Archiving beehives through the ages, Hives opens the lid on our ancient relationship with the species
Harnessing a “weird toolbox of methods” from archiving to anthropology, Apian tackles one research question: what sort of relationship have humans built with bees?
- Liz Gorny
- 27 May 2022
Before Aladin Borioli began work on Hives, he realised that there wasn’t much information out there on the history of beehives. There are a couple of reasons why, “but the two main ones”, he tells It’s Nice That, are simple enough. Firstly, “hives have always been built with quite fragile material – cow dung, straw, clay and wood – largely curtailing their longevity,” Aladin explains. Secondly, there isn’t much interest in the subject of beehives, by way of research and academia. Pouring over the small, honey-coloured publication Hives, published by RVB Books, it’s near impossible to imagine how this would be the case. Spanning the baffling timeline of Egypt, 2400 B.C.E. to 1852 C.E. – that’s 4,400 years for those not feeling up to doing quick maths today – Hives excavates centuries worth of extraordinary architectural beehive diversity, before hive construction became standardised with the introduction of the far blander box hive in 1852.
If there ever was a passion project, it would be Hives. The academic art publication is part of an ongoing research project, Apian, exploring the relationship between bees and humans, created by Aladin in collaboration with others, like visual anthropologist Ellen Lapper. For Apian, Aladin uses a mixed bag of research and design techniques to explore human-bee relations, diving into subjects like the importance of sound in a beekeeper’s relationship with their hive. His fascination with the subject meant he already had a large archive of images to draw on for Hives, which he would sorely need.
GalleryApian (Aladin Borioli): Hives, 2400 B.C.E. – 1852 C.E. (Copyright © Apian, 2021)
While Hives is small – Aladin states he always knew he wanted to make a book that would fit into a pocket; “a small little yellow book” that's 375 images strong. These images come from a large array of sources; books, beekeeping journals, online archives and, the main source, a beekeeping museum in Switzerland. Like any research area, this history “has many holes,” says Aladin, but this one is particularly littered with potholes. Most obviously, photography is nowhere near as old as a beehive: “even the photographs of old beehives only go back at most 600 years ago,” says Aladin. To solve this challenge, Aladin decided not to order images from oldest to newest. “Instead, I shuffled most images and decided to associate them using other criteria such as design, shapes, colours and usage. This method, I believe [...] was a better way to give an overall idea of how this history could have looked – and doing that not through pure fantasy but by building on existing material and honest research.”
While Aladin’s methodology may not be fantastical, the images it unearths often feel like it. Much of the time, the forms in Hives look more akin to carved sculptures and masked costumes than homes for bees. “As an artist, I was amazed by [the] many, many different structures,” says Aladin. “Obsolete or not, the importance of shape and craftsmanship within this history doesn’t stop to fascinate me.” As a beekeeper himself, when pressed to pick a favourite, Aladin opted for one of the carved mask iterations, like the version gracing the cover – “not to work with as a beekeeper, because it would be a nightmare for me and the bees.” However, he explains: “The importance given to the carved mask to protect bees is just breathtaking and really touching, at least for a beekeeper.”
As Aladin continues to dive into the many new technologies advancing the story of beekeeping – such as the fascinating potential digital sensors pose for hives in the future – we just hope he continues to document his search in publications as unforgettable as this one.
Aladin Borioli: Hives (Copyright © Aladin Borioli / RVB Books, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.