Lily Hunter Green is an English musician and visual artist whose highly conceptual works are inspired by sounds, places, and even the smallest of creatures, like bees. Cultivating Culture first discovered Green’s incredible musical compositions in a newly funded Kickstarter Campaign for her project, “Bee-Composed,” in which the artist will transform a decomposing piano into a fully functional beehive. “Bee-Composed” was conceived as a way to record the sounds of the bees in their musical capsule, and to raise awareness about the contemporary plight of bees and very real possibility of their extinction.
We recently had the chance to ask Green a few questions about “Bee-Composed,” where she draws her inspiration from as an artist, and what other projects and exhibitions she is working on. Keep reading for more on this incredible multidisciplinary artist.
Cultivating Culture: “Bee-Composed” merges music, sculpture, a socially conscious concept, nature, and an ethical responsibility to preserve the bee population. The combination of these things has rendered an extraordinary result – how did you even begin to conceptualize such a project? What was your biggest inspiration?
Lily Hunter Green: When I was ten my godfather gave me a beautiful new piano. This prompted me to ask my parents if I could put my old piano – which couldn’t be tuned – in the garden so that I can play along with nature! I vividly remember us all wheeling it outside and myself sitting down and playing on it. Over the years I became quite obsessed with the structure of the instrument, its form. I watched it metamorphose into something new, into a piece of visual art.
About ten years later when I was studying Music and Visual Art at the University of Brighton I decided to exhibit my ‘decomposing’ piano for my second year show. I composed a piece of improvisational classical piano, and then ‘decomposed’ it by pulling notes out of the melody along the way to leave the piece of music with one note. I then installed speakers in my ‘decomposing’ piano and played my composition through the soundboard. The piece ‘Decomposed’ was selected by the Brighton International Festival and was exhibited at the Brighton Dome in 2012. That was the starting point really. Ever since then I have been fascinated by the metaphoric nature of the piano.
In terms of the bees – I grew up in the Suffolk countryside and have always been very aware of bees and particularly the intriguing range of noises they can make. However, it was only after I’d watched a documentary on bees and the threat to their environment that I became completely compelled by them and began to appreciate the potential acoustics of the man made beehives. It was then that I started to think about converting my next piano “Bee Composed” into a beehive, which would both harvest the sounds of the bees interacting with the strings and the frame for my next series of compositions while also raising awareness about the threat to the bees.
The piano is without a doubt my greatest inspiration – both audibly and visually. It is a creative platform that I feel has endless possibilities.
CC: Do you prefer composing music to creating visual art or vice versa? Which medium offers the most inspiration to you, and do either have limitations that you are forced to struggle against?
LHG: At the moment the two mediums are intrinsically interwoven in my work. I don’t really see them as separate entities, as such, but rather as an integration of music within visual landscapes. They compliment each other perfectly. I couldn’t, for example, say that I prioritize one over the other. It just doesn’t work like that. Or rather I don’t work like that. I write my compositions with my visuals in mind. However, if it came down to which medium really defines me as both a person and an artist, it would have to be the music.
CC: Before “Bee-Composed,” had you created other similar socially conscious works of art? Do you have plans to create more works like this in the future?
LHG: As I’m still very early in my career I’ve only created one other socially conscious work of art, my installation “A12.” “A12” was a surround sound installation that I designed to bridge the gap between the urban and the rural. I worked closely with two communities at either end of the A12, the road that connects East London with Suffolk on the east coast of England. The principal objective of this piece was to animate and investigate the similarities and differences between two very diverse communities, which though only 80 miles apart, are culturally world’s apart. My intimate connections with both communities provided the major catalyst for this exploration.
I’m currently working on another piece of work, “Dreaming Tracks,” which represents a natural evolution from “A12.” “Dreaming Tracks” involves a re-imagining of the diverse ‘voices’ of two very different Australian communities, the indigenous community and the non-indigenous communities, via a series of natural and authentic oral recordings and staged spoken word or spoken song performances. The aim of this piece is to mutate these two diverse cultures and provoke a discordant harmony with multiple layers of sound that identify a new unifying national conversation. Again, having spent much of my early childhood in Australia, I am very interested in that conversation.
CC: You’re soon going to be exhibiting at the SNAP festival in Suffolk, England. Could you elaborate more on this?
LHG: Contemporary UK artists Sarah Lucas and Abigail Lane launched SNAP in 2011 as part of the International Aldeburgh Festival visual arts programme.
“Bee Composed” is an audio-visual installation. Basically, it involves two pianos: Piano 1 and Piano 2. Piano 1 has been converted into a working beehive located at a local farm shop from which I am in the process of harvesting my sounds and visuals for Piano 2. Piano 2, which will be exhibited at SNAP, is a simulation of Piano 1, and will include a series of piano compositions that I have composed using the harvested bee acoustics. Running alongside to this there will be a series of real-time and recorded projections located within a peep-hole in the piano, which will give people a window into the world of the bees.
CC: Now that your Kickstarter campaign has ended, you must be well underway with the completion of “Bee-Composed.” What is the status of the project? Will “Bee-Composed” evolve over time or do you have plans to expand upon it?
LHG: It’s still very much a work in progress. The bees are due to take up residence in early May – the optimum time for setting up a new hive – so it’s fingers-crossed that they’ll approve of the new arrangements. I’m working with a professional apiarist and once they are installed we will be visiting them every day to harvest the sounds and visuals. I can’t wait to get started although I’ve been told that once we get going I can expect to be stung at least once a week. Given the experimental nature of the project, it will definitely evolve over time. Of course, I’d love to exhibit my piano hives in multiple locations, particularly in an urban setting.
CC: Is there anything else you’d like to share about “Bee-Composed,” your other past work, or any future projects you have planned?
Part of the project involves running workshops with local schools. I’m really excited about this element. During the workshops the children will plant bee-friendly flower seeds in pots that I will then place around my installation at SNAP. I desperately want to spread the word about the declining population of the bees. This seems the perfect place to start.
Learn more about the artist and her past work by visiting her official website, lilyhuntergreen.com.
*Images used with permission from the artist, Lily Hunter Green.