Interview with Tasha Marks food historian and founder of AVM curiosities

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I’ve been a massive fan of both AVM curiosities and it’s fonder Tasha Marks ever since I discovered my love of experimental food design and art. AVM (Animal Vegetable Mineral) Curiosities explore the relationships between food and art through events, talks and edible interventions. I was lucky enough to work for Tasha at some of her events as well as helping her put together her window at Selfridges for their “Bright Young Things” showcase. She kindly granted me an interview for this blog to give us a deeper insight in what makes her tick, what AVM Curiosities has been up and what is coming up next. Enjoy.

So I know you studied Art History at Sussex University, can you pinpoint the moment that you decided that a focus on food history was the path you wanted to take? What was the initial inspiration for focusing on food history?

At University I was lucky enough to be offered a final year course on the history of food and dining from 1300s – present by V&A curator Ann Eatwell. Up until then my studies had focused on the origins of museums, specifically cabinets of curiosity, so bringing these two influences together provided a eureka moment where the sensory elements of food and the cerebral nature of the museum could be brought together to create something new.

I hear you have quite the collection of historical books, what would you say are your top three favourites that you return to again and again for inspiration?

My favourites would have to be 1000 Curious Things Worth Knowing c.1850, Sweets: A History of Temptation by Tim Richardson and The Compleat Confectioner by Hannah Glasse.

You worked with Bompas and Parr in the past, what was it like working with them?

A fantastical sticky adventure! Their sky’s-the-limit attitude and creativity was wonderful to be a part of.

So what was the first event you did as AVM Curiosities?

It was the Miracle Berry Banquet, which was a collaboration with the Rambling Restaurant and the Urban Physic Garden. Guests were treated to a three-course meal that explored sweets and sour herbs, ending with a miracle berry* dessert table. (* a miracle berry is a fruit which reverses your taste buds and makes sour things taste sweet)

Out of all the events and interventions AVM Curiosities has created, what would you say has been your favourite?

It’s hard to pick! It would probably be a tie between Toxic Treats: A Dark History of Britain’s Sweets, which was an interactive lecture on the sinister side of counterfeit confectionary in Victorian London, and Ambergris, which was my solo show at Herrick Gallery.

So congratulations! You’ve been chosen by Grey Goose vodka as one of their Iconoclasts Of Taste, could you describe the cocktail you invented for them? I’ve tried it luckily and I must say its yummy! What was the inspiration behind the drink and how to did you come to the final recipe?

I found out where the cocktail would be served before I had come up with the recipe so I wanted to make the drink site specific, make sure that people knew that the Gilbert Scott, St Pancras, would be the best place to premiere it… so I took the opening date of the venue, 1873, and decided to theme the drink around that date. 1873 is one of the latter years of the Pre-Raphaelites so I decided to go for a drink based around Millais’s painting of Ophelia and theme the flavours around the characters last lines in Hamlet where she rants and raves about the flowers. And the drink was served!

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You’ve also been chosen as one of Selfridges’ Bright Young Things for 2013 creating your own window display? Could you tell me a little about it?

The Selfridges window installation was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate AVM’s central themes of food, art and history in an ‘Edible Cabinet of Curiosity’, containing everything from an antique hippo skull to 1082 luminous gobstoppers! The window design also complimented my t-shirt and products, which were on sale in store.

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So you’re an Iconoclast of Taste, a Bright Young Thing and you’ve giving talks at the V&A. What’s next?

Next I’m working on my most ambitious project to date called, The History of the World in 100 Sweets. It will be launching in early 2014 so the details are all top secret for now, but you can join my mailing list to be the first in the know…

Tasha Marks | Animal Vegetable Mineral | October 2013

http://www.avmcuriosities.com

Image Credits:
Tasha Marks – Photo Philip Sinden courtesy of Grey Goose, http://www.avmcuriosities.com
Edible Art Class – The London Sinner, http://www.thelondonsinner.com
Bright Young Things – Selfridges, http://www.selfridges.com

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Éléa Nourand-Apisoap

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Another fellow graduate from 3D Design is Éléa Nourand, her whole degree show work was centered around localism, biodiversity and recycling, one project, TRUC, features products created from recycled plastic shopping bags. The range includes a bag, egg carrier and even her business cards are made from plastic bags! However it is her range of ethical and natural cosmetics that I loved. Although Apisoap isn’t technically edible it’s still bloody lovely. It is a range of locally sourced, ethical and environmentally sound soaps and cosmetics that combine flax and bee products to make yummy yummy products.

