MFA Interdisciplinary Studies

An interactive installation of collaboration

“Stop looking for the honey and become the bee”  – Martin Shaw


Bees use pollen to feed the colony, specifically the baby bees.


The sun warms the hive and creates flowers.


Bees use water to cool the hive and make honey.


The ebb and flow of the life cycle of a colony.


This project investigates theories and applications of non-zero-sum games. It will examine this through the relationship of control and chaos between the nature of humans and non-humans. The research will result in a research paper and an interactive Interdisciplinary installation as my final MFA graduate project.


My goal is to investigate and manifest a project that explores the cycle of life and the decisions and compromises made within the framework of a collaborative storytelling experience using technological devices. Through this experience, players will get a sense of the unnatural conflict that arises when attempting to control the chaotic wild.

At its most basic, non-zero-sum games are situations in which the benefit of an ‘other’ is not necessarily to the detriment of one’s self. The opposite, more traditionally popular, is the zero-sum game, where I win because you lose – ex. Checkers, Poker, Boxing, online shooting games. This project features a phase of data collection as players interact and leave their mark in a system where collaboration is key. The research in this project may shed light on how it could be possible to develop a new perspective on society, one that finds it a worthy goal to promote empathy and collaboration, in the hopes of creating a better world for human and non-humans alike.

Intent for final project

The basic idea of a non-zero-sum game is that it evokes and promotes cooperation through beneficial results. The essence of a ‘game’ is that it is competitive, but unlike popular sports game, non-zero-sum games involve both cooperative and competitive components, being likened to the arms race between USA and USSR.


In a research paper entitled, “Motivational determinants of choice in Chicken and Prisoner’s Dilemma”, the researchers built upon the basic study by including trackable variables in the equation. The data collection could be analyzed and compared, creating new knowledge. My study continues in this vein by studying the effects of the non-zero-sum game in a multiplayer, ever-evolving and manipulatable system.

I plan to develop and present an interdisciplinary installation featuring interaction between physical elements that are tracked within a gallery space and video feeds that are projected on the surrounding walls. Using an in-depth study of game theory, through the installation I shall investigate the manner in which players interact within a non-zero-sum system set of rules – guiding decisions for two entities who come at issues from often opposing perspectives – a colony of honey bees, and a beekeeper.

Very directly – gallery visitors who interact with the art/system, or ‘players’ as I will refer to them as, will have the opportunity to affect the overall mood and story being told by the art by manipulating physical structures and digital systems. The story is about the collaboration or the combat/conflict between a colony of bees and a beekeeper. – ex. tiny handmade honey bee models – and digital systems – ex. keyboard and mouse or gamepad. A user, or multiple users, may provide input through these two means. The video projection output is affected by that input. I think of this as a collaborative, ever-changing story.

Technically, the input by the player will come in at least two forms. One way for data to be collected will be in the trackable, physical objects (bee models). Technology such as electromagnetic fields and Radio-frequency Identification, or RFID, chips and the corresponding sensors can be used to calculate general area possibilities for many small objects. This type of technology is becoming more common, and is now found is larger cities in the form of self-serve convenience stores, which track items and only let customers leave once items are paid for. I believe a familiarity with tracking devices in systems like GPS in cell phones, Google Maps, and VR gaming will garner interest and invite players to partake in something familiar yet new and not common in an art piece. Another trackable technology often used by visual artists is the Microsoft Kinect camera device. This play with technology, especially as an attractant to gather players is a consideration as research continues into data collection ethics and common practices. I believe the invitation here to move simple items that are, in fact, part of a larger technological network is ripe with audience draw and theoretical discovery – further investigation is needed.

The second way for players to input data is through a mouse and keyboard in the center of the installation. This will be the familiar computer console with friendly and inviting icons and interface, embedded into a human-made natural environment. The computer itself will be built into a wooden beehive, while the overarching mise-en-scène will be promoting a natural, within-the-beehive feeling. The natural auditory and visual sensory information will be in contradiction with the technological devices present, such as the computer console. Contradictions like this strengthen the contrast between what nature provides and what humans make. This draws parallels to the thematic investigation of human control over nature. In this strange brew of computer and hive, players will be able to view some elements of the data – such as the quantitative data involving allocations of bees – and they will be able to make some choices for the beekeeper element to the narrative. For example, this is where players will be able to select what type of disease control to use on the virtual beehives: cheap unnatural chemicals, or expensive organic. This represents how many of our modern decisions in our own lives are chosen through computer interaction: banking, researching, relationships – so in the same way players will operate as beekeeper in this very virtual/computer process.

Honey Bees (by Berny Hi)

Bee drinking from Buddha statue

Frame of honey, syrup, and pollen.


