Bee Amazed by Swarm

Swarm is a sprawling, open-air installation by Dead Puppet Society which combines hand-crafted sculpture with dazzling technological effects. Over two thousand miniature bee sculptures have been artfully arranged throughout West Village as part of the precinct-wide celebration of Bee Month. Each sculpture is laser-cut from polished brass and assembled by hand; including individually posed legs, antennae and wings. 

We sat down with Associate Creative Director Matt Seery to find out more about bringing Swarm to life.

Q&A WITH MATT SEERY

Can you tell me a little bit about your role at DPS

I’m Associate Creative Director at Dead Puppet Society. I work alongside the Directors of the company to dream up new artworks and experiences for our patrons. It’s a joyful role that lets me work closely with every member of our small (but gutsy) team, as I help nurture a strange new idea from start to finish; through the talented hands of our artists each step of the way.

What’s Swarm all about?

Swarm is an open-air art installation that combines the beautiful sculptural work of a fine art exhibition, with the conspiratorial thrill of a real-life treasure hunt. Over two thousand miniature bee sculptures will be installed on every surface, nook and cranny of West Village’s beautiful Mollison Park. Displayed in this unique urban and natural environment, the sculptures invite us to slow down and observe the little details and tiny creatures that render our living planet so spectacular.

From this small act of observation, we take a big imaginative step further - depicting a swarm of bees taking flight in a majestic show of aerial skill and communal cooperation. After dark, the artwork lets slip a few high-tech tricks it has up its sleeve, transforming Fig Grove with an original light and sound spectacle that celebrates our world’s tiny pollinators.

Tell us about the prototyping design process for Swarm

Swarm is unlike anything Dead Puppet Society has previously created - and easily the greatest number of objects we have created for a single artwork. Despite this, we made use of the same iterative design and prototyping process we employ for all of our puppets and sculptures.

We start with hand drawn sketches and reference images to hone in on the look and feel of the creature, before we start conceiving of mechanical solutions that could bring it to life. Rough prototypes are created from simple materials - usually paper and cardboard.

We re-create the design as a two dimensional digital drawing, then a three dimensional computer model. This allows us to preview our proposed mechanisms and get a sense of scale. For Swarm, we compared the 3D bee model against computer models of buildings, trees, coffee cups and human hands.

The process becomes cyclical here. Learning, re-designing, prototyping onscreen and with rough materials, learning, re-designing…until we are ready to create a full prototype.

We’ll laser cut a small batch of test sculptures, which gives us our first real insight as to the real-world look, feel and fabrication process. For Swarm, we took a number of prototype sculptures to West Village to preview how they would look in situ; reflecting on their size, their various poses, the way they glint under sunlight, etc.

That cycle again: learn, re-design, test again… Finally we are ready to laser cut the full run of sculptures and prepare for the assembly process ahead.

How long does it take to create each bee?

This is one of those impossible questions with two different answers. Both are true.

Each bee consists of two separate pieces (an abdomen plate and a thorax plate) which are sanded, polished, riveted, then folded into its own unique position. Each step of the process is completed by hand. With a bit of practice, we can assemble a single bee in about 5 minutes.

But, we are only able to achieve this rapid assembly rate after many weeks of development and testing; experimenting with different plate configurations, raw materials, sculpture sizes and weights, different tool and hardware options. Plus dozens of hours on the laser cutter itself.

So 5 minutes. And also, 2 months.

How many different types of bees are there?

Swarm features three different sculpture designs: bees that stand freely on flat surfaces, defy gravity by gripping onto walls or windows, or adorn tree trunks and other environmental features.

But if you look closer, you will notice an endless number of variations between the sculptures. With every leg, wing and antennae of all two thousand plus sculptures shaped by hand, each bee is ultimately unique in its own right.

Can you tell me about the light and sound aspect of Swarm?

As with all of our projects, Swarm relies heavily on old-school crafting skills…but we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to introduce a new-school twist.

For Swarm, we have branched out into the realm of animated LED pixels to create a choreographed light and sound show that completely transforms Fig Grove, the beautiful elevated garden that sits at the heart of West Village.

After sunset, thousands of intelligent LED pixels spring to life, transforming the garden beds, tree trunks and canopy spaces of Mollison Park.

Swarm’s Lighting Designer (and our resident Technical Director) Scott Barton has choreographed a suite of technical performances that are inspired by the real-world behaviours of native Australian bees, as they pollinate, nest and, of course, swarm. The pixels dance in sync with Brady Watkin’s gorgeous original music - it’s an unexpected spectacle that stops passersby in their tracks to enjoy the show.

There are eight different light/sound shows to experience, with short performances occurring every 10 minutes and full shows every half hour, between 6-10pm nightly.

What can you tell us about the music the bees take flight too?

We’ve worked with local sound designer, composer and all round audio genius, Brady Watkins, to create a suite of original music that underscores the nightly lighting spectacle. Each piece of music is inspired by behavioural patterns of native Australian bees as they go about their daily business of pollinating and nesting.

Brady has combined classical instrumentation with a fiercely contemporary approach to composition, delivering a suite of music that is at times joyful and uplifting, at others heart-racing and mysterious.

What’s been the most enjoyable part of working on Swarm for you personally?

As ever, working with different members of our creative team at various stages of the project has been an utter highlight. Designers, producers, technicians, musicians, fabricators - all have risen spectacularly to this big challenge. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed treading this new territory alongside them.

What do you hope visitors will experience seeing Swarm

I hope that Swarm surprises visitors: an unexpected encounter with art, out in the real world.

I hope that some visitors enjoy a momentary feeling of surprise or delight, before continuing on with their day.

I hope that others follow their curiosity further; scouring the environment to spot as many sculptures as they can, before enjoying a mesmerising light and sound experience that rewards their efforts.

Ultimately, I hope that this artwork encourages visitors to take a quiet moment - a few seconds, minutes or hours - to reflect on the contributions made by both human and insect-kind to the natural world we inhabit together.

Swarm is at West Village as part of Bee Month until 29 May 2022 with nightly performances from 6 - 10pm. For performance details click here.