Diary of a Visit to the Mysterious Opening of Terence Koh’s ‘Bee Chapel’
The artist never appeared.
The artist Terence Koh can be seen here, hiding behind a magnifying glass, one of the many that are hanging in the installation in the front room of his show, “Bee Chapel,” which opened at Andrew Edlin gallery on Saturday May 21.
Koh wasn’t with the group that assembled at First Avenue and First Street for the scheduled march, which was to end at the gallery at 212 Bowery. “He’ll be at the gallery,” a young woman promised, breezily. We were all supposed to carry a sign that had “NOW” written on it but I had forgotten, so I picked up a card on the street. It was an invitation to an art event—of course it would be, with the galleries budding as swiftly around here as the restaurant supply stores are wilting. I scribbled NOW on it as we set off.
We were a decently-sized group but you can’t see it from this pic. At first I thought that the figure prone on the bier might be a disguised and helmeted Koh. But, no, the hands were waxen, lifeless. I thought of the coffin marched by the Diggers through San Francisco’ Haight Ashbury in October 1967 for another ceremony: The Death of Hippie … Devoted Son of Mass Media and wished Koh better luck.
Stacy Engman—chief curator of contemporary art at the National Arts Club, and a connector of art and fashion—was loving everything. “So many familiar faces,” she said. And upon exiting the Bee Chapel, “Terence never ceases to amaze.”
“Leave your signs here” we were told when we reached the gallery. You will observe that certain individuals had devoted time and ingenuity to those signs so I scrunched my card quickly into my pocket. The group outside included Jim Toth, the great sound engineer, who had worked such luminous clubs as Harrah, the Peppermint Lounge, and Danceteria.
For some reason the event surfaced the subject of social media. “I have never done social media,” Carlo McCormick, the writer, told me. I was/am maybe over-impressed by this.
Outside I chatted of this and that with people. Andrew Edlin showed me a photograph of Koh’s Bee Chapel upstate—which looks identical. And from what Edlin told me, things had gotten underway well before I got there. Here, the trunk of an apple tree is carried into the gallery. Edlin told me that it was a dying tree from an orchard. Death is a theme here. Edlin told me that the idea of building a bee chapel came to Koh in a dream. Hence, this project. Well, Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian were Theosophists and there’s been a strain of mysticism, both serious and wacky, in modern art from the get-go. But the die-off of honeybees is serious. As serious as the death of a star in its way.
This black earth—eighteen cubic yards of topsoil—was delivered by dump truck from New Jersey. It’s a necessary element in Koh’s staging of the event. I call the stuff “earth,” but I noted that certain others were calling it “dirt.” Is this a town versus country thing?
I am assuming this unhappy-looking baby doll was left outside with the signs? Wrongly perhaps? The apple tree was in the front room which was in darkness and strung with fiber optic cables. “We are trying to keep it alive in the gallery by keeping the roots watered,” Edlin said.
One of the Bee Collages in the installation in the front room of the gallery.
Upon reaching the end of a long and patient line I was told to take off my shoes and leave my cellphone. The New Jersey earth/dirt was crumbly, not moist. Ahead of me was a mound, steep but not high, of that same earth, carved into steps. And on top of that was this structure, ivory-colored and shaped like a priest’s hat. That was the Bee Chapel. I climbed the steps and sat on the floor. It smelled agreeably of honey. Back to the darkness where a barely visible woman told me that the Bee Chapel was indeed made from a substance created by bees. Beeswax?
Then two young girls read poetry. This is Willow reading her poem “Happiness” in the room preceding the one with the Bee Chapel. It was bathed in red light and held the dead tree. I couldn’t hear all that well, but no matter, it was a pleasure. Will it save the honey bee? Will it save us? Well, perhaps that isn’t art’s job. And Koh? His parents were there. I heard Koh appeared but I never saw him.
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