Bugs may give some people the creepy-crawlies, but they actually play essential roles in ecosystems around the world, aerating the soil, controlling pests, and pollinating blossoms everywhere they go. Unfortunately, they’re also rapidly disappearing. In 2014, an international team of biologists determined that the abundance of invertebrates had decreased by 45 percent over the past 35 years — which means the need to protect them and highlight their importance has never been more urgent.
Matilde Boelhouder believes designers are obligated to think about issues like these, blurring the boundaries between art, design, science, and biology. With this in mind, the Dutch designer has created a series of projects called Insectology, all of which celebrate bugs and work toward helping them thrive.
The series began with a collection of “still life” sculptures called Terra Incognita, mixing delicate metallic plants with preserved specimens in hopes of encouraging viewers to zoom in and look at things that are usually difficult to notice. Next came Insectology Sweets: a series of insect-based confections served up on golden spoons.
“The confections from the Insectology collection were developed as a taste sensation and are meant to make the idea of consuming insects more appealing,” says Boelhouder, adding: “Precisely because we in the West have an aversion to insects, but at the same time it would help alleviate food shortages if more people ate them, it is important for insects to undergo a change of image. So that you don’t actually have to eat the locusts, I have developed some basic ingredients which contain the essential taste of these insects, but which can then be prepared and served in different ways.”
The designer’s Insectology kit of insect care tools is meant to be worn like jewelry, containing tweezers for feeding and handling bugs, a vaporizer made with jewel beetle wings to mist them with water, a small brush to help remove mites, and a mesh terrarium.
“Population growth continues apace, whilst food and other resources become ever more scarce. It has become imperative therefore to look for new solutions by adopting different approaches to these types of problems. I have studied the insect world from the point of view of how insects could function as an alternative source, which has resulted in the production of a series of insect terraria. Through these products, the insect world can be seen in a much more aesthetically pleasing light, thereby increasing the perceived value of these animals and radically changing the way in which we view them.”
Last in the series is Insectology: Food for Buzz, a project examining the crucial relationship between flowers and insects. Boelhouder notes that our urban habitats don’t provide enough flowers to support insect populations. Of course, the obvious answer is to plant more flowers wherever we can, but what about places in which living flowers just aren’t practical? For that, the designer presents beautifully crafted artificial flowers that can serve as an emergency food source for the “big five of pollination,” which are bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies, and moths.
“Together with engineers and scientists these five colorful manmade flowers have been developed to be self-sustaining and continuously producing natural objects that form the ultimate attractions to those of the big five. Adjusted to the length of their tongues, faceted eyes and shape of preference, these flowers aim to take over all unused empty spots and [bring] back the buzzing and fluttering sounds of those small creatures we can’t ever miss in our cityscape.”