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A Not-To-Be-Missed Exhibition

We’ve never seen the Designhuis looking better than last Friday for the opening of the “Eating by Design” exhibition, curated by Marije Vogelzang.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 05-07-2012

The grand stairway of Eindhoven’s Designhuis sets the scene for one of the best food design exhibitions we’ve seen - "Eating By Design".

Mediamatic has constructed a huge “Aquaponic High Density Edifice” – a fully integrated and closed system that has the potential to provide small communities with their fresh fish and vegetable needs.

Large containers of fish, ceramic pebbles, larva and plants feed back and forth keeping the water clean, the animals fed and the plants nourished.  The final bench top is a bio-diesel stovetop used to steam the fish.

“Eating by Design” explores all avenues of food design from the history of industrial production to the future of man-made proteins.  It addresses problems and acknowledges that the production, transport and refinement of food have left traces over the centuries that need exploring.  It all comes down to why does food look like it does, and what might it look like in the future?

Indeed, governments depend and thrive on an effective food distribution system – at the heart of The Roman Empire lay a clever and effective way to reliably deliver food to the people.

We mostly tend to forget that every facet of food production from agriculture to the supermarket are highly designed (and more often then not monotonous).

A disgraceful quantity of perfectly good food is, for example, discarded for no reason other than it doesn’t fit the parameters of industrial specification.  “Mutatoes”, a project by Uli Westphal presented containers of vegetables hurled and only useful once the commercial specifications of industrial production are eradicated from the picture.

Another good example of this pertains to Made-in-Holland potatoes.  Despite the 4 million tonnes of potatoes grown in the Netherlands in 2011, foreign spuds – a bigger size and a bigger carbon footprint – made their way onto supermarket shelves.  Outraged, the Youth Food Movement and farmer Krispijn van den Dries created "Power to The Pieper" driving 6000kg of potatoes into central Amsterdam, and reminding people that direct relationships with farmers are still possible.

Honey & Bunny (Martin Hablesreiter and Sonja Stummerer) are fascinated by the long-forgotten anecdotes about why particular food shapes have come into being and remained – spaghetti is long and skinny, for example, because it is the most efficient way to dry the dough in a confined space, croissants also were connected to a moon cult 2000 years ago.

The pair’s central installation is an enormous food wheel, colour-coded and composed from hundreds of bright and aromatic candies as well as various industrially produced foodstuffs.

“It makes you wonder why when we have hundreds of thousands of food products we keep wanting and needing more,” Stummerer poses rhetorically.

Alongside their dazzling array of rainbow calories are some stock standard food products in glass cases – the point is to emphasize that Magnum ice-creams, Pringle chips, the Fishfinger and the Kinder Surprise have survived a rigorous design process not unlike a chair and are thus deserving of sitting along side any iconic design object in a museum.

Another great project - - is an idea borne out of an earlier food exhibition in France.  After that exhibition, the curators decided to call on foodies, journalists, designers and academics to submit short videos on what they considered food design to be.
The results were launched during Paris de Chef in 2012 and here at "Eating by Design" we can see Version 2.0.

Vogelzang also invited artists commenting on the contemporary food predicament to participate in the exhibition. favourite was Artur van Balen’s "Sainsbury Chickens" made from porcelain – rows and rows of the cheapest supermarket broiler chickens made from what in the 18th century was referred to as white gold.

“Chickens are produced as cheaply as possible in 39 to 42 days,” Van Balen says.  “I wanted to turn the economic production of chickens upside down.”

Van Balen also exhibited “Compost Sculpture” a mountain of exaggerated soy sauce fish containers that are usually offered to consumers with take-away sushi.  

These containers are only 5cm long and are made from polyethelene, a non biodegradable plastic which pollutes the surface of the ocean.  Fish even eat them mistaking them for plankton meaning that plastic is making its way into the food chain.    

Van Balen has responded by teaming up with a German company to produce a biodegradable soy sauce containers shaped also like a fish, but that dissolve in water.

“Not many people know about it, but due to currents in the Pacific Ocean, there are two giant islands of plastic that run so deep you could build on them,” Van Balen says.    “Dumped plastic will never go away and is already a huge problem.”

This is an exhibition so packed with revelations and ideas that it really is worth the trip to Eindhoven to see.   Marre Moerel casts tableware directly from animal entails; Julie Green paints onto paper plates the final food requests of Oklohoma death row inmates; Uli Westphal shows how lights are used to manipulate the appearance of food in supermarkets for psychological effect.

Menno Stoffelsen set up a 3d printer to show how food can be printed.  Here his team use chocolate, but avocado and other fatty foodstuffs could work equally well.  They even foresee a scenario whereby machines could customize dishes based on taste bud scans to precisely suit individual preferences.

Peter Menzel exhibits three of his photographs from the series he did contrasting what families from across the planet consume in one week; and in one of the best if not most important ideas presented Simon Beyyer offers Aidpop.  Shocked that in many remote African villages children die from lack of access to adequate medication, but Coca-Cola is available.  Tapping into the drink company’s brilliant distribution network, he designed packages (filled with medicines) that neatly fit between the bottles in the crates.  A pilot project is currently underway in Zambia, sponsored by UNICEF.
The Next Nature Lab, part of the industrial Design Lab at the Technical University in Eindhoven, presents some fascinating projects on how we might deal with emerging food technologies.  

By 2050, with the growing Chinese and Indian markets, in vitro meat will be the only way to meet human demand. It is not all bad news - in vitro means uses no land, emits no greenhouse gasses, and entails no killing of animals. But, people balk at the thought.

Mark Kantes's project concludes that the only way to avoid this psychological block is to introduce the food to the very young before their opinions on how food should look and feel cements.  He presents his meals of meat-made-in-petri-dishes as fun balls of colour.

“Eating by Design” is a great exhibition - successful on many levels because food is not only about agriculture and science, but also about how we interact and differentiate one culture from the next.  

Food captures the whole gamut of life.

"Eating by Design" runs until 30th September.
Images by Lizzy Kalivaart