Different colours of pollen. (useful for colour palette)

The Story

I envision a hexagonally-shaped environment in which the piece will exist. On each wall, a projection is looping – of bees, trees, grass, flowers, thunder storms, blowing leaves, rain, day, night. The looping narrative will function as the life cycle of a colony and the players will be able to affect which storyline is looped and in which order. The geometric shape of the space ties nicely to the very literal natural environment for the bees, who are born into a hexagonal world, because of the very physical structure of their bodies. Their place of birth, their home, their nursery, their pantry are all hexagons. These multi-use rooms or ‘areas’ are constructed from wax that extrudes from their very bodies, so the connection is beyond simple geometry. This is in contrast to the way humans have traditionally made living structures, which are most often rectangles due to it being the seemingly-least wasteful shape of structure to build. Further investigation will be pursued in terms of additional symbology or mythology surrounding the hexagon as well as is there might be anything structural to learn about the use of this shape in everyday human life. In a tightly-packed human population, could there be benefits to create hexagonal living structures?

In each of the six corners of this installation there will be a station where players can interact with the system – food, water, sun, death, defense, and flight. An additional control device will be in a station at the very center of the room – an actual bee house (minus the bees) with a monitor, keyboard and mouse installed as part of the hive box. These stations will track the input data and the system as a whole will respond with a shift in the projections. As an example, let’s say that the system is running, looping a story of a hive that is doing well within the larger context of a death/birth cycle. A player may influence the loop by changing some of the input. One way data is input is with physical bee models that are tracked within the space. A player may take a bee from one station and place it, say, in the flower section. This change in a parameter (how many bees in the flower section), in turn, makes for more nectar in the colony, more nutrients. On the walls the projection shifts to a loop that features more bees. There may be long distance implications, though, for such a change. Perhaps the bee population gets inflated beyond sustainable and therefore the loop now tells the story of a boom/bust colony. This will reinforce verisimilitude, or truthlikeness, for the players. That this is a dynamic, real world and players actions have consequences.

Interactions with the system by an outside force, in most cases this is the gallery visitor, make their mark on the story, the history as it were, which affects the looping moving forward. In the example above, the bee colony may (without influence from the randomly generated ‘natural’ inputs, such as storms) continue in quick boom/bust populations until a player changes some element – perhaps move the bee from the flowers over to the ‘death’ area. The chance of internal random acts affecting the system – in this example, perhaps once a day a storm rolls through and leaves its mark on the loop. The cyclical nature of life is represented here in these loops and randomness. It is like the symbol of the ouroboros, where the snake eats its tail. I will be drawing on ancient symbols like this to bolster the richness of visuals.

A Question Raised

The first phase of the project involves writing the various stories that can be interwoven, meanwhile attempting to query the ‘perspective’ of a honey bee, since they are the sister storyline available. The stories, or narratives, here will be told through the video loops and graphical feedback to the players. For example, one pathway that the narrative can take – based on random elements and player input – is that the overall system (ie. both colony and beekeeper) are successful in their goals. The visual and auditory elements that are evoked in this instance must inform the players and observers that this is indeed the case, the system is successful, congratulations!

Other areas of pre-production that fall more closely in line with the Owen/Sawchuk framework of “research-for-creation” involves a multi-step process – gather materials, collaborate, and especially research the way a technological system like the one proposed could work – before the real work begins. This will encompass a lot of reading, writing, and learning a little bit in a few new fields – electronics, projection, live-tracking, and Melittology – the study of bees – if not an even deeper read into non-human life.

A small, trial run of the project is planned for the fall of 2019. The 2019 summer involves the creative capturing/filming of a beehive in a number of different stages and activity, it involves painting next to the hive in the summer hum of busy worker bees. This practise-based research project, then, employs methods from filmmaking, beekeeping, visual art, collaborative storytelling and game design.

The results of the research-from-creation (the trial run) will feed into an added layer for the final installation and research conclusions. In this way, this art piece/system is a method by which players can interact across multiple iterations, becoming a core element in the actual evolution of the piece. The cyclical nature of this project is evident here, which parallels the looping life cycle of the colony within the game/art, as the installation reaches further than just the conclusions of the research-for-creation. As Owen, Sawchuk, and Chapman point out, collaboration will be used as a powerful component of this phase. Collaboration here will come in the form of the trial run player feedback, and collaboration with other key artists who may assist in any of the phases, whether through practical production such as RFID tags or Arduino boards, or through mentorship and artistic collaborations.

When a colleague questioned the idea of whether humans could understand the perspective of a bee, a non-human, it led down an eye-opening research path. I was suddenly confronted with a few surprising paths of questioning, but it also brought to light historical investigations into deep, spiritual and psychological connections between humans and bees. I was drawn to wanting to know more about the ancient symbology and rituals within the milieu of beekeeping. This aligns with one of my MFA goals, which is to develop a visual language, or set of symbols, to add to my creative toolbox.

There are many investigations and questioning in the field of animal husbandry that I need to be aware of. This includes such approaches as the very industrial view of beekeeping – where most honey comes from – and some of the approaches that look at queries around beekeeping through a feminist lens. Although I will be approaching the subject matter from a different trajectory, there may be interesting tie-ins present.

Another question that I feel needs to be addressed is the use of technology in the project. What purpose does it serve? Can that be achieved in a more natural and perhaps chaotic system? What is being conversed in my use of technology? These questions become rich inquiries, especially as I dive deeper into my own spiritual connection with bees.

