Bee The Change
Installation artist Mavis Muller leads art projects that send a message for sustainability.
Many 4th of July celebrations were canceled in 2020 due to the Corona Virus. This greatly disappointed a lively swarm of human-sized “buzzing bees” who look forward to fluttering along parade routes as a spectacle to enliven and energize the crowds every 4th of July in Homer, Alaska. So instead, an intimate few put on smiley-face masks and convened with physical distancing to create some creative mischief and spread important messages in a freshly mowed field on the outskirts of town.
Along with their energetic levity, they had some serious thoughts going through their hive-mind and used the national holiday to send a message: “United We Can ‘Bee’ The Change.” The effort was led by installation artist and community art instigator Mavis Muller, and it took place in the grassy field outside her studio-home in Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet watershed, Homer, Alaska.
“I like to refer to this kind of group activity as the art of activism, or ‘artivism’. Using creativity to communicate a message to educate, inspire, and activate,” says Mavis
Part of Mavis’s self appointed job as a community art instigator is to invite others to be physically part of the art. She has accumulated and made enough bee attire to outfit a hive of 40 bees to form a substantial swarm complete with hum buzzing kazoos. The bee fanfare has happily swarmed in many parades and festivals, entertaining onlookers as the bees convey messages printed on their wings.
Why bees? Mavis explains, “Bees have come to symbolize both hard work and reward in perfect harmony, they represent societal collaboration, relentless effort, and victory over the impossible. Bees are pollinators, we humans and the planet need them, life could not be sustained without them as they pollinate 3/4 of our food supply making them the ultimate permaculture experts.
Bees take care of each other, serve many ecological functions, and take care of future generations. The bees in this creative action of art are pollinating ideas for positive change for our survival.”
Mavis further describes this interactive art project, “As we busy bees were flitting about placing the fabric just so on the ground, we wore wings that indicated our intention in response to important issues facing us as humans, as a nation, planet, and entire world. As part of the design, messages appeared on signs to match on our wings. Climate Justice / Bee a Voter. Native rights / Bee Involved. Peace Building / Bee Kind. Gender Equality / Bee Tolerant. Right to Dissent / Bee Proactive. Civil Rights / Bee Vigilant. One World / Bee Love. With support energy of: Bee Safe; Bee Good; Bee Nice; Bee Here Now.”
Some were drawn to the artivist experience because they were craving community connection with intention, like Carly Weir who stated, “When I heard about a physically distanced, safe and meaningful action I buzzed right over. It’s important to remain involved even at this time when gathering in large groups is not safe. My wings ‘BEE Involved’ were placed with the sign ‘Native Rights’. There are so many ways to be involved – making a donation, writing letters to our elected leaders, signing petitions, and even collaborative arts. All of the issues in our design are interrelated. We can’t have climate justice without native rights, or peace building without gender equality, or civil rights without the right to dissent. And we all must be the change we want to see.”
“More than ever before, we need the language of art to communicate our current life situation in a non-threatening way,” says Mavis.
“Our creativity guides us by the compass of our hearts as we navigate through the turbulence of this global awakening to the web of life. We can inspire change and new possibilities, we can influence sustainable solutions, and we can have fun doing it!”
The messages on the wings covered a broad spectrum of guidance for matters of social and planetary concern. Alayne Tetor was interested in the site specific aspect of the art project and wanted to be part of the message. “The breadth and intensity of the issues we face in the world today can feel staggering, but we humans are part of a much bigger holistic collective, like the bees, with the potential for great social awakening and positive change. I placed the sign ‘Climate Justice’ and my wings were ‘BEE a Voter’. I vote for the biodiversity and sustainability that bees represent, to build a society in which all beings can flourish. Our roles and our votes are essential to the health of the Earth at large. To be able to communicate that with art and have fun doing it is the ultimate for me.”
