If spending a night with 100,000 bees sounds like a great idea to you, meet Olivier Darné, sculptor and urban beekeeper. Darné’s latest effort to bring together urbanites and their striped friends is the Luneur, a small human-habitation cell equipped with two beehives. Set up at La Villette in Paris’ nineteenth district from June to September 2008, the Luneur accommodated one couple per night for an evening of contemplative cohabitation and buzzing.
For over ten years now, Olivier Darné has been weaving together a particular urban allegory: that of humans, biodiversity, and bees. From his first experimental hive on a Saint Denis rooftop in 1997, to “Pollenizers” and other “bee boxes” placed strategically in Paris and around the Ile de France, Darné’s experiments are designed to prospect the cityscape. He posits that bees can give us information about where we live, like a sort of “urbanometer” that measures population density and biodiversity.
And he’s right. Unlike monofloral honey, produced from one type of flower, Darné collects the bright golden to dark-amber product of millions of industrious city bees who slurp their nectar from a vast multitude of sources. Parks, empty lots, balconies, trees, and terraces spread throughout the urban sphere provide a plethora of plant nectars, which the bees then transform into a rich, complex honey. The end result of all that production is so different from monofloral honeys, in fact, that Darné’s variety has received numerous agricultural awards and has even earned the name miel de voyage, or “traveled” honey.
Organoleptic tests have indeed proven that Darné’s bees produce a worldly variety of honey. Pollen analyses have found that in those tiny golden jars are the traces of exotic flavors, some from as far away as the equator. The diverse immigrant population and the tourists flowing through Saint Denis have become nothing more than vehicles, as far as those bees are concerned: seeds from other regions of the country and of the world are left behind to flower in the interstices of the city. Anyone who unwittingly carries or spreads those seeds contributes to the 300 types of pollen found in Darné’s cosmopolitan honey (monofloral honeys contain only about 30 kinds of pollen). The result? Over 3000 hectares of city are concentrated into a single pot of what Darné calls Miel béton or Concrete honey.
So what really lies between honey and a hard place? It might be the quantity of the sticky stuff produced: from March to October, Darné collects 70 kilos of honey, as compared to the meager 20 kilos harvested from a monofloral production. Or, could what lies between the two be the cultural brassage (or brew) to which the French refer when describing Saint Denis’ population?
Olivier Darné’s Parti Poétique http://www.parti-poetique.org/parti-poetique2.html
New Paris Bohemian http://www.newparisbohemian.com/
video “Nectars urbains” (interview with Olivier Darné) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb8809lZ1K8
Allison Zinder 61, rue Ramus 75020 PARIS France firstname.lastname@example.org
Allison Zinder is a professional chef and teacher based in Paris, where she teaches classic French cooking to young French students beginning their culinary careers (aged 14-18 years old). Allison holds the nationally-recognized CAP chef's diploma, as well as a pastry arts certificate. As a visual artist, Allison has been recognized in France for both black and white as well as color photography, and she has performed at the Flèche d’Or Café with the Plexigirls, an avant-garde performance art group. Allison currently lives in the 20th arrondissement in Paris, and she never uses the word expatriate.
“Pollenizer” at the Centre Pompidou
tasting honey at the Pompidou Center
A jar of Concrete honey; Olivier Darné