In “EARTH LAB – Artists as Catalysts,” an exhibition produced jointly by Ars Electronica Export and the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow, everything revolves around our planet and its future. At the former Red October Chocolate Factory, international artists demonstrate their takes on Earth’s prospects and thereby show us new ways of considering old problems. Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson is one of them—an Icelandic artist who’s given some thought to 21st-century foodstuff production. What happens when we’re no longer able to feed the world’s population? How can we prevent wasting food? And how do we nourish human beings in regions where agriculture has become difficult?
His Fly Factory provides a solution: insects as foodstuffs. The little creatures don’t take up much space; in fact, they require fewer resources than other livestock. Plus, considering their diminutive stature, they’re tremendously rich in nutrients and especially protein.
The Fly Factory consists of three chambers in which, respectively, flies are bred, their larvae harvested, and the processed products cooled. The heat given off by the refrigerator warms the hatchery, the flies’ waste products provide a nutrient medium for the larvae, whose excrement, in turn, serves as fertilizer for the plants in the breeding chamber. In other words, this is a closed system, one that’s sustainable and thus has great future promise. We recently had a chance to chat for a while with the young designer about his factory.
Fly Factory is now being shown in EARTH LAB, a project where artists reflect on our planet and its future. How and why is Fly Factory important for this reflection?
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson: The Fly Factory is only one example on how we can resolve the problem of food waste and food production. This factory is meant to be used in a restaurant or a cafeteria. As the insects in the Fly Factory eat of wasted food they can be harvested and used on the menu. Insects are an extremely interesting organisms that are specialized in recycling organic waste and creating nutrition for the eco system. This project is an attempt to show what could be possible with insects.
Why are you using specifically Black Soldier Flies and not any other insect?
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson: Black Soldier flies are very interesting as they are efficient and nutritious. There are millions of insects that could be used and I would love for more designers and scientists to explore more species and see how we could create a sustainable and efficient way in creating food and other products.
Credit: Daniil Primak, Polytechnichal Museum Moscow
What was the process of developing Fly Factory like – how did you invent the factory, how did you decide on the design and the functionalities, and how did you create your recipes?
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson: The Fly Factory was a project that I started after reading about the immense potential insects have. My main focus was to create an object that would look trustworthy and rugged. I referenced industrial kitchenware in creating the case. My main message is that insect production is possible and we could do it today if we wanted to. As for the recipes, I worked with chefs and food specialists. Our first goal was to analyze what kind of food would potentially be infused with insects in regards to their aroma. Finally the main question became what kind of food items would people be most likely to try/buy and that was the birth of Jungle Bar, the cricket infused energy bar (a follow-up project produced for commercial use, editor’s note).
Credit: Florian Voggeneder
What do you consider the biggest challenge when trying to make insects into a consumer good? What where the reactions to your Fly Factory, could people see themselves eating or maybe even producing the insects?
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson: We have to keep in mind that a big chunk of the world is already eating insects and has been doing so for hundreds, if not thousands of years. So the question is how to get Westerners to eat insects. The reaction to the Fly Factory was phenomenal as the project got a lot of media attention. But it seemed that people where not too keen on having a taste. But the objective was not really to get people to eat insects, but rather to get people to ask themselves the question: “Would I eat insects?” This is a question that most people in Europe and the US have never asked before. But of course I have gotten a lot of positive feedback where people are eager on having a taste as well as growing their own insects.
Credit: Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson
By now, you have successfully created (and started to sell) another insect-infused product, the Jungle Bars. Does this mean that the Fly Factory will be primarily used as an artwork or example of sustainable design, or is there still a possibility that it might be produced for industrial/domestic use?
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson: The Fly Factory is first and foremost designed as an installation piece. But many of its components could be used for industrial use. I am currently working as an advisor to a couple of companies that are working on producing insects, and I can use my experience in both the raising of insects as well as how to mediate the idea of edible insects.
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson (b. 1988) studied product design at the Iceland Academy of Arts and studied at the National Art Academy in Oslo (Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, unfinished). Bui has mostly specialized in design related food production. His design is characterized by the break-up of traditional processing methods with the aim of creating new knowledge and increasing sustainability.
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson’s “Fly Factory” is one of the works in “EARTH LAB – Artists as Catalysts,” an exhibition running until September 25th at the former Red October Chocolate Factory in Moscow. Additional information about the work and the show is online at export.aec.at/earthlab.