V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption

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Eats: Bigger than the Plate is the museum’s latest blockbuster show, which hopes to probe the future of food production, looking at how we can be more sustainable without compromising on refinement, quality and enjoyment.

Salad grown underground in a laboratory; proteins drew from soil mould; cheese grown from human bacteria – these are all superbly edible foods, showcased as part of the Victoria and Albert (V&A)’s Bigger than the Portion exhibition.

The show, which recently opened at the London museum, delves into the tomorrows of food, looking at how, as consumers, we can make more sustainable and responsible culinary options.

Split into four, curatorial sections – visible by a change in aesthetic as human being pass through the space – of “compost”, “farming”, “shopper” and “eating”, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey of the food cycle, from producing and reusing destroy, to growing food, transporting it, to the final product being delivered as a repast.

Bigger than the Plate hopes to challenge people’s preconceptions of where their nourishment comes from, how it is grown and what they are willing to eat, offering different examples of less wasteful options. At the same time, it does not aim to spread the Word to its visitors or sell certain lifestyle choices, says May Rosenthal Sloan, who co-curated the plan alongside Catherine Flood.

“We are not didactically telling people what they should be devouring, or telling people off for their choices,” Sloan says. “I hope in the flesh take away the scope for a better food future, and a sense of where they prerequisite to exist in that debate.”

V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption
Image courtesy V&A Museum London

The gap has been designed by the V&A’s in-house team, and changes as visitors move auspices of, reflecting the different topics.

Compost, which focuses on human and foodstuffs waste and how it can be better used to aid biodiversity and sustainability, has a natural feel to it, servicing earthy colours such as peach and yellow. It features a huge, peach gauze curtain tinge visitors’ routes around the section, which looks to imitate gentle intestines, says Juri Nishi, senior exhibition designer at the V&A, and 3D conniver for the show.

“The curtain relates to the idea of human digestion, and how we are all part of the ecological account of the future,” she says. “The curators have these strong messages yon how eating is about personal consumption and having agency, so we’ve used tactility and the feel of the space to reflect that.”

V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption
Daily Dump, image courtesy V&A Museum London

In hang on to with the idea of consumers having control over their debilitate, featured projects include those that look at how individuals can present positively to the food cycle. Daily Dump is a project founded in Bangalore, India, which overs various hand-crafted terracotta pots and compost kits sold to the any to help them separate out their waste and use it to grow vegetables and other subsistence through home-composting.

GroCycle’s Urban Mushroom Farm also looks at how unfit waste can be turned into edible products through composting – with profligacy coffee grounds used to make oyster mushrooms.

Farming looks at procedure in which we can change how we grow and farm food. As this section meets on human intervention, the space is much more “grid-based”, says Judith Brugger, superior graphic designer at the V&A and 2D designer for the show, reflecting the idea of manufacturing.

Plans look at how we can farm more sustainably and sensibly – the data-driven MIT Food Computer, for exemplification, can replicate natural conditions to grow crops in artificial environments, while Bicitractor is a pedal-powered tractor that could be adapted to for small-scale farming.

While many of the featured exhibits are product and novelty focused, some are artistic expressions of the rich, farming history in the UK. Art collective Swallow Fruit has created a 12-metre squared wallpaper that visualises the V&A’s ancient history of growing fruit trees. Whether proactive projects or purely visual, all the boast’s pieces aim to establish the relationship between art, design and food, which Sloan recounts as a “stubborn” subject.

“There is a trajectory of designers moving away from indicating stuff for an oversaturated market and towards making meaningful interventions in the over the moon marvellous,” the co-curator says. “One of the most exciting things is the collaboration between architects working with scientists, artists with chefs and farmers, shire communities with activists. Food is a stubborn subject that bleeds across supervises and doesn’t fit into clear boxes.”

V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption
Planetary Community Chicken, by Koon Van Menchin, personification courtesy of V&A Museum London

One project that shows the connection between art and skill is the Planetary Community Chicken, by Belgian artist Koon Van Menchin. He was vexed about how farmers have “designed” poultry over time, so that abundant countries have their own specific varieties, meaning gene tarns have been narrowed. To make a statement about bio – and cultural – variety, he initially bred a Belgian chicken with a French one on the border of the two mountains.

Over 20 years, he then carried on doing this with birds from original countries, and the result is a huge, chicken family tree sprawled across one face ruin of the exhibition space, showing the variety of birds he has produced from cross-breeding.

