Bee Diaspora - a swarm in five movements

‘Bee Diaspora’ is a joint contribution between architect and artistic researcher Dr. Anna Maria Orrù together with poet and sound Artist Morten Søndergaard. This contribution is a reading and a music installation piece prepared into a lecture performance at the international symposium in Lisbon (Festival DME - Days of Electroacoustic Music - November, 2018). The proposal is a philosophical and theoretical depiction of sustainable urban living overlapped into an artistic composition and translation of swarm-intelligence and soundscapes. It is a joint endeavour that traverses and bridges between urban-making, artistic research, ecology, sound art, poetry, and ecology. This proposal is a gesture towards thinking about sustainable movement and collectivity as a poetics of urban relation inherent in assemblage-thinking and swarming. This plurality is a vital component of considering naturecultures and the importance of how to look at sustainable behaviour and relation to nature in cities.[1] After all, environmental concerns and behaviour are collective but they are also a matter of individual behaviour and origination (Tomkins 2012). Both the individual and communal scales rely on one another, especially when it concerns engaged and dynamic bodies in a joint activity of sustainably living together, strengthened by shared movements and behaviour. Hence, this experiment finds modes to inspire and encourage collective forms of action through an artistic approach in which to grasp the problem by using swarm-behaviour as a metaphorical device to think-with.

The term diaspora is an ancient word that refers to people that live outside of their homeland. It brings up connotations associated with spreading out, mobility, sprawling, transition, transformation and temporality. Our definition of diaspora in this proposal looks into the concept of temporality – a temporal home and the sustainable democratic behaviour around being in movement. [2]

In order to develop the concept further and to enter the concept of swarming, we look to honeybees – Apis Mellifera – investigating their behaviour as a collective decision-making process during swarming as our form of inspiration and organic metaphor for ecological behaviour and urban living.[3] Their decision-making comes alight through bodily, face-to-face communication, and orientated goals. Biologist Dr. Thomas Seeley (2010) refers to this as a model for democratic decision-making, one in which a collective behaviour emerges. His research examines collective behaviour in a swarming procedure when a portion of a hive swarms to separate from its parental hive, approximately in five behavioural steps, that could be transferred into urban-making. The procedure is an in-depth look into the communication and relation-making components of a swarm; having a common aim, decentralising power so that there is a multiplicity of possible actions, encouraging individual experience and voices to emerge, fostering dialogue, and reaching consensus and action leading to a shift in behaviour. These five approaches can be inspiration for ecological endeavours in urban-making.[4] We are particularly interested in this moment as we find this process to be an example of democratic sustainable behaviour and use it as an underpinning for our proposed soundpiece.

Our scientific to artistic translation is underpinned by the practice of biomimesis through the use of an organic metaphor using the bees. Organic Metaphors have been used considerably to illustrate human to nature relations. Terms such as ‘Superorganism’ (Girardet 2008, p.108-109) or ‘orgasmic metaphor’ (DeLanda 2006, p. 8) have been devised to describe the relationship of humans to nature in cities and societies. Another key element emerging throughout is urban relation-making. Neither urban space nor relation is static, and both condition one another. They are in a constant dynamic interaction according to a supposed ‘encounter’ with one another. Hence we ask, what occurs when we take this collectively performed task and process, and use it for a poetic approach to understand collective ecological urban behaviours, relations, artistic sound expression and performativity?


a condensation of what is not only free but truly liberated and activated in the sky,

the signature of pure intoxication with living, in a singular and dreamy beat.

(Jean-Christophe Bailly - ‘The Animal Side’ 2011)

The movement of the bees is translated metaphorically into ecological urban-making, communication and decision-making. Something that is needed in terms of reaching 'sustainable culture and cities', the given thematic for the festival. The five behavioural steps are interpreted into the proposed soundpiece which is composed from active bee sounds, taken from our hives and others, and used as a feed into a Korg MS-20 synthesizer.[5] The bee sounds are then modulated and transformed to reflect the swarm’s activity during each step, to develop a composition that mimics this complex swarm-behaviour instance. In the performance Søndergaards poems, together with Orrù’s urban morsels, will blend in with sounds recorded from the bee hives. The bees themselves use sound as a way to communicate, and the beekeeper uses the sound of the bees to understand the state of the hive. The performance will blend words, bee sounds and electro sounds into a swarm in five movements. The bee sounds are taken over a period of a year and a half from 3-4 hives which we have been looking after as beekeepers. Subsequently, the piece also reflects the profound relation that can grow between humans and nature in order to spur a rationality for transformed behaviour towards the environment. This soundpiece is in-process and the sounds will continue to be collected throughout our years looking after the hives. As such, this debut at the festival DME is only a start in the process and a first chapter in an ongoing artistic research development.

Such democratic-creating and organic metaphors can be used to think about our movement and transition to resilient futures that include the use of artistic interventions wherein art plays a critical role in communicating, inspiring, and gathering these directional aims. The study and dialogue around sustainability necessitates more creative approaches, combining art with science, in order to make urban citizens want to participate and take agency for their cities (Orrù 2015). As a diaspora living on a decaying planet, we have to agree where we go to from here. And given the rise in environmental concerns and awareness, we can all agree that we have to go towards an ecological future.


  1. Donna Haraway (2003) refers to human | non-human relations as ‘naturecultures’ in her Companion Species Manifesto which allows us to think through these relationships from a horizontal perspective.
  2. It can also be said that humans place on the planet is temporal, all but a temporal home in which we rest and must therefore look after for future generations.
  3. In early 2017, we became beekeepers of three hives. To our dismay, and luck, one hive swarmed early in the month of May adding to experiential knowledge and a deeper understanding into this organism’s world. For a bee colony, to swarm is an utmost expression of evolutionary success. They bivouacked up in the chestnut tree while hive-hunting for their next residency. And then, they swept away to their new home, continuing their important service to all – pollination.
  4. As an architect, Anna Maria Orru has also written about this swarming process in her PhD (Orrù 2017) to relate the research to further understand the role of resilience, poetics of urban relations to nature (natureculture), assemblage theory, swarming behaviour, biomimesis, vibrant relationscapes and collective imagining that can influence and inspire sustainable urban-making.
  5. Morten Søndergaard breakthrough into the literary works was a book called ’Bees dies Sleeping’ (1998), and bees have been a reoccurring theme in his writing since the beginning. Søndergaard has extensive experience in sound compositions and music, working between the interstices of sound, poetry and words.


Bailly, J.C., (2001). The Animal Side, (C. Porter. trans.). New York, NY: Fordham University Press.

DeLanda, M., (2006). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, London UK: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Girardet, H., (2008). ‘Cities as Eco-Technical Systems’. in Cities People Planet: Urban Development and Climate Change. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Haraway, D., (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness,

Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Orrù, A.M., (2015). ‘Extracting Urban Food Potential: design-based methods for digital and bodily cartography’, Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society, 3(1 Special Issue: Finding Spaces for Productive Cities), pp.48–62. Available at: http://fofj. org/index.php/journal/article/view/147.

Orrù, A.M., (2017). Wild Poethics: Exploring Relational and Embodied Practices in Urban-making. Chalmers University of Technology. Available at:

Seeley, T.D., (2010). Honeybee Democracy, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Søndergaard, M., (1998). Bier dør sovende. Borgens Forlag.

Tomkins, M., (2012). ‘Architecture et al.: Food Gardening as Spatial Co-authorship on London Housing Estates’, in J. S. C. Wiskerke and A. Viljoen, eds. Sustainable Food Planning: Evolving Theory and Practice. Wageningen, NL: Wageningen Academic Publishers, pp. 419–430.