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Scorched Honey Archive

Version 1 exhibited at NARS Project Space
Brooklyn, NY

Version 2 exhibited at BioBAT Art Space
Brooklyn NY

A multisensory meditation on human disruption of pollinator ecology that includes sculpture, immersive sound, and video. A central tapestry of wall-mounted steel plates forms a rough map of US states that are recording bee populations. Eight fragrant beeswax speakers emit the spatialized sound of burning honey – each sizzling sound that emerges, played at a volume that at times teeters on the edge of audibility, links to one of the steel plates which bears the charred honey remains. A peculiar box, lined with orange acoustic foam is, in fact, the small sound stage where the honey was burned and recorded. Finally, in a large video projection, bees crawling across the surface of a hive are reduced to wisps of smoke. The Archive includes comfortable lounging platforms that invite visitors to linger and listen.

Scorched Honey Archive consists of four parts: 

Hotspots, Thresholds, Containments
and Residues


Steel, magnets, honey, LED lights

The 37 metal plates displayed in this work are organized into a rough map of locations in the United States where bee populations are regularly recorded. Each of these plates is emblazoned with the carbonized remains of honey that was burned onto it. The sound of the burning honey, captured with microphones, emerges from the beeswax speakers in the sound installation Thresholds. Glowing orange across the expanse of the gallery is the wooden box, Containments, which is the “stage” where the honey scorching and recording took place.

Hotspots - Photographed at BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn by Katie Salsbury

Hotspots - Photographed at NARS Art Space, Brooklyn by Vincent Wong-Crocitto

Hotspots - Photographed at NARS, Brooklyn

Hotspot 04

Hotspot 03

Hotspot 19

Hotspot 21


Wood, steel, acoustic foam, microphones, aluminum heat sinks, ceramic heater, honey, light

This box, lined with orange acoustic foam, is a miniature sound booth where the process of heating, burning and recording the honey for the works Hotspots and Thresholds v.1 took place. The box contains microphones, a ceramic heater and specially made aluminum heatsinks that were used in the process of honey burning.

Containments - Photographed at BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn by Katie Salsbury

Containments - Photographed at NARS, Brooklyn


8-Channel ambisonic sound installation, beeswax speakers, amplifier
and media player

Thresholds is an hour-long spatialized sound installation that emanates from eight beeswax speakers installed throughout the space. Three lounging platforms, topped with felt and pillows, invite you to slow down, lie down and listen.  The core of the work comes from the recorded sounds of the honey burned onto the 37 steel plates in Hotspots. These crackling and hissing sounds suggest disappearance, barrenness and decay – which is something we can count on if our pollinators perish. The implied violence implied by this gesture is complicated by the sound composition itself which was deliberately bashful and sometimes seems to retreat into the architecture and blend with the natural whirs, hums, and groans of the building.

Our existential problems can be easy to ignore.

However the pollinators occasionally enter the scene to accompany the sporadic sizzle of honey on steel. You will hear these non-human actors flying solo, in dense clouds, or doing what they do inside the hive – occasionally reminding you to pay attention. You will also hear the sonic evidence of human impact, for example the crackle of electricity recorded from overhead power lines, a truck, or an occasional airplane. All of these sounds once again attempt to blend into the building – smeared by the natural reverberation of this site – to enter an unpredictable chorus with the peculiar soundscape of the space in which it is installed.

Thresholds - Photographed at BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn by Katie Salsbury

Thresholds - Speaker. Photographed at NARS, Brooklyn

Thresholds - Speaker. Photographed at NARS, Brooklyn

Thresholds - Speaker. Photographed at NARS, Brooklyn

3 minute 40 second sample of Thresholds audio.
Sound captured on site at BioBAT art Space, Brooklyn.


Single channel video projection

This 16 minute single-channel, silent video traces the path of bees as they crawl across the surface of a hive. The images are transformed into shapes reminiscent of forest fires, the vapor trails of aircraft and rockets, and occasionally, the awful spectacle of nighttime carpet bombing.

