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21c Museum Debuts New Site Specific Installation

Swarms of bees, entangled kudzu vines and stacks of glowing honeycomb have overtaken The Hive at 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville.

Commissioned by 21c, the immersive site-specific installation, BuzzKill, transforms the restaurant into a work of art itself, vines and honeycomb consume the lounge and dining spaces. BuzzKill references the folklore and fauna of Bentonville and Northern Arkansas, and explores the environmental crisis currently facing the honeybee and other species worldwide.

Imagined and executed by artist Johnston Foster, who creates sculptures using repurposed materials, The Hive’s transformation features a compelling combination of found detritus and everyday construction materials including plastic safety cones, construction siding, PVC piping, trash cans, coaxial cable and otherwise seemingly pedestrian items.

“21c is committed to supporting ambitious projects by visionary artists like Johnston Foster,” said Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites. “Johnston’s sculptures are among the most innovative and popular works from the collection that we have exhibited, so we were thrilled to commission a site-specific installation for The Hive. The results exceeded expectations: BuzzKill offers an immersive, visually dazzling experience, as well as an insightful meditation on the interdependence of all species in a rapidly changing world.”

The vine and honeycomb create a visual bombardment of color and play organic contour against geometric symmetry. The vibrant yet contrasting color palette is whimsical and celebratory. The bees initially may be viewed as “cute” or inviting, the kudzu enveloping, but the saturated colors of the environment contrast with their insidious, invasive nature.

Opportunities for exploration and personal interpretation can be found throughout the work as the artist has infused the installation with unexpected elements. Playing with scale and intentionally exaggerating the size of some elements, the artist creates a hallucinatory atmosphere, challenging the viewers’ preconceptions of reality and associations to familiar imagery.

Foster’s process of collecting, salvaging, and creating through an alchemic approach to object-making can in part be understood as a necessity driven by an art practice in which immediate and local resources influence the imagery and understanding of the finished results. It also can serve as a metaphor for survival and adaptation techniques found in the natural world, and in the imagery and subject matter that inspires and results from his art production.

“The use of surplus materials, discarded consumer goods, and salvaged waste from suburbia is formally a means to an end, introducing a visual and conceptual tension reflecting the complexity of human dependence on the environment. The end result is a fully realized meditation on the abundance and nurture provided by the natural world juxtaposed with the deep contradictions inherent in humanity’s relationship to the earth and to the resources we share with all living things,” said Foster.

Added objects and creatures, like skulls, multi-headed birds, giant rats, sets of keys, and a human heart, for example, suggest a darker, more treacherous narrative, yet the meaning of BuzzKill remains open-ended.

“The restaurant’s patrons and visitors are an essential element of the artwork. Without audience participation within the space it remains stagnant and purposeless,” said Foster. “Artworks can be observed through reproduction or from afar, but the activation and true essence of the work is only found through viewer participation.”

Foster’s work has been previously collected and exhibited by 21c Museum, including The Keeper, (2010) currently on display at Counting House at 21c Museum Hotel Durham.

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About Johnston Foster
Johnston Foster received his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2001 and an MFA from Hunter College in New York in 2005.  In 2003, he completed a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. Foster has exhibited in group and solo shows at MoMA PS1; Kidspace at MASS MoCA; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Brigham Young University Museum of Art; University Galleries of Illinois State University; Cress Gallery of Art at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Centre d’art Bastille, Grenoble France; and Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. Foster’s work is in many prestigious public and private collections and has been featured in galleries across the globe including RARE gallery, New York City; The Blender Gallery, Athens, Greece; Galería Christopher Paschall, Bogota, Colombia; and galerieXprssns, Hamburg, Germany. Foster works and lives with his family in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.