Tag Archives: eco-technology


name: the Bee Laboratory, project, year start: 2009, year end: ongoing, techniques: honeybee colonies, urban gardens, observation technology: sensors, contact microphones, webcams, streaming on open city network

The Bee Laboratory project monitors the behaviour of honeybees in urban surroundings.
 Beekeepers, scientists and artists examine the bee colonies in our rooftop gardens, our open air laboratories. We study the distributed intelligence of the honeybees : their behaviour, ecology and sociobiology. We monitor the bees and beehives with all kinds of eco-technology and we study the colony as a community. We research the interaction between the different colonies as well as the colonies’ behaviour and development in relation to the urban environment.

honeybee monitoring, 2009-ongoing

The monitoring project offers the opportunity to study the bee colonies as bio-indicators. Bio-indicators reflect the health of the ecosystem, they can tell us about the cumulative effects of different pollutants. A bee population functions and evolves very much in accordance to the human activities we are developing around them: gardening and urban agriculture. The production of honey is different related to the flowers we grow, the plants we like, the garbage or pollution we produce.
In our experimental set-ups we work with different kinds of sustainable beehives, and we also build our own observation hives. These hives are augmented with sensors and sensory processing algorithms that analyse the quality of pollen and propolis as well as the behavior of the bees in order to monitor the state of the ecology in the surrounding areas. The ‘Intelligent Beehives’ are distributed in a European network and the data are available online.

locationmap okno/so-onbees on 3D Voronoi diagram
connected OpenGreens – the Bee Laboratory

The initial setup is located in 2 rooftop gardens in the center of Brussels, at about half a kilometer distance from each other. I installed several beehives in both of the gardens. The bees bridge the spatial distance by foraging in overlapping territories. Since each colony will be active in a radius of 3 kilometers from their hive, the respective trajectories and individual territories will be overlapping and a new space of encounter can be defined. A new perception of neighborhood can be realized through the ‘eye of the bees’.
Observing and monitoring the activities of the hives coupled with ongoing documentation of each individual hive as well as the interaction between the different colonies will be performed. Information can be obtained from bee hives through visually observing, by listening or smelling. Changes of the hives can be monitored in terms of weight, size or outside/inside temperature of the habitation/colony and via the honey amount or quality. This data has abundant environmental information value, but can also be used and made available in a more indirect/symbolic way, as in artworks.

mission statement of the Bee-lab

As artists and beekeepers we study since several years the tight interaction between city honeybees and urban ecosystems.
Our preoccupations with bees come partly from a fascination with these amazing insects: the way their bodies look and function, they way they organize their complex societies, and the way they explore their environment.

But we have also another motivation. In many industrialised nations, bee colonies are now threatened. There are many causes – amongst them pesticides and parasites – but the compromised state of the foraging areas for bees is just as worrisome. So we also work towards an improvement of the environment of bees with the creation of urban gardens and guerilla planting. Moreover, because bees reflect the health of their surrounding ecosystem and the cumulative effects of different pollutants, we use them as bio-indicators to make citizens aware of the increasingly negative effects of our life styles and methods of industrial production.

For many years we have been creating experimental set-ups -together with engineers and scientists- using sustainable beehives that have been augmented with sensors and sensory processing algorithms to analyse the state of the colony, the quality of pollen and propolis and the behavior of the bees. These ‘Intelligent Beehives’ are progressively linked in a European-wide network and the data is being made available online.
More specifically, we have set out several urban test fields in the Brussels’ Canal Zone. This area features diverse activities: from community gardening and urban agriculture to accidental nature, interspersed between industrial buildings, office zones and living areas. Our test sites are connected by the flight routes and foraging activities of the bees. They create a green corridor in the city.

The Bee Laboratory & UrbanBeeResearch should be seen as an open framework. It is a long-term project on the edge of art, science and technology. The project is a collaboration between the artists, designers and engineers from okno.be, annemariemaes.net, the computer scientists ofthe VUB – artificial intelligence laboratory (Prof. Bart de Boer, Free University Brussels) and the Sony Computer Research Laboratory Paris – sustainability group (Ing.Dr. Peter Hanappe).