Participant Robin McAllistar has donned a bee outfit a number of times with this swarming spectacle over the years. She commented “It was powerful to be flying with wings that said ‘BEE Proactive’. My matching sign said ‘Right to Dissent,’ which is at the core of our democracy with our right to gather peacefully to express our concerns and ideals. At this time of celebrating independence we need to speak out for all who need a voice, it’s so important. This kind of art is a valid way to express ourselves and be heard.”
Vikki Collier Deadrick also joined in the action and commented, “It felt satisfying to wear my wings that said ‘BEE Tolerant’ because I feel it’s a needed message for the world right now. It’s a broad topic, but when I placed my wings with the sign that read ‘Gender Equality,’ I was addressing freedom of gender identity, and also fair and equal wages for women, which I have been advocating for most of my life in places where I have worked.”
The image was captured using a drone, operated by John Newton who commented, “the drone itself sounded like a bee as it hovered over the workers. Even I was dressed like a bee in a frisky yellow tutu. It was fun and meaningful.”
Mavis, “Queen Bee for the day”, placed her ‘BEE Love’ wings and ‘One World” sign underneath a large panel with the word ‘United’. “This was a significant moment for me, to tie it all together with a reminder that we are all connected with a common destiny that requires love as the root of all social and environmental change. All true positive change requires an open heart.”
The July 4th United We Can ‘Bee’ the Change art demonstration was just one in a long run of creative community events Mavis has spearheaded over the years. Her ‘artivism’ has found multiple avenues for art installations that bolster “human connections and solidarity in protection and defense of what we love.” Her inspiration is sometimes as close as the view through the window of her studio-home. Like in 2015, when two of Shell Oil’s large drilling support vessels anchored
in the Homer, Alaska boat harbor. “I could see three things through my window that day, the red-hulled oil tankers that were on their way north to the Arctic to conduct exploratory off-shore drilling, the rapidly melting Grewingk Glacier, and hundreds of hay bales in the field.” She arranged some of the hay bales to spell “Shell No! / Earth Yes!” which was photographed from an aircraft.
The message Mavis was sending with this art installation was the need to “defend the threatened waters of Alaska’s arctic refuge from potentially destructive oil exploration and drilling. Alaska has already suffered a devastating old spill, I declare no more sacrifice zones to big oil. In the cry for climate justice, and natural biodiversity, we must say, ‘Shell No! Earth Yes!’ ”
Mavis has led numerous interactive, impermanent art projects involving an aerial group photo. Nine of them have taken place at the annual Salmonfest Music Festival in the Cook Inlet of Alaska. These “actions of art” advocated for protection of Alaska’s wild salmon, the water they thrive in, the fisheries. Hundreds of willing participants lay in formation around a large circular design of a salmon offering a different message each year to create a “human mosaic of wild salmon warriors, like using our bodies as our signature on a petition to stop the proposed open-pit Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay. This project is a threat to salmon, to native communities, to Alaska, and a threat to a major part of the food supply for the entire world,” she explains.
“Alaska’s wild salmon are like the ‘canary in the mine’ alerting us to the impact of climate change on the health of our communities and the entire ecosystem. The rise in water temperature is already showing signs of stress in the salmon population in Alaska. It feels critical to prevent further damage to the resource. Enactments like the aerial group photos send a strong message that together we are shaping a fair and just climate future for generations to come.”
Due to the Corona pandemic, Salmonfest 2020 was canceled, so to keep the yearly tradition alive, four mask-faced ‘artivists’ met with Mavis in the grassy field outside her studio-home and created a design out of fabric to send a message getting to the heart of the matter: ‘We All Need Clean Water’. Mavis commented, “This field design is without the usual hundreds of people around it, just blades of grass and hay bales, but the movement to stop the highly controversial proposed Pebble Mine, that could destroy up to 30% of the world’s wild salmon habitat, is still going strong, and we will continue to be vigilant and make our voices heard in every possible way – including through collaborative visual art. Art is communication, and can be used as a powerful tool to shape our future and protect what we love.”