Bees in the age of ecological collapse

    NATURE / Could we survive in a world without pollinators?

    A honeybee queen spends her whole life in darkness, surrounded by sisters. She is fed and taken care of every second of her life. But she doesn’t govern the hive. She is a worker equal to the rest. The honeybees have no boss. They are a superorganism; one altruistic united hive. The invisible life inside the darkness of the hive is mysterious and deeply fascinating. In this documentary, we are invited inside. Amazing footage exposes us to the honeybees’ secrets. With extreme close-ups, we see how honey is made, how the honeybees live, and how they organise life in their hive. The title of the film, «invisible mechanism», also pinpoints that the work the bees are doing for nature, in terms of pollinating; something largely invisible to us. They just do it, but like housekeeping, it becomes very visible if you don’t. If the bees, and the other pollinating insects, stop doing what they do, we will notice it big time. For millions of years, insects have played a crucial part in the mechanisms that move nature, now, they are struggling to survive, and we can’t survive without them. Pollinating by hand, as they do in some parts of China because the widespread use of chemicals has killed all the pollinating insects there, might be a temporary solution for some crops but is in no way a solution worldwide.

    Bees Invisible Mechanism Rubén Casas Oché
    Bees. The Invisible Mechanism, a film by Rubén Casas Oché

    Something to say?

    Back in 2009, I was pregnant and soon to give birth. Tired and heavy, I sat on the veranda one summer morning. I was just about to read the newspaper when a honeybee landed on my hand. The wind moved the leaves slowly in the trees. She sat there for a long time as if she wanted to tell me something. She just sat and sat, and I felt a kind of communication, as one can do with a dog or a cow. You feel it in your bones that they want to make you understand something. What was the honeybee trying to tell me?

    After a long time, she took off and left. I opened the newspaper, and the first thing I read was an article about the massive death and disappearance of honeybees all over the world called Colony Collapse Disorder. This article, combined with the encounter with the honeybee, changed my life, pure and simple. It led me into a series of work that never stopped. I had long wanted to include issues of ecology in my work as a performing artist but had not been able to figure out how. With the bees as the starting point, I was shown how to do it. Since then, more or less, all of my artistic work has been around issues of ecology. I also became a beekeeper. The colony collapse disorder was a mystery back then. No one seemed to understand why the bees vanished from their hives. Beekeepers could find their hive empty with no dead bees outside the hive even. Nothing. Naturally, it was not a mystery. It was largely due to pesticides. One could have guessed it from the beginning.

    The honeybees have no boss. They are a superorganism; one altruistic united hive.

    Mass extinction

    The bees and other pollinators continue to die. They are a part of the sixth mass extinction. Loss of habitat, drought, climate disruption, pesticides, chemicals in the air, the soil, and the water. It’s a complete mess, and it gets worse and worse. After working with this for so many years, I struggle to find words now. What can one do apart from trying to adapt to the grave situation?

    Bees. The Invisible Mechanism is primarily filmed in Mallorca. In one telling scene, we see how a beekeeper is doing just this, adapting to the situation. In his effort to keep his bees away from chemical agriculture, he needs to drive the hives further and further away from civilisation. As this island is relatively small, finding a place for them gets harder and harder. The photos of the beekeeper in his little van in the big remote mountains in an attempt to save his bees are deeply symbolic. Where can he find a home for his honeybees? How can they survive? How can we manage to survive without them?

    The beekeepers need to adapt in other ways as well. The Asian hornet, which has no natural predator in Europe, is spreading at high speed. Its population is out of control, and as it is quite new in Europe, the native honeybees have not developed the skills to fight this giant insect. In Asturias, in the north of Spain, a beekeeper has migrated his bees more than 300 km to a higher altitude in a national park where the terrible predator has not yet arrived. In these green valleys, there is another giant predator who loves honey, the bear. The boxes are fenced in to keep the bear out. But at least the honeybees are safe from the Asian hornet. But for how long? With some many threats, how long will the honeybees be with us?

    Bees Invisible Mechanism Rubén Casas Oché
    Bees. The Invisible Mechanism, a film by Rubén Casas Oché

    In perfect balance

    Some years ago, it was like an explosion of documentaries about bees so I welcome this one. It does a great job of keeping us up to date on the situation for the honeybees, especially in Spain. It manages to navigate seamlessly between the beauty and magic history and life of the bees and the dangers they are exposed to nowadays. The musical composition seems inspired by classical and historical music. Yet, it feels fresh and contemporary in its expression, balancing perfectly between creating a dynamic flow and more mediative spaces for the film’s narrative.

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