Much more info on http://urbanbeelab.okno.be


name: urban corridors, project, year start: 2011, year end: ongoing, techniques: urban gardens, local communities, bee colonies, communication technologies, observation technologies

Inspired by the flight routes of city honeybees and looking at where they are going and what they are bringing back, I am setting up the Urban Corridors project.
 It is remarkable to see how a bee population functions and evolves very much in accordance to the human activites we are developing around them: gardening and urban agriculture.
The production of honey is different related to the flowers we grow, the plants we like, the garbage or pollution we produce. Honeybees are very responsive to the different biotopes that we share, they are considered to be good bio-indicators. Though we seem to have rather few insight into what constitutes the diversity of our surrounding living place, and that’s something we want to research on a deeper level.
In previous projects -as there is the connected OpenGreens database- we developed different tools for identifying the specificity and relatedness of the changing assemblages of plants, insects and related human activities.

urban artfarm
Urban ArtFarm on Brussels’ rooftops

Adding new sensor networks to a series of connected (rooftop) gardens and gathering the data in our audiovisual database Pandora as well as on opensourcedata.net, we want to portray the surround Canal Zone in Brussels as it is changing over time into a continuous productive urban landscape.
It is a diverse area where a lot of activities (from accidental nature to collective and community gardening and urban agriculture) develop between the industrial buildings, office zones and living areas. 
With this project Ecological Corridors, in which city honeybees play the leading role, we want to research how the sustainability of cities can be increased in the future and how citizens can be actively involved.

This movie (2010) is documenting the ongoing Brussels OpenGreens project. The project was initiated in 2008, by the OKNO media lab and by the art organisation So-oN. It is a research on the ecology of urban habitats, guided by the observation of city honeybees.

mapping bee flightroutes in the city

We put forward Ecological Corridors in urban environments as a new medium of social sculpture, a Gesamtkunstwerk that relies on the creative participation of many. Corridors are ephemeral living structures in the form of green spaces connected through animal life, such as bee colonies. They are set up and maintained by urban communities to regenerate areas of the city, particularly areas which are subject to social and urban stress. Corridors are here seen as art works that contribute to social cohesion and sustainability by raising awareness and minimizing resource waste. Artists create the safe spaces that enable the disruptive activities required to make corridors and they make the internal structure and activities of corridors visible through visual and auditory representations.

Ecological corridors rely partly on methods of urban agriculture, guerilla gardening, ecological management and social anthropology.
Corridors can also make good use of avant-garde technologies, so that such projects become experiments on the edges of art, science and technology: Embedded systems, novel sensors, low energy computing and sensor networks are useful for monitoring soil quality, plant growth processes, animal activity, pollution and the movement and interaction of people within the local environment. Mobile communication and geoinformatics are useful for aggregating sensory data and projecting them in real time onto maps. Complex systems analysis, cloud computing, and machine learning are useful for detecting patterns to allow prediction and the shaping of ongoing social and biological processes. And novel user interfaces are needed to make embedded technologies accessible and usable without requiring sophisticated background or training.

With the ‘bee-mapping’ of the connected biotopes around the Brussels canal into a Corridor, we hope to come to a new but sensitive representation of our own living environment, not only providing insight in the constantly changing conditions we live in, but also bringing forth a new material from which new ecologial artworks can be created, be it installation, performance, media art or literature.
Together, the research becomes a fragmented but growing territory where everyone can connect and contribute to, and where slowly relationships and patterns emerge from. We want to work with creative ways to raise awareness, not only about our shared surroundings, but also about the ways we can spread a change that makes sense with a wider than anthropomorphic view only. In a world we share. Guided by social insects, the bees, following them on their flights across the land and cityscapes we live in.
 We see this as a multifaceted work made over time by artists, technicians, and scientists together, but also involving an audience, by now skillful with ICT and interested in ecological and urban issues.