Buzzing: The art of insect protein
Today’s edition is a bit of a curveball: we’re talking art. Far from being off-topic, I think this is the next frontier. Popular culture will play a huge part in getting over the yuck factor in the West and art is at the forefront of that movement. There is a long tradition of insect art, so I see no reason why that couldn’t extend to insect protein. It’s about captivating people’s imagination, making it part of the conversation.
This week in Buzzing:
How INSECT PROTEIN found its way to the Royal Academy
Test Corner: Jimini Crickale, La Korrigane
As mentioned last edition, today’s newsletter features an interview with Simon The Last, the artist who made INSECT PROTEIN, the art piece currently on display as part of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. I loved hearing how the piece came about because it tells me that insect protein is entering our collective consciousness.
Whilst doing a little research for this newsletter, I was also delighted to see that the acclaimed Tate gallery has a piece in its collection entitled I Want to Be an Insect Entrepreneur (currently not on display) by Turner-nominated Brisith artist Monster Chetwynd. I imagine there are many more – drop me a line if you know of any.
Simon, tell me a little bit about yourself as an artist.
My visual art practice is relatively new, having evolved from my previous practice as a theatre director and filmmaker. As a result, my work is often theatrical in nature - taking the form of an installation or an immersive experience. I’m currently in a period of discovery and experimentation, trying to find my “voice” and the things that I want to express and explore through my work. My first public show was earlier this year in Hoxton, when I did a light installation in an empty shop window. People could see the work 24/7 from the street and one of the works in that installation – INSECT PROTEIN – went on to be selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
What inspired you to make INSECT PROTEIN?
The inspiration for the larger work that INSECT PROTEIN is part of came from the numerous frenetic LED shop signs that characterise the neighbourhood where I live. I was on the bus, looking out of the window on a rainy, winter day, and I remember seeing a bleary sea of these colourful, lurid signs and wondering what products/services they might be advertising 100 years from now. The idea developed from there into an attempt to reframe current/near-future technology as pedestrian and everyday - a comment on the false promises of tech-centred futurism.
What do you hope to achieve with the piece?
I hope to encourage people to question our relationship with emerging technologies. By reframing cutting-edge technology in a low-tech way, I want to suggest that Big Tech won’t (and cannot) save us. I also want people to question our worship of tech oligarchs, and the narrow visions of the future they propose - who gets to decide what our future looks like and why? I want us to ask if these self-appointed architects of the future can save us from environmental and economic disaster, or if their innovations and disruptions are just shiny things designed to distract us from the things that really matter.
How did you hear about insect protein? Are you open to the idea of eating insects?
I can’t remember how I heard about insect protein in an industrial sense for the first time. I feel like it’s gradually become part of the techno-cultural hinterland over the past decade or so - in as much as it’s posited as an alternative to mass meat production. I think I’ve always been aware of insects as food more generally, and I think I’ve even tried a cricket-based snack once! My mum recently sent me a photo of a range of insect-based snacks she found at an event (“insect protein!”), so it definitely seems to be permeating our culture more and more. I’m open to eating all sorts of alternative protein sources - I guess the most important thing to me is sustainability and the ethical considerations at the labour/production end of things. I am, however, very much enjoying/lamenting the current culture war/conspiracy meltdown happening in Australia over the subject of insect protein. Unfortunately, I think this might be a sign of things to come…
How did you settle on the design for this piece?
I started by gathering numerous existing LED sign designs as I came across them. I think I was drawn to their garish, frenetic aesthetic - a nice counterpoint to more refined and expensive neon signage. Their cheap and mass produced quality was perfect for what I wanted the work to say. The next step was to version a selection of my favourites to reflect a near-future technology - “Nail Spa” became “DNA Spa”, “Phone Unlocking” became “Memory Unlocking” etc. The INSECT PROTEIN design was based on an existing halal meat sign. I replaced the words “halal meat” with “insect protein” and replaced حلال (halal) with the graphic of the fly.
Test Corner: Jimini Crickale, La Korrigane
This week’s test corner is La Korrigane’s Jimini Crickale, a small batch IPA made with crickets. Roast crickets are steeped in with the malt at the beginning of the brewing process to give it flavour. There are no blended crickets per se in the beer and it’s a “normal” IPA so-to-speak.
I am not a beer drinker myself but I did try it and could definitely taste the crickets – that nutty, dried mushroom flavour. So I bought a bottle of Jimini Crickale for my husband: he loves artisanal beers, IPAs especially, and I was keen to hear what he thought. The 900 mL demi-john type bottle was stunning too.
My husband tried the beer with a friend of ours, who happens to be half-Canadian. My husband, who has had many of my cricket creations, could definitely discern the cricket flavour. Our friend said the beer had a particular – but not unpleasant – bitterness, which he thought may have something to do with the crickets.
I’m glad that they enjoyed it, and also that it started a conversation about insect flavour. Insect protein is more than a string of sustainability arguments and this was such a great reminder that it can and should be great gastronomy too.