The project was a response to the lack of questioning that goes on with our cosmetic products, nowadays we question everything in our food, we want to know where it is from, what it contains and the names of the farmer, pig or carrot. However if you attempt to read the back of a shower gel or soap packet I doubt many of us would know what the hell is in them! Even supposedly ‘natural’ products contain long sciency technical names. If these were food products we’d be demanding more clarity. Surely the same rules should apply for things we put in ourselves and on ourselves!

“People use soap everyday but do not question what it is made of. I have created a soap made of local bee produce and locally sourced ingredients such as Flax oil, rapeseed oil and hemp oil. I have attempted to engage people in the process and make-up of the product through the composition of the material and its form. The ApiSoap is a ‘well-being’ product, made to respect the human body and promote a bio-diverse, local environment.”

The series of soaps made from natural ingredients, including bees wax and flax extracts, are all hand made by Éléa herself. They smell yummy and the ingredients have be touted as gentle natural alternative for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions. The products also serve as a reminder to us that we often forget the cocktail of chemicals we slather on our selves day in day out with little knowledge (or perhaps care?) about what exactly is in these products, where the contents have come from and the negative impact such ingredients can have on the environment. Its an interesting and innovative idea to transfer concerns about ethics and locality usually associated with food products, onto cosmetics.

The soaps themselves are beautifully presented, each piece hexagonal in shape mimicing the bees hives where many of the ingredients have come from. The different ingredients and images of the production process were display too, presenting the manufacturing process with a transparency not usually associated with cosmetics manufacturers! The bee element is also extremely relevant at the moment, Éléa has tapped into a worldwide concern about rapidly declining numbers in the bee population and the subsequent collapse of our fragile ecosystems. I think the soap is subtle in its intent but also just a really nice, well made product that smells amazing and is kind to both your skin and the environment.

I intend to place an order for some lovely hand made bars of soap immediately, I would pay a high price for a product like this, like I would pay a high price for quality, local and organic food. I wish Éléa the best of luck in all her future endeavors and hope to see Apisoap on (local) shop shelves soon.

eleanouraud.com

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Freya Collingwood-Encased

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”Encased’ are a collection of dark chocolate suitcases with mystery fillings, just as luggage is personal to each individual, so is taste. Each case has a different filling such as; chilli, strawberry, coffee, white chocolate, almond, wasabi, pistachio..’

The project concept by a another coursemate from Brighton, Freya Collingwood. Freya’s entire final project was a discussion about luggage, it’s history, its present, how we use it, and what it says about us. Encased was side project that didn’t make it into the final show, but as a self confessed Gourmand/fatty with a lust for chocolate this is probably now one my favorite projects of hers.

However I don’t just like the project because it’s food and/or chocolate (though that is a good reason). I also think it’s very clever and quite lovely. I wonder whether the suitcases could be eaten Russian roulette style, so you don’t know what your going to get? It could evoke a personal memory of lost or switched luggage. Or perhaps they could be customisable? Perhaps a particular combination of flavours reminds you of a loved one?

The creation of a chocolate version of a suitcase is an intersting oxymoron, luggages is designed to keep the insides hidden and together, the suitcase has to be sturdy enough so it doesn’t break open and secure enough so things don’t spill out. With the chocolate the whole point is that you get inside to the contents, if the outer shell was strong enough to stop the filling coming out you’d break your teeth!

Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance yet to taste these suitcase shaped delights but I will report back if and when I can convince Freya to let me try a few, if only for ‘professional’ purposes.

