Aesthetica Art Prize Reviewed In The Northern Echo

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition is on show at York St Mary’s – York Art Gallery’s contemporary art space until 22 June, presenting the works of eight shortlisted artists spanning media from painting and photography to installation and performance. Winning artist Sybille Neumeyer talks to Steve Pratt from The Northern Echo about her light installation, which was inspired by her desire to save the world’s bees. Read Pratt’s full interview here.

Research while pursuing her interest in natural weather indicators led German artist Sybille Neumeyer working with beekeepers in America. “Suddenly, I really fell in love with this little species and started observing them day-by-day,” she explains, standing in front of her artwork, Song For The Last Queen, at York St Mary’s.

“They inspired me so much that I started researching more about them, and found out they are endangered nowadays. I read about the reasons they were dying and the impact they might have on our eco-system.” The result is a piece featuring 7,613 bees preserved in small individual honey-filled phials that, from a distance, looks like a musical score and on closer inspection is a collapsed bee colony preserved in honey.

The piece won the artist the Main Award in the Aesthetica Art Prize 2014 and a place in the exhibition showcasing the work of the short-listed artists. The prize is organised by York-based Aesthetica Magazine, one of the UK’s largest art publications that is distributed overseas.

Neumeyer is based in Germany, but travels a lot, combining ideas and impressions from her travels with her work. The bees are German bees. After spending time in the US, and meeting many beekeepers, she connected with beekeepers’ clubs in Germany. “I started talking to them about their problems, why bees are dying in Germany and about my experiences in England and the US. Then I found one beekeeper who told me one of his hives had died during the winter, so I took the hive from him and worked with the bees inside.”

The 7,614 bees in Song For The Last Queen represent only an eighth of the colony. Inspiration came from many levels. “It started with the research about the colour of the honey and about how honey is used in our daily lives and in traditions. I got to the point that it’s used as a conservation material for mummifying a king or as a medicine,” she says.

“Slowly, I played with the idea of how to conserve them and how science tries to save things after they are already dead to put them in a museum. The question for me is that we have to save them before they die out.” As she put together the glass phials containing bees in honey, she came to realise it resembled writing or a score. That led her to making three pages of a musical score. Each bee was carefully placed without fixing solution in a phial of honey, the amount one bee can produce in a lifetime.

“It’s a silent score. It’s more about how you can see something, but you cannot hear it. When you approach this piece from far away you will see something very aesthetic and attractive, but the closer you get the more aware you are this is dead material and get this sad feeling. The piece is called Song For The Last Queen, but the queen is already missing, she’s not there.”

Music is also a feature in student prize winner Harriet Lewars’ monumental sculpture Frustum Super Planum Cum Filia Lyrae – a piece where art meets music. Frustums are truncated cones built in metal, which act as a soundboard from which many strings are stretched and can be plucked. Visitors are being encouraged to play the instrument.

There were more entries than ever for the prize, according to Cherie Federico, director of the Aesthetica Art Prize and editor of Aesthetica Magazine “It’s really exciting because of the diversity of the works and the artists themselves, who are coming from New Zealand, Chile, Germany and, obviously, the UK to be at the awards evening.

“With that comes this really outward-looking approach to contemporary art. The pieces in this show are not just about the art, they’re about the messages they give and are very powerful pieces of work. “The concurrent theme running through the works is how they reflect the world today. That’s one of the most powerful things about the exhibition this year – they’re relevant and showing things about the world in which we live today. They inspire you to think and to engage further with them.”

The 3,000 entrants came from further afield, which isn’t surprising as the magazine has a readership of 167,000 in 20 countries. “Because the magazine is spread to such a wide audience, through our Art Prize we’re able to engage with people who not only live in the UK, but in all corners of the world,” she adds.

A series of events including talks, art walks and families activities will run alongside the exhibition, staged in collaboration with York Museums Trust.

“We’re looking to bring these artworks to a wide audience, not solely engage with the art world. We want to introduce these pieces to people who maybe don’t engage that much with other art. We want them to come into the gallery and to enjoy themselves,” says Federico.

To see the feature visit

Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, until 22 June 2014 at York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN. Free Admission, Open Daily 10.00am – 5.00pm

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1. Sybille Neumeyer, Song For The Last Queen (2013). Photo courtesy of Jim Poyner