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