Designer Marlène Huissoud’s work for London Design Festival's Legacy project is concerned with longevity – not just of her creation, but of an entire species. By Siobhan Morrin
The Legacy project, set in train by Sir John Sorrell, the chairman of London Design Festival in May, paired a range of emerging and established designers with leaders of London’s cultural institutions to create a piece of furniture using American red oak.
The cultural figures commissioned furniture that had a significance to themselves or their institution and the designers used their own practice to interpret that through the red oak. The full range of pieces – from Jasper Morrison’s bench and table for the V&A’s Tristram Hunt, to Max Lamb’s dressing screen for Maria Balshaw of the Tate – is on display at the V&A until the end of London Design Festival, when they will find new homes with their commissioners and institutions.
Designer Marlène Huissoud collaborated with Sir Ian Blatchford of the Science Museum to create a piece with an eye on a legacy larger than that of one human: her beehive – titled Beehave for its unusual shape – is a statement on the importance of bees to the world’s ecology and references her own work with bees. Huissoud, who sees insects as ‘co-partners in the design process’, is known for her vessels made of propolis, a biodegradable resin that bees create from beewax and their saliva, and which Huissoud manipulates in a similar way to glass. She tells Icon that her concern when creating the Beehave was with ‘creating a habitat that will really work for the bees’ when it finds its new home as part of the Science Museum's new agriculture gallery.
In this case she used red oak from AHEC, a different material than her usual work – yet she retains her own sculptural style using charring of the wood and carving. Here, we found out more about her work on the project, including the reason behind the beehive’s unusual shape.
ICON: This piece is really striking and looks almost animalistic – how did you come up with the shape for this function?
MARLÈNE HUISSOUD: For the “Beehave” piece I wanted to break down the image that we all know of a beehive, the traditional squared box with the honey frames on the inside of the box. I was looking to give a more primitive approach to the brief, to not essentially make a beehive to produce honey but to go back to the roots of beekeeping. Before industrialisation, beehives were found in nature in basic tree logs. I then added to the shaped log some legs, the “Beehave” is definitely alive and is ready to escape the Victoria and Albert Museum at any moment.
ICON: What was the collaborative process like? Given your work relates to bees, was it this that inspired the idea to create a beehive?
MH: Sir Ian Blatchford decided to commission a beehive with his team. London Design Festival proposed me to work on the brief a few months ago as they knew my work and my connection to bees and nature in general. I think we all agreed that it would be a good fit and indeed it was.
ICON: What was your creative process like for creating a beehive? Is it something you've ever done before?
MH: I have a lot of knowledge regarding bees but never designed and never thought about designing one. At first I was a bit scared as it seems difficult to break down the traditional beehive we all know. I investigated the history of bees and was in contact with different beekeepers to guide me to produce a habitat that would really work for the bees.
I didn’t want it to be all about making honey – this piece is about helping bees to live.
ICON: How did you find the experience of working with wood compared to the more unusual materials you usually use?
MH: The process was not so different for me, working with unusual materials, as I’ve rarely worked with wood before. I learnt something new about it at every step of the making. One of the most challenging parts of the project was knowing when to stop. With the angle grinder in my hand I could have carried on carving for hours and hours. It was very hard to say ‘Now it is ready’.
The experience was more than just working with red oak, but also to collaborate with a huge workshop like Benchmark. This experience has made me realise that I would like to collaborate more and more with the design industry.
ICON: Could you tell me a bit about the decision to scorch the red oak and create a tactile surface? How and why did you do this?
MH: I wanted the piece to be as alive as possible. When you look at all the details of the engraved lines, the surface looks almost like fur. It’s a legacy piece and I wanted to connect it as much as possible to a creature that doesn’t have a proper identity but that everybody can relate to. The “Beehave” is also alive by its smell; we varnished the log-shaped hive inside and out with bio resin to say ‘welcome home’ to the bees. The honey bio resin has been applied to the doors of the hive as well and mixed with the leftovers of wood dust to protect the bees from diseases.
ICON: What do you hope for the future of this specific piece?
MH: I hope it can stay as long as possible in the Science Museum, inside or outside. I hope it can create a dialogue between the museum staff and the visitors. I also hope bees can live inside it because it’s very comfortable.