“The thorough community started paying attention to what he was doing and realised the chickens he was outing were genetically diverse, disease-resistant, strong and beautiful birds,” opportunities Sloan. “It’s a really amazing example of science following art. He has helped poultry delegates all over the world to safeguard their futures by injecting genetic distinctiveness into their stock. The project is both creative and playful, and actually productive.”

The aesthetic of the trading section has been inspired by the shape of crates acquainted with to carry and transport produce from farm to consumer, says 3D plotter Nishi, with rectangular and square block shapes featuring across exasperate graphics and captions.

It explores how food is bought, sold, exported and marketed, with a dogmatic focus on how graphic design and advertising has been used to promote nutriment, questioning how genuine promotional campaigns are. One project with a critical eye is Extraordinary, by London-based artist Uli Westphal, which includes huge, composite concepts compiling multiple “idyllic” graphics taken from supermarket subsistence packaging, making a statement about false advertising.

Finally, devouring places the focus firmly back on the visitor by offering novel velocity of consuming, and challenging preconceptions of what constitutes food. It also assesses the wider concept of group eating, looking at it as an activity that serves to form human relationships and inspire conversation and debate.

This is depicted be means of an 11-metre long dinner table displaying different projects, from cutlery designed for those with incapacities and reduced dexterity, to utensils formed into peculiar shapes, which reconnoitre how structure, shape and tactility can enhance the taste of food.

V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption
Loci Edibles Lab, by Center for Genomic Gastronomy, image courtesy of V&A Museum London

One of the reveal’s most shocking pieces challenges notions of what we are willing to eat – Selfmade, a passage of cheeses that have been cultured from human bacteria, comprising from celebrities such as chef Heston Blumenthal.

Perhaps the most interactive parade of the whole show is a live, food bar called the Loci Food Lab – where chefs and hostesses serve visitors sustainable canapés of their choice, made from ingredients such as vegetables stocked as “too ugly” for local supermarkets, dried and powdered fish, and salad sowed underground in South London.

The show attempts to open visitors’ eyes to how we can all relax food waste, production and consumption, and fittingly, the design team has also kind-heartedness about the waste produced by the exhibition itself. Large-scale, temporary presentations such as Bigger than the Plate are notoriously wasteful, with a lot of casting power and many materials invested only for it all to be ripped down months later.

V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption
Urban Mushroom Grange, by GroCycle, image courtesy of V&A Museum London

To alleviate this poser, the team has committing to reusing materials after the show’s run is over, either in unborn V&A exhibitions with smaller budgets, or by donating them to schools, stagecrafts and other museums – the mesh curtain used in the first section, for exemplification, could form part of a stage set, says 3D designer Vishi.

“Large-scale showings can be difficult in terms of sustainability, as a lot of the art has been commissioned especially for the show,” she powers. “We purposefully chose quality materials, so that we can donate materials for other goods.”

Equally, the team has tried to make sustainable choices with materials, replies 2D designer Brugger – the graphic panels, used to hold captions from one end to the other the show, have been made from two compostable materials; a bi-product of corn presentation, and recycled paper cups, made into printable paper by GF Smith.

V&A food exhibition challenges our ideas of consumption
Twin courtesy of V&A Museum London

To limit the carbon footprint of certain drafts, co-curator Sloan adds that some of the international projects have on the agenda c trick been recreated in London studios, rather than shipped across the faction, such as Daily Dump, the terracotta pot project based in Bangalore, India.

“The positives of this are twofold,” thinks Sloan. “It’s about sustainability, but also transfer of knowledge, skills and meet with from India to the UK – we hope the project will now continue to be made by a London dabble in.”

And while Bigger than the Plate does not aim to tell people how or what to eat, she asseverates, the hope is to make visitors more open-minded to what constitutes victuals and food production, and more aware of the options that could be accessible to them in future – without the need to compromise on taste.

“Food is something we all procure a stake in – our food systems are changing,” says Sloan. “With the better of creative practitioners, we’ve tried to reimagine a food future that is profuse sustainable and biodiverse, but also more delicious, which is still so fundamentally formidable. I hope anyone who eats – which is all of us – can get excited, take things away, and finger more knowledgeable and better armed for the future.”


Food: Bigger than the Pane runs until 20 October 2019 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Alleyway, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL. Tickets cost £17 and £13 for concessions.

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