SUTURAexhibit proposal for a cybernetic bee colony suit
Conceived as a cousin of NASA's Apollo suit, Sutura proposes to revisit the philosophy that the closure suit, our era’s foremost technological artifact, be developed from an intimate understanding of our era’s mastery of women's undergarments, cybernetic systems and agriculture.
Sutura is an Earth-based suit that hosts a long-term symbiosis between a human and a colony of bees. Bees are prolific producers of a range of human-friendly (and market-ready) products whose declining populations pose considerable risk to a species dependent on pollinators for survival. Built out of need, Sutura is as much as about emotion bonds as it is about energetic inter-dependencies. Sutura is living cybernetic survivalist haute couture.
Suit TheoryMarc-Antoine Laugier's 1753 allegory of the "rustic cabin" is a classic of architectural theory. It tells the tale of the birth of architecture from Man's raw survivalist need using nature's proto-architectural elements. Naked in nature, man stumbles upon architecture as tree and branch become column, wall and roof. In its historical context, this was a case for Greek Classicism appealing to the purity of an architecture that was essential, not superfluous like the Baroque. While today the debate between the essential and superfluous continues, the invention of closure suits -- the bee suit, the diving suit, the radiation suit, the bio-hazard suit, the volcano suit, the high altitude suit, and the space suit - show that the essential appears superfluous when placed in an extreme environment.
If the rustic cabin, through an appeal to truth via primitive purity, reduces architecture to its one or two fundamentals, the suit, which permits the exploration of unlivable environments, concentrates a true architecture into the immediate space around the messy human body. Within, cybernetics conquer an intimate collision of living and nonliving systems, mobility conquers confinement and a degree of closure conquers a hostile exterior world. The result is a reduced, amplified and concentrated architectural artifact that is equally confining as it is liberating.
The suit allows the human to experience the inaccessible with her body. Whether designed to maintain absolute closure or to facilitate relationships between humans and hazardous entities both living and non-living, the suit goes far beyond the purely functional or technical into the realm of the empathetic and therefore the sublime.
A Story (Ambrosia and Salem)Salem fumbled out the map and held it up to her lamp. She brushed off ants that were licking up dried streaks of honey from its face. The city was supposed to be only ten miles further but the horizon up ahead was just as dark as the desert behind her. The map had never been wrong before.
Between the whirring of the micropumps inside her suit she heard a queen honeybee’s chirp. “You girls sound hungry.” She rubbed the plastic dome-shaped container on her belly. The bees inside hummed loudly. “Yeah, me too. But I think we’re almost there,” she said in the most sincere voice she could muster. “I promise I’ll find you all some nice flowers when we get there. Maybe even some ambrosias!” She laughed. The bees in the brood nest hummed even louder. “But first I have to figure out just where the heck we are. Maybe I’ll wait until the sun comes up and see where you all start flying to. I’m a little turned around.”
She loosened the bee tunnels across her chest-piece and slid the plate off carefully to avoid damaging one of the suit’s softer internal components. The last time she tore open a honey line, it cost her nearly an entire night of rewrapping tubes and cleaning out all the sticky residue from the suit’s machinery. It was a good lesson she would never repeat. She engaged the suit’s joint locks, loosened the back clasps and stepped out like a molting arthropod.
The dry breeze swept up warm sweat from Salem’s newly exposed skin. She hadn’t realized how hot the suit had been. It didn’t make sense that the bees would be generating so much heat on such a mild night. Maybe they had gummed up one of the pumps, she thought. If the friction was bad enough, the pumps could get really hot. She dreaded having to remove all the hive pods and sift through hundreds of coiling tubes and sprawling wires to find it. She’d deal with it all later once the sun was coming back up.
She pried off her boots and plopped herself on the ground. The stars all looked like lit up bees. She reminisced about her previous hives, especially Daisy. She remembered her fondly because of how kind she was. She never stung Salem and anytime there were daisies nearby, all her foragers went to visit them. She was sad to have replaced her but Daisy was having trouble filling up the hive.
Ambrosia, on the other hand, was a stubborn hag. She was already three years old and more ferocious than any other hive that Salem had ever carried. But when flowers were around, no hive was more dependable. Salem’s mother had given Ambrosia to her when she turned sixteen. She got stung a lot that year but eventually learned how Ambrosia liked to be handled. If she worked quickly with that hive, the bees would stay pretty calm, but if she lingered with her hands around the combs, they would let her know.
But flowers were hard to find in the desert. Salem had run out of supplemental sugar two weeks earlier and Ambrosia was getting hungry. Every day there was a new parasite that infested the hive, the most recent of which were the ants. They ate everything and left the combs completely empty. The hive was helpless against them.
A SuitTop, front, back and side views of Sutura. The suit was designed in the kneeling position with the suit as a free-standing object in mind. When taking off the suit, the panels lock in place and create a rigid self-supporting assembly. This ensures that the suit remains in an upright position so as to not disturb the orientation of the behives. When putting the suit on, one simply kneels into it and unlocks the panels in order to restore movement and mobility.
The suit is composed of a series of layers, mediated predominately by the bees. Occupying the space between the living layer and machine layer, the bees can be understood both as a system of individuals working through procedures, and as a living, goal-oriented system in their own right; a hive mind. Unlike the modular electronics (tanks, pumps, heating coils) the bees are the “battery” (key producer) keeping both Salem and Sutura in balance. Fig. 1 illustrates the undergarment layer.
Working with the notion that bees and humans are symbiotes, the suit sets up a mutually-beneficial relationship for both bee and human. Bees are producers of a range of human-friendly (non-toxic) market-ready products, and their declining numbers are cause for concern. Sutura proposes to protect future bee populations, bringing together human, hive and machine for a long-term relationship. Though the initial proposal has been expressed and designed via digital processes, we anticipate and expect the final appearance to differ, as the actual process will be predominantly analog, not digital.
An ExhibitThe exhibition will showcase a complete cycle of the suit’s closed system by filling the space with a pollination trail, conceivably left behind by the symbiotic relationship between bees and human sharing the Sutura. A kneeling and standing suit will be featured at one end of the exhibit, while the archive of 41 projects will be showcased in 7 custom-designed flat-file installations. Much like a beekeeper lifts trays out of a hive, guests of the exhibit will act as beekeeper by lifting vertical trays to reveal the previous 41 projects.
A series of sketches illustrating the narrative component of the proposal. Inspired by Salem’s life journey wearing Sutura, a series of vignettes were created, highlighting moments such as Salem ripping out a hive destroyed by parasites, failing modular electronics due to an excess overflow of sticky honey overun on the machines and her nighttime journey, as bees forage during the day and stay within the hive at night, allowing Salem and Sutura to mobilize only after the sun goes down. would lose track of Sutura
AfterlifeThe suit is entirely composed of non-hazardous materials. Most of the metal components (copper and aluminum) can be recycled at proper facilities. The micro-controllers and electronic circuits are all component based and can be disassembled readily and used for other projects. The authors suggest that the micro-controllers be donated to educational institutions to inspire young builders to learn basic programming and robotics. The plants used in the exhibit can be relocated outdoors. All beeswax and honey is biodegradable can be disposed of without environmental concern.
ReferencePrecedents include examples of manipulating the shape of the beehive along with the process with which bees construct them. We are also interested in emphasizing the role of author/designer and the craft and technique of couture. We envision the project will truly develop from physically designing the suit and working directly with the materials and components
Project TeamJeffrey Montes, Co-Designer
Nicholas Palermo, Co-Designer
Chenyu Pu, Co-designer
Danaë Vokolos, Co-designer