guarantee fund of living organisms”. It also fits the ideals of the association, which supports the “essential role of creation and culture in raising public awareness” of ecology and sustainable development.
Olivier Darné is an artist who questions his own relationship and city-dwellers’ relationships with nature and biodiversity by re-installing organic food production at the heart of an environment that was never designed for such a purpose. Today, half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030, city dwellers will number over 5 billion people. How can we keep this growing urbanization from impairing nature and biodiversity? How will we able to feed people who live so far away from arable lands without seeing our carbon footprint skyrocket? Oliver Darné’s “Concrete Honey” is definitely food for thought, for the future.
Photo © Shutterstock / TOM KAROLA