The Revolt of the Bees, Wherein the Future of the Paper-Hive is Declared

An exhibition proposing a new culture of memory and archiving in the true spirit of the beehive


Fields of Knowledge
  • Curatorial practice
  • Memory
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania


Aaron Levy


Thaddeus Squire, Peregrine Arts


Erica Fruiterman, Michael Zansky

Opens to public



Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
University of Pennsylvania
Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought and the Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce "The Revolt of the Bees, Wherein the Future of the Paper-Hive is Declared," an exhibition from January 7-March 7, 2005. Please note that this exhibition is on display on the 6th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library beginning January 7th, 2005. It is open to the public on Monday-Friday from 9:00am to 4:45pm, and Saturday from Noon to 4:00pm. Information on events organized in conjunction with the exhibition is available online, including: Anthony Grafton on "Literary Honeycombs: Storage and Retrieval of Texts Before Modern Times" (February 17th at 5pm); and a special screening of the film "in which the thinking man finds himself in a gigantic orphanage...", with remarks to follow by Aaron Levy on the making of the film and the curating of the exhibition (February 21th at 5pm).

"The Revolt of the Bees" proposes a new culture of memory and archiving in the true spirit of the beehive. It takes as its starting point the assumption that modern memory is first of all archival, and that the beehive and the paper hive (an archive or library) both fancy themselves utopias in which modern memory is stored up, as honey or as knowledge. The exhibition is comprised of eleven lessons extracted from a larger examination of beehive metaphors in the rare book and manuscript collections of the University of Pennsylvania. These lessons envision the archive of the future as an organization open to the infinite possibilities of its own becoming. "The Revolt of the Bees" also explores theories of curatorial innovation and approaches curatorial practice as an evolving and future-oriented field, prompting questions such as how one might renew or reinvent an archival collection by constructing a new genealogy around a historical concept, and to whom or what a curator is ultimately responsible

Whereas the beehive metaphor continues to influence contemporary cultural practices, this exhibition also features innovative work by twentieth-century architects such as Arakawa+Gins, whose work makes explicit references to the hive, the trans-human, and a Duchampian reconsideration of everyday life. Commencing with the January opening, the exhibition will also feature an installation organized by curator Aaron Levy with artist Michael Zansky that features a decentralized constellation of distortion lenses and theatrical devices within which is playing a video documenting a romantically degraded library in Founder's Hall at Girard College, a magnificent Greek Revival structure of the 19th century. The video explores the idea of a collection in demise at a vulnerable and destructive moment in its history, and invites its audience to imaginatively recreate and reconfigure the history of an archive through contemporary practice.

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"The Revolt of the Bees artfully celebrates a set of images and associated practices that dominated the world of high culture for centuries. It teaches us to imagine with new vividness how early modern playwrights and poets, scholars and scientists, ladies and schoolboys went about the vital task of mastering and using books--at a time when books were the most powerful source of knowledge about life, the universe and everything, and a new way of reading could bring about events as radical as the Protestant Reformation and the English Civil War. This collection of evidence and the imaginative and sometimes subversive way in which it is displayed make a distinctive contribution to the new field of history of books and reading—an interdisciplinary study currently in an explosive phase of expansion."

-- Anthony Grafton

"The hive is a living organism, and the living organism is a metaphor for the American organization, which is both the embodiment of and emblem for contemporary cultural practice. Every hive is constituted of thousands of bees: small organisms of finite lifespan subject to an inexorable cycle of life and death. The hive as a whole, however, provides an architecture for overcoming death by possessing a different sustainability-one wrought through continuous cycles of generational passing and reemergence, for which death is not a consideration. Extending the metaphor of the hive into the cultural realm suggests new and more hopeful visions of the cultural organization. Can we imagine our organizations operating without consideration or fear of fragility and sustainability as they envision their futures?"

-- Aaron Levy and Thaddeus Squire

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Theorists Anthony Grafton, Thomas Keenan and others explore historical metaphors of beehives and a new culture of memory and archiving in this interdisciplinary approach to curatorial and institutional practice.

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