These scenes of transformation and destruction point to the complexities of our human relationship with bees. Since the reports of mysterious honey bee declines in the mid 2000’s, a phenomenon that was given the name “Colony Collapse Disorder,” a great deal of attention has been paid to their plight. However, the campaigns to “save the bees” have largely overlooked the diversity of native bees that do a great deal of the work pollinating the food we depend on for our survival.  Part of our pollination problem lies in our cross-species dependence on the honeybee. Our age-old relationship can be seen in evidence that dates back over 5000 years in Egypt. Today bees are tied to a capitalist economy that harnesses them as a form of livestock to pollinate crops for profit. For example, half of all U.S. bee colonies (1.5 Million) are transported to California just to pollinate almonds. This unnatural migration can result in detrimental effects for the native insects. Honeybees are opportunistic foragers, and as they make their way across the country, they reduce the resources available to the native bees in their specific ecosystems.

Residues - Photographed at BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn

Residues - Photographed at BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn by Katie Salsbury

3 minute and 23 second sample of Residues


“The Archive emerges from two events. The first is the invitation I received in 2018 from the designer and beekeeper Mark Randall to record his hives in Narrowsburg New York. The second is more distant, likely around 1989, and is the recollection of a mishearing in a subterranean bookstore in San Francisco.


The recordings I captured of Mark’s bees, using a variety of mics: shotgun, contact, ambisonic (360˚), hydrophone, ultimately led to the multichannel sound installation Colony (2022). Colony mixes bee sounds with interviews that probe the human/insect relationship. In centering a work on bees and beekeepers it becomes critical to acknowledge the anthropocentric influences and impacts on our terrestrial pollinators, honey-making and otherwise. The planet-wide crisis of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), that was first theorized in 2006 when beekeepers began to report unusually high losses of 3090 percent of their hives, has resulted in steep declines in bee populations. While there’s no single known cause of CCD, scientists link it to viruses, parasites, pesticides, and changes in habitat and food availability that are, not surprisingly, exacerbated by climate change. CCD threatens our global food supply, and according to the USDA, Honey bees alone pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants, including more than 130 types of fruits and vegetables.

In a capitalist system of production, bees are not left to their own devices to buzz free in the flowering clover. We truck them all the way across the country. In Michigan where I’ve recorded bees, they are transported all the way to California to pollinate the trees that produce 100% of the US supply of almonds. Does this additional pressure further contribute to immune-suppressing stress, exacerbating collapse? Perhaps. And if so, it’s a vicious cycle. If crops are threatened by bee decline, farmers are forced by demand to scrape together as many healthy hives as they can, from wherever they can, to pollinate their crops.

The Bookstore

In the late 1980s I visited a bookstore in San Francisco, entering the shop by descending a number of steps that sonically separated it from the street. Like any small library or bookstore that has well-stocked floor to ceiling shelves, the sound environment in the store tightened up in a warm embrace as the patchwork of soft paper spines absorbed the reflections in the room. As I wandered the stacks, I gradually became aware of faint rhythmic sounds at the fringes of my attention, like the distant tink-tunk-tank of plumbing as it travels to your ear from some other part of a building. After some time listening and marveling at its musicality, I asked the shop clerk if he knew what that sound was. “Sure” he said “It’s the band Zoviet France” I was shocked. I had been listening to this band for years! What was it about this location that so altered my perception and my ability to correctly understand what I was hearing? This event has always stayed with me – particularly as I consider, through my studio work and research, the fallibility of our human perception and our often misguided compulsion to interpret the world through a human sensory lens. It made me wonder: what other things am I missing? Scorched Honey Archive links this mishearing, or perceptual negligence, to the plight of the honey bee. It is so easy to ignore these fuzzy little creatures as they fizzle out, and yet our own existence is literally tied to theirs.”

– John Roach

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