Cath Keay’s doctoral project – ‘1000 Tides’ built on her previous, long-running work on bees and wax sculpture to investigate ways in which art and the natural world can interact, exploring dynamic natural processes that can influence the final form of a sculpture. Keay’s sculptural works provide a basis for animal colonisation in natural environments (a wax architectural sculpture in a beehive; terracotta text sculptures in the sea); over time it is possible to investigate the way in which these animal forms adapt to and alter the artworks, creating beauty in nature’s response to human intervention. Her work highlights the role of nature as collaborator in the creation of the artistic product.

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Her doctoral work involved three large terracotta word sculptures that have been placed in the sea underneath the pier at Blyth, to be colonised by barnacles, mussels and sea squirts. After this colonisation had taken place, and the original sculptures almost obliterated by sea life, they were transferred, still living, to tanks for exhibition.

She also worked on a large terracotta rendition of a quote by Ruskin, colonised by as beautiful a range of sea life as possible.

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Research context and method: Keay’s original work on bees and wax sculptures, from which her present projects evolved, reflected on humans and bees as social creatures, within the context of 1930s utopian architecture. By creating an art deco-style wax building and placing it in a hive as a starter structure for bees to use to build wax cells, it was possible to observe how human architecture and bee architecture could merge. Her PhD work referred to the vast number of organisms living in the sea that we know nothing about, and the difficulty of preserving sea life for study. The words that Keay chose to place in the sea are ‘fecundity’, ‘feracity’ and ‘uberty’, all variations on the theme of fruitfulness, and the flowing italic form of the sculptures expresses this theme further. Through this project an interest in Victorian understandings of art and science also emerged: the use of Victorian tanks at the Newcastle University’s Dove marine laboratory resulted in her focussing on Ruskin, particularly his crossover interest in art and science and his negative response to Darwinism.

Cath Keay held a Norma Lipman Foundation Scholarship and was also sponsored by the Catherine Cookson Foundation. Links- The Dove Marine Laboratory:

During her time as a student at Newcastle, Cath was awarded the Helen Chadwick Rome Fellowship:

Subsequent projects have included: 2012- Arts Council England & British Council - Artists International Development Fund for Culturia Residency to Berlin.

2013- Denkmal Solo Exhibition, Galerie Lage Egal, Berlin.


2013- Middlesbrough Modern Beehives, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA).

Parallels between two kinds of social animals inspired the Middlesbrough Modern Beehive project, commissioned by Rednile Projects. Cath constructed four beehives in the form of Modernist and Brutalist architecture from Middlesbrough and Teesside. These buildings are Steel House, Redcar, Kennedy Gardens, Billingham, and Melrose House and the former Dunning Road Police Station, Middlesbrough which was on the site where MIMA is built. Following the exhibition at MIMA, and again at Lingfield Point, Darlingtion, the hives were colonised with honeybees and subsequently maintained by local beekeepers across Teesside.


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Rednile also commissioned an edition of screenprints called 'Middlesbrough Modernism' and a short film about the project. For further information, see:

Cath’s work has subsequently been included in the following publications: Scott, J. (2013) The Language of Mixed Media Sculpture. Marlborough: Crowood Press. Hutton, S, Goldsworthy J. & Branthwaite M. (2012) Factory Nights: Discovering and Activating Spaces. Stoke on Trent: Rednile Projects Ullrich, J. (2013) Apiculture and sculpture practice. Berlin: Neofelis Verlag Horn, T. (2011) Beeconomy: What Women and Bees can teach us about Local Trade and the Global Market. Lexington: University of Kentucky. P140-142