Imagining different food futures with speculative gastronomy
The exhibition FOOD: Bigger than the Plate at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum showcases contemporary multi-sensory projects all about food. The show explores global issues like climate change, sustainability, workers’ rights, and how we consume food. How can the food we eat be more planet-friendly? There is hardly a more fitting venue to ask these questions than the V&A, one of the first museums to host a cafe and the successor to the South Kensington Museum, which housed a food museum in the 19th century. How does the museum offer a vast and enlightening context to many of today’s challenges in the food chain? The interactive and immersive works on display encourage visitors to imagine their future using all their senses! You can even taste food bespoke to your personal preference of farming.
The exhibition is divided into four themes — composting, farming, trading, and eating — each explored from both a personal and a societal perspective. Here are some highlights from FOOD: Bigger than the Plate.
From organic waste to bioplastics
The composting section is a space in which rose-coloured curtains guide the visitor through twists and twirls to remind you of human intestines. The exhibit has a bottom-to-top approach, working towards eating, so naturally it starts with excreting. The objects on display make it possible for you to reconnect and reinvent your relationship with waste. Products made of “disgusting substances”, as the V&A puts it, might initially induce an uncomfortable and squeamish feeling combined with the fear of talking about the products of shame — poop and urine. Humans are generally not proud of their waste. From toilets made of cow dung to crockery made from non-edible food waste, this section proves that we can be, and that there is a long history as well as an exciting future of craftsmanship from waste.
The designers and artists shed light on the possibilities to reintegrate the waste one would normally throw away and make it visible again. One brilliant example is the sustainable bioplastics made from organic waste, such as this sample made from animal bones and offcuts by Alice Potts.
“We have always been ‘bio-hackers’”
Humans have always designed and cultivated nature, to make bigger carrots, or more beautiful pet dogs, and even to prevent certain diseases. The section on Farming shows how humans modify life around them.
The installation Planetary Community Chicken by Koen Vanmechelen is the ultimate bio-art project in relation to humans modifying life. Ultimate, because it shows how an art project engaging with bio-matter shifts from imagination and contemplation to the realm of science and actualisation in farming practice. There are three taxidermized chicken, large scale photos, a family tree of chickens, and a book which contains the project of cross-breeding chicken on display. The PCC is a transformation of the CCP, the ‘Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’, in which Vanmechelen cross-bred chicken. In the PCC he pairs his roosters coming from CCP with commercial hens belonging to chicken breeders in local under-served communities worldwide. This leads to a genetically more diverse and resilient next generation. The CCP evolved to the CCRP, the ‘Cosmopolitan Chicken Research Project’, where the genetic traits of the CCP’s are studied in collaboration with Leuven University. The impact of the PCC project is unique in the world of bio-art.
Did you know hoverflies are one of the most prominent pollinators after bees? Thomas Pausz and Dr Shannon Olsson are fully aware of this fun fact. They have developed a new type of pollen container, called a ‘Non Flower’, 3-D printed and designed while bearing the perception of a hoverfly in mind. How does one do that? Well, by using virtual reality! Virtual reality environments can help visualise how hoverflies recognise objects as food. These Non Flowers can potentially attract hoverflies to crops that may not normally be enticing for them to frequent. This project is an example of how speculative design, 3D printing, and virtual reality can offer a partial solution to the reduction of natural pollinators.
Filling the void with a GrowFrame
The trade section grapples with global problems that occur through trade. Discover the journey of a banana and all of its pitfalls, or reconnect with local nature by having a refreshing drink of which the ingredients are harvested and bottled in London. The power of art and design to tackle or imagine solutions for a global problem are once again presented in this exhibition.
What do you think happens with a shipping container after it has carried the goods you’ve ordered? Yes, around 13 million containers annually are travelling around with just air. Royal Academy of Art MA graduate Philippe Hohlfeld has designed a GrowFrame to tackle this unnecessary situation. The frame can use the space by installing a temporary foldable hydroponic farm – farming without soil – which turns the wasteful voids into productive green spaces on the return journey.
Would you eat human cheese?
The eating section features many novel ideas about eating, including edible water bottles and packaging made of algae. In the interactive LOCI Food Lab, you can eat a canapé composed of innovative food. It also questions your current eating habits and associations with products.
A fascinating bio-artwork on display in this section is Selfmade by Christine Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas. Bacteria taken from public figures’ ears, toes, and armpits comprise a ‘microbial portrait’ in the shape of human cheese. This version, by Helene Steiner from Open Cell, is specifically made for this exhibition. It challenges the way we think about bacteria and our own bodily composition. Would you be intrigued if you could order a cheese plateau from your favourite artist? Or have your own ‘microbial portrait’ made?
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate makes the museum a contemplative space on existing and new ways of living life on earth and urges you to rethink your habits as a consumer. Not only does it have a great selection of artworks and projects, but it’s also incredibly well curated. Self-reflection and speculation about your future are inevitable in this exhibition. A pleasure for all senses, a must-see!
Click here for a preview of the exhibition.
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate will be open until the 20th of October in the Victoria and Albert museum in London.