London Blog

Science and Art: An Axolotl Odyssey

This blog does not often report on individual events before they happen, but the Natural History Museum has one so special next week that it cannot pass without a mention… or a picture of this:

 Photo by AJC1 on Flickr

For those of you who have not had the pleasure, the above is an axolotl, a Mexican salamander notable for being neotonic; the larvae retain their juvenile characteristics and only in rare and undesirable circumstances undergo metamorphosis, resulting in adult axolotls remaining fully aquatic. The axolotl, while still a little under the radar in this country, is widely used in scientific research due to its ability to regenerate limbs and they have long been a popular pet for school laboratories as they’re very easy to keep and even easier to breed.

However, the axolotl’s puzzling lack of fame may be coming an end – if Booker Prize winning novelist DBC Pierre has anything to do with it. Earlier this month, Soapbox Science hosted a series of guest posts entitled Reaching Out, looking at a variety of different ways for scientists to bring their work out of the ivory tower and communicate with the public. The series covered comedy, podcasting and education amongst others, but puzzlingly no-one suggested amphibian-themed musicals. Until now.

Next Saturday evening, 23rd June, will see the world premiere of Live and Roar: An Axolotl Odyssey at the Natural History Museum in London. Described as a little like Peter and the Wolf, creator and writer DBC Pierre will read his work on the now critically endangered axolotl to the backing of a range of musical instruments including a performance by folk legends Bellowhead. But while interesting in its own right, this performance is not alone. It forms part of Pestival, a mobile festival using every artistic technique from film through to direct demonstration to communicate insect-human interactivity in bioscience. The last full Pestival Festival took place in London in 2007 and has gone international with Sao Paolo this summer, but in the meantime the organisers, including ZSL artist-in-residence Bridget Nicholls and the Natural History Museum’s Ed Baker, have teamed up with partners including ZSL and the Eden Project to host satellite events throughout the year, many of them free, for the general public.

As well as the don’t-miss axolotls on Saturday night, you can see Pestival at London Zoo where they are currently working on a three year residency to provide art and cultural conservation projects.

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