image from Plague Nation
Plague Nation

Inspired by our piece Of All The People In All The World, for Plague Nation we took 989kg of rice into school halls and gyms around the country, 1 grain for every person in the UK. Over a period of one or two days in each of the schools we created with students a performance installation in which this rice was was weighed out represent a range of human statistics with a focus on infectious disease and vaccination. The project was funded by The Wellcome Trust through their Pulse Initiative which aims to engage young people in science through creative projects involving drama, dance and live art. In each of the schools we worked with small groups of students, talking about the history of epidemics, the development of vaccinations and the science involved. They also learnt the maths needed to translate the number of people into a weight of rice. (If you're interested there are 60 grains of rice in a gram and so you divide the number of people by 60 which gives you the weight of rice in grams - easy)

After the classroom work the piece moved into the school hall or gym where the students became performers, sporting their brown lab coats and carefully weighing out the rice and placing it onto labelled sheets on the floor. Statistics presented ranged from the number of children in the school who have sandwiches for lunch to the number of children who die every day in the world from malaria. It is difficult to imagine what it means when you read in a newspaper that 15 million people died last year from infectious diseases but when you can see this number, when you can touch it, see individual grains and compare it to the population of your home town, it suddenly becomes a very real and moving figure.

Plague Nation gave a graphic representation of the impact of vaccination programmes, the cost in lives for countries who are unable to afford widespread immunisation and the challenges still faced as new diseases, particularly AIDS, emerge and spread.

The schools involved in Plague Nation were:

Castle Vale School, Birmingham
Holte School, Birmingham
Holy Trinity School, Nottingham
Speedwell Technology College, Bristol

We created a Plague Nation resources website to accompany the project.

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