Bitten by the Insect bug

January 26 2016

I couldn't wait to see Bugs: Outside the box at the Canadian Museum of Nature and had even put on my Beatles tie (pun intended) for the occasion. Now I admit I didn't know what to expect apart from the very detailed giant insect sculptures which made the artist in me very curious. I was unaware that the exhibition is much larger than that! Bugs represent about 2/3 of known living organisms on our planet and there is a lot to be said about them. Where an untrained eye will see two specimens of a same species, an entomologist will find two different animals. Biodiversity is awesome and it is fitting that it should be presented as a work of art.

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Looks real, doesn't it?

Italian artist Lorenzo Possenti's sculptures are majestic. Obviously totlally in control of his medium, Possenti has paid an attention to detail of which most are probably unable, especially considering the size of his models. Next to his pieces are specimens of the represented critters, just to give an idea of scale. Sheer brilliance! The pictures of vegetation on the walls and the colourful patterns created using real insects truly turn this section of a natural sciences' museum into an art gallery, where I spent long minutes before each piece, feeling like in "Honey, I shrunk the kids" next to the giant beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies. Contemplatives such as myself will have a blast!

Me and Mini-me

To fully appreciate my visit, I chose to see it through both my adult eyes and the eyes I had as a kid. Mini-André's reaction would have been one of amazement and wonder and he would've spent quite some time moving from one sculpture to the other, asking his parents questions to which he wouldn't even wait for answers. Several onomatopoeias expressing both disgust and fascination (come on... a kid saying "gross!" really is having fun!) and parental reminders to "touch with your eyes only", his attention would have been drawn to the giant grasshopper (forgot the actual name so grasshopper will do) moving on a screen at the entrance to the next room. In the little corridor between the two, Mini-André's eye would catch the beetles and stick insects walking one behind the other towards the rest of the exhibition. Their movement is almost hypnotizing. Because lets be honest for a moment; a kid's attention span is oft comparable to that of an overcaffeinated emu and it is therefore unrealistic to expect a mini-self to stay in awe before works of art for a long time, no matter how beautiful they are. The next hall is what Mini-André really craves: moving and touching stuff.

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This is not a stick.

Woah. This part is definitely hands-on. Adult-André was amazed by the shiny, colourful insects carefully ranked in their boxes, the kind of display reminiscent of a jeweller's store. He also loved the stands displaying the museum's entomologists' favourite bugs (entomologist François Génier even has one named after him) and the microscopes allowing a more detailed inspection of these unnerving yet fascinating creatures with poetic latin names living in our very backyards. One is once again reminded that the insect world is awesome and very, very diverse. Mini-André would have loved the slideshow depicting huge bugs (in particular the cute one seemingly smiling) and the vivariums where the critters are living their lives like it's nobody's business. Try spotting the stick insects among the branchs, for fun. Not an easy thing! Both Adult-André and Mini-André enjoyed seeing the world through a fly's eyes with special glasses, trying to jump like a grasshopper, and rolling around a cushion like certain beetles roll around pieces of... well lets just say we don't call them dung beetles for nothing.

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Well hello there!

And now for the piece de résistance: the bug distributor. For $1, you get a little plastic egg containing edible insects. Eating bugs is a reality in many parts of the world and could very well become a solution to food shortages. Mini-André would have been grossed out but Adult-André tried it, as shown in the following video (in French). Quite tasty, actually!

In short, nature trully is a work of art and it is presented as such in this exhibition. Even though we find them repulsive or disgusting, their role on our planet is crucial and we are reminded of this here. The visit is totally worth it, both for you and your mini-self. While you're at it, check out the activities' program linked to this show. There's something for everyone! And for more ideas of things to do, visit!