Entering the Hive

Colony Shakra (by Berny Hi)

Prisoner’s Dilemma

The critical research paper will feed the understanding and knowledge of game theory to guide the project. This will help best identify areas in which questions still exist in terms of non-zero sum multiplayer games and their implications on how society works collaboratively. I will research a variety of subsections of game theory, such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma – in which gains by one entity do not necessarily equal losses by another – that the goal of the game does not have to be finite – that there is the possibility of success through imbalance and chaos. My hope is that this may provide a link to influences of Jungian analytical psychology and the discussion surrounding the development of Anima and Animus – as each entity (colony and beekeeper) in my project represents a part of the personal psyche of humans. It will be interesting to discover how to use both light and dark aspects of the unconscious that Jung warns of to enhance the goal of the piece. Segments of Jung’s theory of collective unconscious and its unveiling of instincts and archetypes will be tapped for working within the honey bee colony segment of the installation. In this way, the interaction between keeper and colony is filtered through an analysis of Jungian psychology – the beekeeper playing the part of the ego, the colony representing the collective unconscious.

Just recently, I have discovered ancient writings detailing an oral tradition passed on from beekeeper to beekeeper. In one particular tome, a sketch of symbols and shapes is present along with the description that it is a magic spell for beekeepers to use on bees. It is a charm to settle a swarm. It reads,

“In case of a swarm, take earth, throw it down with your right hand under your right foot and say: “I catch it under foot; I have it. Listen! Earth has power against all kinds of beings and against malice and against jealousy and against the mickle tongue of man.” And throw sand over the bees when they swarm and say: “Alight, victorious women, settle to earth! Never fly wild to the woods.”

This is a fascinating discovery that I feel will unlock great potential in terms of a rich tapestry of mythology to draw from. This spells fit interestingly with the Prisoner’s Dilemma because it shows humans attempting to control nature. As Rust says, the spells “Against bees so that they may be safe and in their hearts.”, although it is made clear that safe here means “”saved from sin” – in this case, from the specifically bee-like sin of “flying wild into the woods.””

Pollen Tree (by Berny Hi)

A spell/charm to control a bee swarm.

Honey Bee Highway (by Berny Hi)


This project will culminate in a piece that exists in the liminal spaces of intersection between creative technologies, beekeeping, sculpture, spirituality, video game design, psychology, and philosophy. My plan is to connect with scholars working within these spheres to help illuminate and strengthen a theoretical framework. For example, I am fascinated by the studies of non-human animal philosopher Dr. Herbert Korté at the University of Regina and would benefit from, at least, a short discussion on the differences and similarities between the philosophy of nature and of the human world.

An example of working with non-human animal philosophy in this project can be seen perhaps in the conflict and discussion that users can have when faced with beekeeper decisions. In interest to the honey bee colony, swarming (or “reproduction” in honey bees), would be a boon, but for the beekeeper, this could be disastrous. The user(s) must make philosophical and ethical choices, playing to the interests of both parties. Do they prevent a swarm, hindering the development of the colony? If so, do they prevent it with chemicals or in a more expensive, yet more natural process? If not, what are the long-term consequences for the health of the colony? Does the beekeeper get shut down due to over-swarming – thereby eliminating any chance of a colony surviving – will anything survive or does the whole system collapse? These are just some of the quandaries I would like to evoke with this project.

I will also be working interdisciplinarily by being a beekeeper and artist within the same project, combining them into a new form of expression (for me) through research-creation.

Bees found in ancient manuscript marginalia.

Beehives throughout history, here is a clay hive – omphallos – Oracle at Delphi.

An interesting book.

Method, Methodology, Myth

This project lends itself well to a particular research philosophy – entitled Axiology – that studies judgements about value. Because my question features an investigation into decisions of gallery visitors (or ‘players’) I think it invariably involves personalized judgements about value. This study may be best served through an investigation into the different choices that gallery visitors make – ie. quantitatively accumulating the choices either on a daily basis or per individual. There are many pre-production steps involved as well – gather materials, collaborate, and especially research the way something like this could work. This will encompass a lot of reading, writing, and learning a little bit in a few new fields – electronics, projection, and live-tracking.

A contemporary philosopher and mythologist, Dr. Martin Shaw guides some of the artistic approaches to the narrative that has the opportunity to unfold for the gallery visitors. His lectures indicate that, “Myth is a wild way of telling the truth”, and he encourages artists and creators to find a way to include the wild (chaos described above) that is natural into our cultural products.

“Culture and wildness experienced an artificial separation… myth can create a culture of wildness.” As the Director of the Westcountry School of Myth, Shaw “believes that myth has something vital about the condition of both our lives and the earth.” and that there should be “No more tame language about wild things.” This new perspective may highlight some areas of the research-creation process in which boundaries of the traditions present may be questioned.

My hope is that may lead to unconventional and unique queries that are not often apparent from a human (or tame) perspective. In this sense, I will be using mythology as part of the process, because it will affect the storylines and images available as experience. I believe this is a way of passing on ancient knowledge and wild ideas that are often overshadowed in this technological society. This project, then, serves as a path to reconnect with the very non-human nature whence we came while questioning the challenge and goals associated with conquering natural elements within and without the human experience.


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