Juan William Chávez began his decade-long interspecies collaboration with bees at the former site of Pruitt-Igoe in North St. Louis. Drawing parallels between colony collapse disorder and issues facing shrinking cities, like environmental racism and housing segregation, Chávez’s social practice models ways to reorient perceptions of places perceived to be vacant.
For Counterpublic 2023, Decolonizing the Hive: Native Bee Stewardship Network builds upon Chávez’s relationships with bees and North St. Louis’s histories by expanding prevailing assumptions of conservation. At his Northside Workshop, a chemical-free native plant garden invites native bees to thrive on their own terms. Sculptural interventions made from disassembled honeybee hives provide ample places for native bees to burrow while a variety of pollinator habitats provide different types of native bees the opportunity to feast. Walking paths and sitting areas create spaces for people to be with bees and reorient their relationship to fear. By materializing the presence of bees, the project invites visitors and participants to reexamine their assumptions about vacancy while highlighting the mechanisms of dispossession and intentional property blighting at work throughout the city.
Visitors to the Northside Workshop's (NSW) newly designed Native Bee Sanctuary and chemical free-teaching garden will meet artist Juan William Chávez and master garden Kiersten Torrez to learn more about the Native Bee Stewardship Network and how to advocate and support native bees through self-expression, environmental stewardship, and community building.
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