Here are some creative ways naturalists are using the arts to tell us about the Birds & the Bees — and by extension, to educate and engage citizens with pressing environmental issues in innovative new ways. The Audubon Society is a paradigm of birder boosterism, but in recent years they’ve gotten really creative with their interdisciplinary storytelling. Their Mapping Migraciones project traced the migratory routes of species common to the Americas, overlaying these lessons with individual lived experiences of human immigration from those same regions. For several years they produced The Illustrated Aviary, since expanded into a broader interdisciplinary arts-based education platform. And now they’ve launched an online music series blending field recordings with a range of spoken word and compositions by contemporary musicians like Beck and Nick Cave.
Closer to home and in person, a mystical dance-based musical production this weekend at the Broad Stage uses Sufi poetry, framing birds as metaphors for the journey of the soul; and the Natural History Museum’s Butterfly Pavilion (If you think about it, butterflies are kind of like a cross between a bird and a bee… that counts, right?) lets you enter their kaleidoscopic magical world. For those who like their apiary adventures with a side of cheerful feminist surrealism, the bee-forward spiritual center College of the Melissae has launched a video podcast series that you kind of just have to experience to believe. There are even bees at legendary international art festival Documenta!
The (Illustrated) Aviary.
The Aviary is an evolution of The Illustrated Aviary, which ran from 2013-2021, in which artists reinterpreted Audubon’s iconic ornithological paintings through their own eclectic styles. From pop art to expressionism, vintage-inspired illustration and found-object assemblage, contemporary folk and urban, street and Lowbrow, this series was anything but staid. Originally gracing the back covers of the printed magazines, the online archive also includes stories and interviews with the artists about why they chose their bird species, along with facts about the species and recordings of their calls and songs. Now simply The Aviary, the series is expanded to include other disciplines than the strictly visual, such as social practice, video and performance. audubon.org/the-aviary.
For the Birds: The Birdsong Project.
A surprising, haunting, ethereal, and obsession-worthy musical collaboration gathering hundreds of voices — musicians, actors, writers and artists — to celebrate the beauty of birdsong and highlight the plight of so many species of our feathered friends. Produced by lauded music supervisor Randall Poster, the five-volume series is free to stream on Spotify, but there’s also a limited-edition LP box set. Figures involved in Volume 1 alone include Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Beck, Danielle Haim, Mark Ronson, Jelani Cobb, Beach House, Terry Riley, Jack Kornfeld, Kurt Vile, Jarvis Cocker, Haden Triplets, Karen O, Tilda Swinton, Nick Rhodes & Wendy Bevan, Yo-Yo Ma, and hundreds more. Volumes II, III, IV and V will be released over the summer months. audubon.org/birdsong-project.
Resonance Collective: Conference of the Birds.
An oratorio based on Sufi mystic poet Attar’s beloved text about the journey of the soul, this epic narrative distills the core tenets of the Sufi spiritual path and philosophy, using birds as a metaphor for the Sufi journey in a series of poignant, evocative, emotional vignettes. The story follows the birds of the world on a search for their divine, mythic king, exposing the broader pitfalls and yearnings of the spiritual journey, and emphasizing the shared values between spiritual traditions, between humans, and indeed between all life on Earth. At the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, June 18-June 19; $35-$60; thebroadstage.org.
College of the Melissae’s Bees in Space.
From the learned apiculture faculty of this unique, organic institution best known for seminars and practices that combine practical beekeeping with a decidedly spiritual quest for bee goddess wisdom, comes a buzzy new video podcast that takes a rather mind-blowing turn in the center’s outreach. They’re three episodes in, and this meaningful, madcap adventure is just getting started. In Episode One, begin your journey by meeting your hosts and then a goddess in meteorite form. Episode Two visits the ancient Turkish city of Catal Huyuk, landing around 9,000 years ago to encounter leopard dancers, a volcano, hallucinogenic honey, and the mother bee goddess, Kybele. Episode Three picks up the meteorite thread as the fuller picture of the Appian presence on earth and this contemporary vision quest begins to come into focus. Watch free at collegeofthemelissae.com and on YouTube.
Ambeesadors at Documenta 15.
Beginning June 19, the arts-forward beekeeping collective will play a recurring moderator role during European contemporary art destination Documenta 15 in Kassel, Germany. As part of the BeeDAO project at the section helmed by Berlin-based ZK/U — a production site, artist/research-residency, and program platform supporting an organization of human and nonhuman agents that allows for interspecies democracy, wealth sharing, knowledge creation, and somehow also cryptocurrency. They’ll explore what a future based on human-nonhuman cooperation looks like via an art project whereby bees self-determine (with human help) their “value” based on health and environmental indicators. During Documenta, BeeDAO assemblies will happen on the site in Ruruhaus; afterward they will happen both online and in the field. instagram.com/ambeessadors.
Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion.
A swarm of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope — and that’s just what they have going on over at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. The beloved annual tradition has returned in a truly immersive experience offering everyone access to a bit of childlike wonder, walking among hundreds of butterflies and caterpillars of at least 30 different species, inhabiting a sunny proliferation of seasonal native plants and blossoms, abundant fresh air, natural light, and the stuff of fairytales. Alive in Exposition Park through Sept. 5; $8; nhm.org.