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.
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.
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.