Apicula Enigma – Marine Hugonier

BalticArchive 7 contributions

Marine Hugonnier (born Paris, 1969) makes work which studies and deconstructs modes of representation. Her films, photographs, books and installations blur the lines between documentary and fiction and examine the gaze as a cultural construction. At BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, Hugonnier presented her film Apicula Enigma 2013, a documentary essay about a colony of honey bees.


Shot in the Koshuta mountains of Southern Carinthia, Austria, Apicula Enigma follows the journey of the Carnica honey bees native to the region as they collect pollen, produce honey and swarm. As with Hugonnier’s previous films, Apicula Enigma (translated as the ‘bee’s riddle’) draws on a wide range of sources, from historical and literary accounts such as The Life of the Bee 1901 by Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist Maurice Maeterlink, Animal Worlds and the Human World 1934 by German biologist Jakob von Uexküll, to motion pictures and scientific studies of bee behaviour.


The film begins with the artist’s whisper ‘nature doesn’t tell stories’, immediately setting it apart from familiar television nature documentaries. Hugonnier eschews the conventions associated with these documentaries – there is no narrative, staged content or scripted voiceover – instead the film shows the sequence of events as they happened on ‘set’. The artist deliberately exposes the process of production, revealing the camera, sound recording equipment, even the film crew.


Hugonnier considers how the beehive mirrors the world as a whole. Central to this is the idea of the hive as a camera obscura, a compelling metaphor alluded to throughout the course of the film. The artist also draws parallels between the frenzied buzzing of the hive and the rattling mechanics of the 35 mm projector used to present the film. As with the inner workings of the projector, the interior world of the hive always remains hidden, an enigma.

November 23, 2023