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freyacollingwoodesign.co.uk

New Designers 2013 – Looking Back

Hot, sticky, knackering, interesting, fun, tiring, hot, all words that could describe the week spent exhibiting at New Designers 2013. Its been almost a week since it finished and my feet still hurt from standing around for 8 hour stretches.

As much as I complained in moments of boredom and foot soreness it was a really interesting and even educational experience. As much as the 3D Design degree show was a crash course in display and idea communication for me, we did have tutors and technicians on hand pretty much all day every day to advise and help us put it together. At New Designers, compared to some courses we had very little input from the university, they didn’t help us pay for the stall in any way and the two tutors that dropped in to help did it out of the kindness of their hearts rather than because of some course related obligation. Therefore we were pretty much left to do it ourselves, which means we learned far more about organising and putting together such a big group show ourselves as we’d had to do it ourselves. Although there was some flaring tempers and curtness with each other at times, we did get it done, on time and without any major hiccups or fuck ups.

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The previous post was about the first day of ND and the private view so I’ll continue from there. Thursday was not so fun in the morning, minor-ly hung over but determined to go in there were a few decidedly pale and drawn faces hanging around for the longest day of the week. The next three days were spent in the hottest building known to man on the sunniest days of the year so far! But we all soldiered on, taking it in turns to rest our feet in the few chairs we managed to purloin from a nearby cupboard. Every time someone came over to look at some ones work they would have to jump up and corner them for a chat. Every time you did this you were pretty much guaranteed to lose your seat to some one who had been hovering. As it got nearer and nearer to the end of the show and we were hotter, stickier and more tired, people became less inclined to talk to people, taking longer to get up as they deliberated whether talking to another disinterested school child or person who wasn’t that interested in the first place was worth losing a seat for.

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Some exciting things did happen during the week, it wasn’t all boredom and sitting around fanning ourselves with spare catalogs. One of our own, Joshua Barnes, won a British Design Council Future Pioneer award for his Augmented Quilt, a quilt designed to relieve loneliness for children staying for long periods of time in hospital. The quilt is covered in patchwork images which can be linked to messages from family and friends which can be viewed on a smart device. Like QR codes but with images.
The award ceremony itself was really fun, not only as there was free booze and Bompas and Parr jellie, but because the judges presenting the awards read like a whose who in the design world. Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh creator of Sugru was there, Jay Osgerby of Barber Osgerby and Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer from the Design Council. We were all delighted for Josh and I got to eat amazing Bompas and Parr jelly!

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The jelly was brilliant, I ended up having to eat mine with no hands, face straight into plate, as my spoon holding hand was occupied with a glass of wine. They were truly delicious but we couldn’t quite figure out the flavours, even though they were really familiar, all we know is there was a blue one and one that was definitley alcoholic. Yum. And of course there was the decorative display of gelatine heavy display jellies in all kind of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes.

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So there were highs and lows of New Designers, the lows being how knackering the show was, the heat and my personal expectations being so high. Although I wasn’t expecting to land a job, sell everything, have a billion commissions and win all the awards and I did make a couple of contacts I think you can’t help compare yourself to what has happened to your peers. Awards were won, work was sold, jobs and internships were offered, all to other people. I suppose one thing I did learn, specifically about my work and where it ‘fits’ in the world, is that it weird and needs explaining. Although not having my wall graphics there meant I was forced to talk to people about my work having the info there does mean people engage with it and ‘get it’ much faster. So that’s something to remember for the future!

So we’ll see what the future holds with shows now, there’s been vague murmurs about doing something together at London Design week but it’s highly likely that most of us will never see each other again, let alone show together! So I wish everyone the best of luck in all their future endeavors, well done us for pulling off a great show and I will see everyone at graduation!

joshuabarnes.co.uk/augmented-quilt

Creative Review Blog Features FFFOTD

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Fun Food Fact of the Day has been featured along side other graduate project on the Creative Review Blog, Talent Spotters.

