It wasn’t your everyday art installation: on Tuesday 70,000 honeybees swarmed busily inside a large mobile hive right in front of Paris’s stock market, where they will be displayed through October 2. The artist and beekeeper Oliver Darne is behind the project — which was carried out with support from the World Wildlife Foundation — and he offered samples of the honey to an intrigued public and to a reporter from the French newspaper Libération.
The "banque du miel" or "honey bank" is intended to produce "honey as well as questions," according to a statement by the artist. Since honeybees’s numbers are declining in France as well as in other parts of the world, the installation reminds visitors of the environmental problems afflicting the species. And it’s not a coincidence that, in addition to installing his work in other French cities as well as Geneva and London, Darné chose to show his bees in front of the Paris stock market. It’s a statement about "two crises, one financial and the other environmental," according to the artist’s blog.
Darné creates a link between the two crises with his "honey bank," which provides an unusual kind of financial service: the public can purchase a "bee savings account," complete with an official-looking blue passbook, for a minimum deposit of €10 ($13). The payoff? Account-holders will receive a portion of the next crop of honey. The artist writes on his blog that the bee savings account has allowed people "to produce wealth and collectivity instead of money and loneliness and has demonstrated that time can be something other than money: TIME IS HONEY!"
Darné’s project is rich with associations, metaphors, and puns. Since the hives are located on the roof of the city hall in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris, and the busy workers gather pollen from a 3-kilometer radius around their hive, Darné speaks of the "pollination" of the city, seeing honey production as a metaphor for the local encounters that create broader urban culture. He makes a point of mentioning that bees and people both "butinent" — a French verb that means both to gather pollen and to gather information.
And in case anyone should doubt the artist’s bee-keeping skills, the honey bank announces on its website that its "miel béton" or "concrete honey" — so named because of its urban environment and its delicious thick consistency — has earned medals at the agricultural competition Concours Régional Agricole every year since 2001.