Depleting natural resources, unsustainable farming methods, growing populations, urbanisation, and exploited workers – these are just some of the problems which plague the food industry today. ‘Our current food system needs redesigning for our modern world,’ stresses director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt.
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate addresses these issues in a way that is subversive, humorous and wondrous without ever descending into moralising finger-wagging. Its tantalising recipe of science and aesthetics is playfully didactic as it imagines endless possibilities of food futures as well as exploring the age-old relationship between culture and food. Featuring over 70 projects created by designers, artists, chefs, farmers, and scientists, the exhibition takes viewers on a sensory journey of the food cycle through four categories: Compost, Farming, Trading and Eating.
We begin at Compost, where we are asked to consider our position as consumers and recalibrate our perception of waste. In GroCycle’s Urban Mushroom Farm, oyster mushrooms bloom on a bed of waste coffee grounds from the museum’s cafe. So treat yourself to that second cappuccino; you are, after all, contributing to this circular economy.
Of course, the term ‘waste’ is not limited to food waste, but also includes bodily fluids and excrement. The exhibition tackles these stigmas head-on with provocative projects like the cheekily named Merdacotta series – rustic-looking crockery and furniture crafted from clay and cow dung. Our natural aversion to all things manure-related are part of the problem when it comes to closing the ‘nutrition loop’. If designers and scientists can change the perception of waste materials, we could begin to move towards a zero-waste future.
Mechelse Padovana – 23rd Generation Cosmopolitan Chicken Project 2018 (c) Koen Vanmechelen
‘Farming’ explores our relationships to nature and animals ranging from smart urban solutions – such as rooftop city farms – to dystopian nightmare visions of genetically engineered ‘Frankenfoods,’ which seem to hail from a Mary Shelley novel. The effects of global food economies are further explored in ‘Trading’ through packaging and advertising. There’s a clear nexus between food and art in this section, which is filled with vintage posters and ornate biscuit tins. But packaging takes a more sinister tone as attention is drawn towards how marketers use rural scenes to offer a fictionalised version of how food is produced, disguising the factories and industrial-sized refrigerators. Innocent childhood memories of a familiar lunchbox staple are also tainted as satirical pastiches of the popular raisin brand, Sun Maid, comment on the exploitation of workers.
(Detail) Supernatural, Uli Westphal, 2019, commissioned by the V&A
The ‘Eating’ section experiments with the personal and social ways we consume food. There is cutlery designed to help Alzheimer's patients eat more independently with a non-slip coating, and v-shaped bowls designed to be tipped between people to enable sharing. Some gratuitous inanities threaten to derail the ingenuity of these innovations. For example, it’s hard to see the artistic or educational value in cheese created from celebrity microbes, but perhaps there is something poetic about Professor Green becoming Professor Blue Cheese. Overall, however, the exhibition is bursting with creativity and gastronomy. Here, art and science are stirred together to create an irresistibly interesting experience.
|What||FOOD: Bigger than the plate, V&A review|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
18 May 19 – 20 Oct 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|