People like Matilde Boelhouwer amaze me, period. And when you hear about people causing damage to the planet, or harming other human beings, a wave of gratitude for the Matildes of the world always washes over me like a great tsunami.
Matilde and I are both 29 years old at the time of writing this, and we both had a hysterical fear of buzzing insects as children. To this day, I still run for hills whenever I see a wasp bee-lining (wasp-lining?) for me or something crawling toward me but Matilde, she took another route entirely. She immersed herself into all things creepy-crawly and is now on a mission to ‘create the ultimate food source for insects’.
How exactly does a kid who hated bugs come to be the self-proclaimed ‘lady who works with insects’ then? We find out in our latest real-life story from real world people. This time, taking a (virtual) trip to the Netherlands to tap into the marvelous brains behind ‘Insectology: Food for Buzz’.
'Because insects are so small, people are forgetting the problem’
From a young age, Matilde Boelhouwer was fascinated by nature and animals. She would lug around a ‘big and heavy’ encyclopedia ‘on a mission to memorise all the scientific names of the birds’. The only section she skipped out of the book was the insect section because she just ‘hated buzzing things’.
Alongside her fascination with nature and animals, Matilde was also always keen to indulge her creative side too, writing and painting to explore her craft. Biology was a motif that kept cropping up in her work, something that continued on into her Product Design degree at The University of the Arts in Arnhem.
She reminisces about one particular assignment, where the students were asked to carry out a project around the theme of something they’d collected during their lives. Collections were never something Matilde had made herself, so instead, she bought some taxidermy butterflies from an online store in order to investigate this avenue of the topic.
‘We are part of nature ourselves; we cannot really separate ourselves from nature and we shouldn’t because we can see where that leads us’
Her studies of the beautiful, mounted specimens led her to ‘zoom in’ and focus on the incredible details of a butterfly’s wings and body. Matilde now accredits this one particular butterfly with opening up a whole new world to her - a whole new journey of details, colours, functions and processes.
After graduating, Matilde started her own studio, exploring the cross-pollination of biodiversity and design. Her curious eyes had been opened to the issues around the declining insect population and what it is doing to our planet. She references a German study carried out a couple of years back, which revealed a 75% decline in the flying insect population.
What’s to blame? Climate change, pesticides, diseases in bee populations (something the guys at Hives for Humanity know all about), and a lack of food and habitat for insects as we humans continue to develop urban landscapes and build on our green spaces. ‘Because insects are so small, people are forgetting the problem’, Matilde tells us and sadly, she’s right.
‘I think we’re far past the time where we designers are only there to design for beauty’
Matilde decided that she wanted to use her powers in design and creativity for good, to come up with a solution - that solution being ‘the ultimate food source for insects’. She started by collaborating with academic institutions in the Netherlands, from biodiversity specialists to entomologists (‘the study of insects and their relationship to humans, the environment, and other organisms’, Wikipedia tells me).
She then started doing her own research into archetypal flowers and the types of flowers that five of our main pollinators are attracted to. For example, the bumblebee looks for star-shaped flowers in yellows, blues and whites, while the regular bee seeks out mirror symmetry and shades of blue, purple and violet. Using this knowledge, Matilde then set about creating ‘the ultimate combinations of colours for the ultimate flower shape’.
The result is ‘Insectology: Food for Buzz’ and a series of remarkable artificial flowers, developed in conjunction with engineers, that turn rain into sugar water and serve as emergency food sources for city-dwelling insect pollinators, where flowers are to often few and far between. Her hope? To bring back the buzzing and fluttering sounds of those small creatures that we just cannot do without.
Designed to attract the ‘big five of pollination’ - bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths – using laser-cut screen-printed polyester petals and 3D printed stems that transport the sugar water to small containers, Matilde’s flowers truly are a work of art and science. Much more than that, they also have the potential to change our environment, and in turn help change our world.
‘There’s literally nothing that inspires me more than zooming in on those tiny details and seeing the most intricate system and that everything just works as it should’
As with all of our guests, we wanted to know what inspires Matilde most and we weren’t surprised to hear her answer ‘the insect itself’. Studying the incredible intricacies that make up the patterns and processes of the planet’s insect population is something that Matilde finds ‘enormously fascinating’, and which makes her ‘really happy’. And hey, to find something that instills you with both fascination and happiness, that’s surely one of life’s greatest achievements. Better still, when it means doing good and making a difference, right?
Before you head off, we just wanted to take this opportunity to reach out for support on behalf of Matilde and the truly phenomenal work she’s dedicating her life and her craft to.
The pandemic has meant that the ‘Food for Buzz’ project has had to grind to an untimely halt and Matilde (and our precious insects) need the support of specialists, researchers, materials, knowledge, and of course, financial donations to help pick up the pace once again.
So, if you think you have something to offer in way of support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Matilde by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more, head to here. Oh, and of course be sure to catch up with Matilde’s full episode on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.