Who’s the Pest? brings a season of insects to Wellcome Collection
They are with us from the beginning and eat us when we die. Insects will always be a part of our lives, and a major new season at Wellcome Collection explores the complex and codependent story between us. Who’s the Pest?, a collaboration with Pestival, ranges from insect labs to the dining table, with archive crawls, epicurean surprises, insect installations, debates and games.
It brings together designers, chefs, food scientists, entomologists and environmentalists, and bug enthusiasts, destroyers and consumers. Revealing everything you ever wanted to know about insects but were afraid to ask, the swarm of activities between 18 April and 16 May pose the question: who is more of a pest - them or us?
Speakers including Tony Juniper and Timandra Harkness address the issues evoked by critters in Insects vs Humans (16 May), debating the effect of each on planetary and human health and making the case for and against a more harmonious relationship with insects for our wellbeing and ultimate survival.
A specially commissioned 'Who's the Pest?' game (released early April) puts players on both sides of the argument, alternating between ant and human, either feeding a nest or protecting crops in fast-paced gameplay that challenges species loyalty. Both debate and game force a consideration of where we stand in relation to the pests around us and ask just how dependent on them we are.
An arresting installation, 'Insects au Gratin' (23 April-5 May), designed by Susana Soares in collaboration with Steak Studio, proposes entomophagy - eating insects - as a solution to the consumption challenges we face. Grasshoppers, locusts, ants and beetles are nutritionally rich and low in production resources; is squeamish prejudice the only barrier to our gastronomic embrace of this mini-livestock?
In a glimpse into the near future of food, 'Insects au Gratin' showcases an innovative method of harvesting insects and 3D printing them directly into meals. The installation displays insect food prototypes and explores solutions to an increasing dietary crisis linked to population expansion.
'Exploring the Deliciousness of Insects' (30 April, 1 May) presents a rare chance to challenge palates and sample exquisite insect cuisine prepared by Nordic Food Lab, the innovative culinary research institute established by the founders of world-renowned restaurant Noma. Chef Benedict Reade will conjure comestible creations that make the inedible edible and turn disgust to delight in conjunction with sensory scientist and Nordic Food Lab Director Michael Bom Frøst.
TED speaker and passionate insect advocate Professor Marcel Dicke will also be on hand for two special evenings of canapés and discussion, making an appetising case for the pleasure of eating pests and the environmental benefits that might follow a cultural turnaround of our taste preferences.
For 'Secret Insects of Bloomsbury' (18-20 April), Dr James Logan takes a look under some of the institutional rocks of the area and uncovers a world teeming with insects. With exclusive access to specimens, curios and medical paraphernalia in the insect labs of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the macabre entomological collections of the Grant Museum, Dr James Logan leads participants on an illuminating bug trail.
Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection says, "Our common reactions of revulsion, disgust and expulsion belie a complex bond in which insects have a vital role. We're delighted to be working with Pestival on a season of events that take a closer look at creatures which we malign at our future peril and ask us to consider whether we are, in fact, the pests in this relationship."
Pestival says: "Pestival is a celebration of life in all its forms, reconnecting us with our most important social network - our planet - in a positive, entertaining way. We are delighted to be collaborating with Wellcome Collection on 'Who's the Pest?' as we share a common purpose in examining the interconnectedness between humans, our environment and health.
"Our series is both playful and provocative, based on scientific fact that insects are crucially involved in our health and diet, be it as pollinators or disease vectors, pesticide use or even potentially as a serious food source for the future. We invite you to more than two weeks of heated debates, adventurous walks, interactive sleeve rolling workshops, and culinary joy to ask yourselves - who is the bigger pest?"
All events are free except Exploring the Deliciousness of Insects, which is £50 to cover ingredient costs. Full details of events with times and booking information can be found on the Wellcome Collection website.
Who's the Pest? is a collaboration between Pestival and Wellcome Collection, from an original idea by Pestival. Pestival is a cultural organisation exploring our relationship with insects and the natural world.