One morning in July this year the city centre of Manchester woke up to an invasion.
No it wasn’t some form of alien threat or menace but an awesome swarm of multi-coloured bees all part of a major art installation – “Bee in the City” that saw 101 large bees and 131 smaller bees on display right across the city and beyond – in libraries, art galleries, shop windows and even in a hospital, all forming a unique art trail.
Working in the city and it being a regular destination for various visits we are used to seeing street art of all shapes, sizes and colours – anyone wandering through the Northern Quarter for example will have to work hard not to see the famous graffiti spots, however the bees were different and on a whole new level to anything else we can remember seeing.
After being trailed for a number of months – giving time for local businesses to sponsor bees and to allow a series of gifted artists to finish final designs the bees arrived literally overnight at the end of July.
The first weekend coincided with our visit to the Manchester Jazz Festival and a couple of nights stayover in the city centre which gave us an early opportunity to take advantage of a glorious summer evening (remember those?) to have a wander around some of the bees on display across the squares in the city centre. It was clear then that the bees were causing a real buzz of excitement (couldn’t resist that) with dozens of people all taking photos and a corresponding boom on Instagram and Twitter of all sorts of images of the city’s latest residents.
There were apps and maps and all sorts of ways that people celebrated the bees with some very creative photos and some straightforward selfies too.
With holidays and other things we didn’t get as much time as we wanted to get in all of the bees so we topped up our photos over a series of visits.
With them creating such a level of interest it was difficult to come up with something different taking advantage of some outstanding artwork and some great and not-so-great positioning. It was also great to do a bit of reading up into the artists and designers and also look at how the various designs wove in the city – it’s landmarks, people, sport, music, history and culture.
There’s no doubt many people first registered the bee as synonymous with Manchester following the tragic events in May 2017. However the history of the bee and Manchester goes further back than that – way back to 1842 when it was first officially incorporated into the coat of arms and represented formally for the first time the industrious and collaborative nature of Manchester, its workers and entrepreneurs, in kick-starting and promoting the Industrial Revolution. Since then it’s become part of the city’s DNA and it’s a fitting symbol for the resilience of the city too – something that has been tested over the years.
So altogether a great subject for a massive art installation and also one that offered a myriad of different designs and ingenious creativity. Some were ornate, some made you think, some seemed alive but each one had it’s own personality and characteristics – almost impossible you may think but it just worked.
Like all good things though everything comes to an end, well sort of.
On 23rd September the bees disappeared overnight as quickly as they had appeared. The next time they’ll be on show will be in October when they’ll be auctioned off for charity and they’ll all be together at the Velodrome (or should that be Velodrone?) for one last time. The community sponsored ones such as the LGBTQ+ Queen Bee will stay in situ and the smaller bees will all go back to the schools and organisations that designed them.
The Summer of 2018 will be remembered for all sorts of things – the weather, the world cup, moorland fires, but I’m sure for many people it will be the year they remember that the bees came to the city for a unique two months of accessible public art representing the very best of the past, present and future of Manchester.
To everyone connected with this – thank you!
Life and other