As a child in England who loved to garden, Sarah Hatton became fascinated by bees after learning about the critical role they play in our ecosystem, and resolved to keep her own some day. Now an accomplished visual artist and proud beekeeper, she not only made good on that childhood promise, but is currently battling to save the bee populations of the world from further decline through her Bee Works, a conceptual art series featuring roughly 65,000 dead honeybees.
After years of preparation, Sarah, who is based in Chelsea, Quebec, a small rural community across the river from Ottawa, Canada, started keeping her own bees in 2012. When her hives started to inexplicably collapse, she could no longer ignore the link between neonicotinoid pesticides and the worldwide decline of bee populations.
To offer some perspective on this issue, now considered a global crisis, here’s the backstory as reported by PBS NewsHour in January. “The current decline in bee populations started in the mid 2000s, when beekeepers started noticing large scale losses attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that causes bees to suddenly abandon their hives en masse. The exact cause of CCD is still unknown, but potential explanations range from mites to neurotoxic pesticides.” The article also painted a frighteningly grim picture of the future. “New research from scientists at the University of Vermont and Harvard University demonstrates the devastating impact the continued loss of pollinators like honeybees could have on millions of people in the developing world.”
Based on the urgent need for solutions to the bees’ decline, Sarah was moved to action, and started creating her Bee Works series in 2013. Her tireless mission was, and still is, to raise awareness by evoking a physical and emotional response in people through her conceptual works of art.
“The viewer experiences the vertigo of this lifeless swarm, a dizzying optical illusion that echoes the bees’ loss of ability to navigate due to the toxins locked within the very source of their sustenance.” – Sarah Hatton
There are currently 10 pieces in her Bee Works series, all of which feature thousands of dead honeybees that Sarah has meticulously arranged in what she describes as “mathematical patterns symbolically linked to monoculture crops, such as the Fibonacci spiral found in the seed head of the sunflower.” For Cluster (Flower of Life), Sarah’s latest piece, she placed dead honeybee lined, laboratory-grade petri dishes in an overlapping floral pattern, as honeybees are most attracted to flowers with multiple flower clusters, and rely on their clustering instinct to survive.
Of the labor that goes into her Bee Works, Sarah shared with WYSK, “Each piece had to be completed quickly once I started, and took around 50 hours total.” And of the approximately 65,000 honeybees she’s used in the series, so far, she told us that they initially came from her own beehives that had collapsed. But once word started to spread about what she was doing, her resources expanded exponentially. “Other local beekeepers began to send me their dead bees in support of the message.”
With all of the global purpose that fuels her work for bees, there is one deeply personal and very close to home reason why Sarah continues to do what she does. “I am a big believer in leading by example, and this is an opportunity to pass this knowledge to my daughter, who began beekeeping at age 5.”
All work is copyright Sarah Hatton. Images are published on Women You Should Know with the written permission of the artist. Lead image: Circle 6
Circle 7 in detail
Circle 1 in detail
Circle 2 in detail
Circle 5 in detail
More About Sarah
Sarah Hatton was born in the UK, and raised in Barbados and Canada.
She received her BFA from Queen’s University and her MFA from the University of Calgary, and is the recipient of numerous awards for art and academics.
Her deep interest in human nature, mortality, patterns, and her insatiable curiosity about the natural world are found throughout her paintings and installation work. Her “Bee Works” received international acclaim, balancing artistry with advocacy, and winning the RBC Emerging Artist Award in 2014.
Hatton lives and works in Chelsea, Quebec, one of Canada’s most creative and environmentally-friendly communities.