UK Pavilion 2015: Swarm Animation

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Squint/Opera recently completed a collaboration with artist Wolfgang Buttress to create a series of digital installations and integrated graphic applications for the UK pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015, Italy, which opened 1 May. The behaviour and living environment of bees, and the important role they play as part of the global ecosystem, are at the heart of this spectacular pavilion.

The overarching concept was to show swarms of bees with intricate details that come in to focus as visitors get closer. This process of discovery has been applied to every aspect of the visitor journey from the etched wooden and corten information points to the small intimate screens located around the orchard showing playful animations of bees.

At the early stage of the project Squint/Opera applied a graphic identity to a host of potential products; stationery, textiles, products, menus and digital applications. Although not all part of the brief or final deliverables, this process tested the robustness of the concept and its ability to provide a consistent experience as the design evolved. It also fed back into other aspects of the design, generating new ideas elsewhere.

At concept stage Squint/Opera explored the idea of using tiny glass flowers containing a speaker, small screen, a vibration device and a magnified preserved honey bee.

To minimise the impact on the natural beauty of the orchard the animations were displayed on small intimate screens viewed through perforations in the timber walls. The animations follow the journey of a bee through the orchard and help to guide visitors through the pavilion.

Bees communicate through vibrations rather than sound and to mimic this, Squint/Opera designed a bespoke bone conduction device: the visitor places one end of a small stick into the device and bites down on the other. Interpolated recordings of the bees communicating are conducted through vibrations directly from the stick to the visitor’s inner ear.