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Say Cheese

A fish-shaped piece of cheese hanging, a pair of breasts, a clock, a plug – these were some of the results from the cheese-making workshop recently given by Dutch food designer Marije Vogelzang in Tokyo.

By No author / 13-11-2008

Memories of Milk and Cheese

Alongside the solo exhibition of Marije Vogelzang, currently being held at the AXIS Gallery in Tokyo, the gallery organised for the first time a food-dedicated workshop conducted by the food designer herself. Held at the JIDA Art Museum in Tokyo, the cheese-making workshop was attended by over 20 enthusiastic participants – one person travelled three hours from Kyoto to Tokyo on the Shinkansen just to take part.

Before starting making cheese, Vogelzang explained her background and thoughts about food and design. During her studies at the Design Academy Eindhoven, she received an assignment to create something using the colour white. She immediately made the connection with food. During her research, she discovered that many white foods have similar tastes and in some countries white is used to symbolise mourning as opposed to black in The Netherlands. She also discovered that there exists a culture of food for grieving when someone passes away which doesn't exist in The Netherlands. The white funeral dinner was born and it marked the beginning of Vogelzang’s journey with food design.

Increasingly she realized the deep impact that food has on human beings, not only physically, but also emotionally. That became clear with the project about the second World War where Vogelzang recreated what people ate when food was scarce, bringing back vivid memories with those who had survived the war.

A project in Lebanon involved baking bread bowls made with dough mixed with parsley, a favourite herb in the Lebanese kitchen. People were asked to write their happy memories down in the bread bowl. These bowls were then displayed in a row, symbolising the so-called ‘Green Line’ that divided Beirut for years, and participants and visitors were invited to eat from the bowls. ‘This way people literally shared their happy memories with each other. And the result was that there was a lot of interaction between the people involved’, says Vogelzang.

Back to the AXIS Gallery in Tokyo, the exhibition of Vogelzang drew much attention. Axis Gallery has presented the 'what design can do' series of exhibitions since 2007 with the aim of thinking about how design reacts to social issues. With the exhibition 'eating+design: what design can do, part 2 Marije Vogelzang', social awareness over food safety and other food-related issues has been highlighted. In the space, a white sheet was hung from the ceiling, surrounding a long dining table. Holes in the sheet allowed diners to put their head and arms through to eat at the table. On the table lied a plate cut in half and beside that, several kinds of strange cutlery. ‘It was all about sharing. One person has slices of melon, someone opposite has ham. Melon and ham is a natural combination. The result is that guests will exchange their half of the plates with someone else. The white sheet covers the clothes of the guests so everyone becomes equal.' The exhibition also featured food arranged by colour. This idea came from an assignment in the U.S. where Vogelzang noticed that children had a negative attitude towards food. By connecting food and colour, and positive emotions the children's view towards food began to change. They started to eat by choosing the colour in order to get the positive feeling that corresponded with the colour.

To begin the workshop, Vogelzang invited participants to join her at the exhibition next door at the AXIS Gallery where they had to taste several kinds of milk: natural, processed and low fat. People were then invited to write down their memories and associations on a empty white milk carton. These thoughts were to be transferred onto paper and then cloth and stitched into a form where finally the milk/cheese would end up. Finally the actual cheese making began: the heated milk with added lemon juice was poured into the resultant curious cloth shapes, which were hung above buckets to slowly drain. At the end of the afternoon each person took their own cheese ‘memory’ home. (see images for a visual diary of the day.)

‘I was positively surprised that the participants were quick in picking up ideas. It seems that the Japanese are more than ready to think about food, and food in concepts’, Vogelzang says. ‘Actually I don't do many workshops but I enjoyed this one because it was interesting to see what connections people made with food. When people work with food you can see how it can get to them on an emotional level.’ Vogelzang hopes to come back soon to Japan in the future, no doubt the participants hope so as well.

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