The artist and urban beekeeper Olivier Darné sets up beehives and transforms Paris into a place for gathering nectar. In this insightful interview, he tells us about his career and the initiatives of his association, the “Parti Poétique.” He also explains his two major projects: the Miel Béton, honey produced in Paris, and the Banque du Miel, a temporary meeting and tasting space for the general public. Read on for an encounter with a very atypical artist.
What path had your career taken up to the creation of the Parti Poétique?
I studied art at the School of Applied Arts in Paris, then at the Ecole Estienne, a school for design, communications and professions relating to the art of books, before founding Parti Poétique in 2004. This association brings together an interdisciplinary team of artists, botanists, urban planners, anthropologists, walkers, inhabitants and the curious who use bees to question the lifestyle of city dwellers. Bees are at the heart of our project.
You describe yourself as an artist and urban beekeeper. Could you explain what that means?
I do not come from any beekeeping tradition, but I have always been interested in bees. I had the idea of setting up beehives in Paris to observe their behavior. I find that they reveal the harmful effects of our urban ways. Observing bees is an important key to understanding the world around us.
In what way is a city like Paris a favored place of action for you?
I quickly asked myself questions about city life and with the Parti Poétique, I began to set up beehives to begin what I call “the pollination of the city of Paris.” We have installed numerous beehives more or less everywhere in Paris: on the square in front of the Centre Pompidou, at the Parc de la Villette, at the Porte de Montreuil. Very quickly, we collected the honey produced by our bees and we began to put the Parisian honey into jars. We therefore gave it the name “Miel Béton.” [Editor's note: this translates into "concrete honey."]
What do the Miel Béton projects consist of?
You could say that Miel Béton is 3,000 hectares of the city in a jar of honey. We set up the beehives in Paris, because it is through the behavior of the bees that we examine the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Paris. For us, every one of these beehives is a mini observation center of an area extending over three kilometers, equivalent to the area in which bees collect nectar. With 3 to 4 million bees present all year in the hives on the roof of the Saint-Denis town hall to the north of Paris, we produce around one ton of honey each year. We allocate 200 to 300 kg of honey per year for public tasting sessions that we organize. The analyses of this honey also provide us with information on the composition of the air in Paris. On this point, we have discovered more than 300 different types of pollen in our honey. This perhaps explains the numerous medals that we have won since 2001 at the regional agricultural competition. Each district has its own unique honey whose flavor is linked to the environment and lifestyle of its inhabitants. Finally, I like to think that this Miel Béton is the concentration of geographies and histories of a city put into a jar. This rich and complex urban nectar is the image of the extraordinary mobility of people who live in and visit Paris.
How did you come to create the Banque du Miel project?
With this project of applied research, the Parti Poétique is extending its activity of collecting Paris honey by organizing tastings. During these sessions that we have organized in Paris, Lyon, Seine-Saint-Denis, Geneva and even in Rouen, we share our harvest with the public. These tasting sessions are also the opportunity for dialogue on current themes, such as ecology or even the current economic situation.
To what extent is your project an ecological and sustainable development initiative?
We make public the perilous state of nature, notably by explaining the deterioration of the ecosystem and the progressive disappearance of the bees. With the Banque du Miel, we try to make the public aware of the pressures that man puts on the environment in which he lives. More and more, we observe that city dwellers are becoming disconnected from the physical reality: the earth, the weather, the seasons, etc. In the light of these observations, we try together to find some answers, some solutions less harmful for man and the environment.
You’re currently carrying out a project in the little public garden of la Gare-de-Charonne at Porte de Montreuil. How did this project come about?
The project of the “pollination of Paris” arose from the major urban renewal development plan initiated by the Paris City Council in the Porte de Montreuil district. With the Parti Poétique, we installed urban pollinators, containers developed for man and bees in the public garden of the Gare-de-Charonne in the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2009, we set up a mobile counter for the Banque du Miel which moved between two districts to reveal the rich taste. With the bee as a witness, these installations reveal our relationship go the urban environment, its flow, its social organization, and therefore our attachment to the city. We use the bees to speak about a district and to weave links in places where they may not exist.
What future projects do you have in Paris?
In September, we are launching the project titled “la bourse ou la vie” and we are setting up a Banque du Miel counter in front of the Bourse de Paris. We are going to offer tasting sessions of the Miel Béton. It is a sharing of the bounty. In this way, we let people discover our honey and we organize a little informal discussion around the current economic organization or the ecological situation. In September, we are also invited to appear at the Centre Pompidou in the company of the landscape architect Gilles Clément, in order to present our projects and our initiatives to the public. We also plan to open a venue in Seine-Saint-Denis, which is where I come from and where I am currently working. It would be a base where everyone who is interested in what we do could meet. There would be an exhibition space devoted to table arts and artists in residence. I recently met Yannick Alléno, the chef at the Paris hotel Le Meurice, and he is willing to collaborate on this project.
LE PARTI POÉTIQUE
Tel +33 (0) 1 42 35 84 34
LA BANQUE DU MIEL
Tel +33 (0) 1 42 35 84 34
Where to find Miel Béton?
Centre Pompidou, Paris 4th
Tel +33 (0) 1 44 78 15 78
LIBRAIRIE DU PARC
Parc de la Villette
211 avenue Jean Jaurès, Paris 19th
Tel +33 (0) 1 42 38 37 52