The Great Cocoon

Well it was a strange sight – hundreds of adults sitting on the floor in groups happily cutting, sticking and chatting while they made mini-motorised Daleks. All perfectly normal it seems for London’s Science Museum Lates where once a month the Museum opens late just for adults.

Poppy, Leftwing Idiot and I found out about this event at my TEDx talk last month. Hannah Redler, an art curator at the Science Museum, was one of the other speakers and I really enjoyed her talk. I was particularly intrigued by a participatory art piece she mentioned, made by artists Superflex. When we talked afterwards she invited us along to see it for ourselves and suggested the Lates as a good time to come.

It was a surreal event and hearing music from a DJ blasting through the Energy Gallery and seeing people walking about sipping beer took a bit of getting used to. But once acclimatised I really enjoyed myself. Leftwing Idiot and I have worked with children in play environments for years, and together we’ve put on lots of events that encourage children to play in creative ways. So it was brilliant seeing adults being encouraged to play, explore and create too.

Superflex’s piece was a Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum and we were asked to dress up as cockroaches. The costumes were brilliant and there was even an accessible shell for my wheelchair. To start with I got very overexcited by my new insect head but soon got used to it.

Once we’d transformed ourselves along with twenty or so others we were gathered together by our tour guides, two cockroach professors who were experts in human behaviour. These David Attenborough-esque guides took us on a tour of the human species. We looked at some key exhibits in the Museum’s collection and the professors theorised about what each object told us about the species that made them. Parts of the tour were like a safari, with our guides describing human behaviour in the wild.

The tour was excellent – clever, witty and thought-provoking. It offered different perspectives on key objects in our history from steam engines and nuclear bombs to phones and clocks. Superflex chose the infamously resilient insect because it’s the species that’s been most successful at adapting to change and has been around for millions of years. Perhaps seeing the world through the eyes of a cockroach can help people take a longer-term view and treat the world (“the great cocoon”) differently as a result. It was certainly a very unusual way of making people think about the problems of climate change and sustainability.

Many of the ideas we were presented with on the tour have been drifting into my mind again today. Being asked to use my imagination, at the same time as being offered information and facts, was really successful. It made for an absorbing experience, leaving much to reflect on.

Fancy taking a cockroach tour yourself? Find out how here, and you’ll find information about the next Science Museum Late on their website now. Playing is an important way to learn no matter how old you are and it’s brilliant to see the Science Museum finding innovative ways like this to engage all generations in an inclusive way.

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