“Clare Plumley visits this year’s Brighton shows…Poppy Wilson St James presents a series of objects which bring into question the origin of the food we consume and how those products impact on us. She has made jelly moulds of pigs trotters, sweets in the shape of rotting teeth and promotes the nutritious value of bugs and insects.”

Creative Review Blog

Seoul National University of Korea Award for FFFOTD

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Fun Food Fact of the Day was Nominated and chosen for the Seoul National University of South Korea Award for Innovation in 3D Design. Thanks to Professor KyungChan Paik of the university. The certificate is proudly framed next to my space. Thanks also to Nick Gant who nominated me for the award.
Photos to follow.

Buglery

Cutters

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Global meat production is already considered unsustainable and with the world’s population set to hit 9 billion in 2050 we simply do not have the space or the water to continue producing animal protein as we are currently doing. Therefore in the future it is envisioned that we will be reliant on ‘mini livestock’, or insects, as a main source of animal protein. 80% of the world already eats insects in some way, shape or form, especially as a delicacy. In the West however where the demand for animal protein is at its highest we are yet to embrace the thought of eating bugs. I have created a series of specialised utensils for eating insects thus elevating their status from creepy crawly pests to delicacies, as with lobster or oysters.

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Nell and Billy trying the cutlery out on salt and vinegar dressed fried crickets. Using the cutlery helped me explain the issues surrounding meat production and food production in general. They also ate all of the crickets. And licked the plate clean…

A Spoonful of Sugar…

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Throughout history it was more commonplace to see sugary foodstuffs on the shelves of an apothecary rather than in the windows of confectioners. Sugar was very expensive and used mainly as a ‘spice’ for the wealthy and as a preservative for medicinal spices. I have looked at the cures of old and attempted to bring them into the 21st century to compare with the sugary treats and medicines of today and see what has changed; for example medicines no longer contain sugar as an active ingredient but still have to be kept away from children with their candy like appearance. By reforming historical sugary cures into the forms of modern day medicines, such as pills and caplets, we are invited to question how we perceive sugar in contemporary culture.

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Nell pretending to eat one of the pills. The pills opened us discussions with her and her brother Billy about the history of sugar, sugar in medicine and modern medications.

Real Gummy Teeth

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Sugar has been portrayed in recent years as the root of all current health problems and crises. There are different studies and arguments about whether sugar plays a part in causing obesity, heart disease and other conditions, however it is universally accepted that sugar causes tooth decay. Consumption of sugars, of all kinds including those in dried fruit and honey, leads to acid attacking the enamel on our teeth causing decay and cavities. So why are perfectly straight, white, pristine teeth shaped sweets sold in sweet shops everywhere? I have created ‘real’ gummy teeth, cast in silicone to mimic gummy sweets from two real mouths, to demonstrate the one definite result of over consumption of sugar- decay and tooth loss.

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Nell and Billy again, playing with the silicone gummy teeth, as well as ‘real’ edible gummy teeth from the same mould. Playing with the silicone teeth as well as eating the sweetie teeth opened up discussion about dental hygiene, sugary food including fruit and how sugar should be a treat food.

Pigs Trotter Jelly Mould

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In the kitchens of history gelatine was created by boiling the bones of animals, especially pigs and cattle. Nowadays gelatine is still made from the hides and bones of cows and pigs but is industrially extracted, pigs are specifically used for the production of food grade gelatine. As highlighted by the recent horse meat scandal we are increasingly unaware of what exactly is in our food and how it is treated before it arrives in shops and on our plates. By creating a jelly mould in the shape of a pig’s trotter I am reminding consumers of the origins of their food, specifically the intensive industrial processes and subsequent synthetic nature of jelly that removes us from the reality of its source. The product succeeds by creating a trotter shaped jelly, the final food product taking the form of gelatine’s original source.

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Nell and Billy, two primary school children, learning about the origins of their food by using the jelly mould. It opened up a discussion about processed food, animal products and what else gelatine and pork products are used in.