Stroom in Den Haag is currently showing the last exhibition in a compelling series of projects called Foodprint, which addresses the way we deal with food in contemporary society, particularly in an urban environment. The final exhibition, Food Forward, asks what our relationship to food might be in the future, a valid question in a time with an increasing world population and storied food shortages on the horizon. At Stroom, four projects with this (semi-)scientific starting point zoom in on alternative ways to deal with food in the future. Artists, unlike scientists, are able to create alternative solutions to actual problems without being restrained by physical limitations. The results are futuristic, far-fetched, or even impossible, but they do pose interesting ideas.
The first work you encounter is The Hunt, a humorous early film by Christian Jankowski (who is currently selling speedboats at art fairs). Functioning as an introduction to other more serious works, this work is both the exhibition’s wittiest and least scientific. In the film the artist goes hunting for food in the urban jungle, equipped with a bow and arrow in a supermarket. He stalks his prey, a chicken in an open freezer, and shoots it with a huge arrow. After Jankowski hunts down the rest of his shopping, an imperturbable cashier scans the loot (arrows and all). The absurd situation cleverly highlights the disconnect between the source of our food and its consumption.
While The Hunt makes this point through absurdity, John O’Shea’s The Meat License Proposal addresses the issue with a grim solution to close the gap. One sentence says it all: “people who are comfortable with eating meat, should be equally comfortable with killing animals.” His plan is to force meat consumers by law to kill an animal before they are allowed to buy meat. This work is more about morality than sustainability, and this moralizing standpoint makes it more activist than any other works in the show. Following this ethical position, the artist also presents a Black Market Pudding made without killing: the blood used to make the sausage was drained from a living animal. Unfortunately, both works rely on the exhibition text to make their point; visually they aren’t that interesting.
Michiko Nitta & Michael Burton, Algaculture, 2010; Courtesy of the artists
Other projects show increasingly radical ideas that would have a huge impact on the way our society works. Michiko Nitta and Michael Burton’s Republic of Salivation entertains the Orwellian idea of the government distributing food rations to civilians. The amount and composition of the food you receive is calculated for the specific work you do. The plan is represented here as the room of a worker who has just received his monthly supply of starches. As in O’Shea’s work, the ideas are quite interesting but the visual forms they take aren’t. The same goes for their second work, Algaculture, which imagines a symbiosis between humans and algae enabling humans to feed on light. That these projects just touch the surface of extremely rich ideas makes them quite shallow. They aren’t pushed to extremes and thus the fascinating consequences they might have for society remain untouched.
The last project, which does take one thought to an extreme, is Arne Hendriks’ The Incredible Shrinking Man. He hypothesizes that the stress on the world food supply would decrease if people attempted to shrink to the size of 50cm (about 20 inches). In Stroom he suggests ways to achieve this goal, like eating zebra fish, whose consumption slows down growth. But he also presents alternative ways to use the resources we have now. For instance, how do we deal with chickens when we are smaller? How do we catch and cook them? To illustrate this problem the artist has prepared an ostrich like it was a chicken. The thoroughness of the investigation into the idea’s potential consequences answers some of the questions left unexplored by other works in the exhibition.
The exhibition offers food for thought. Artists are perhaps the perfect people to explore these types of unfeasible utopian/dystopian future scenarios and develop alternative directions for our future. But in most of the works the balance between art and science is lacking on both sides of the scale. Scientific notions are only the starting point for most of the artworks and, accordingly, their scientific content is very thin. This is fine – it’s art after all! – but the way these projects are presented visually isn’t very strong either, and they rely too heavily on the information booklet. Unfortunately, the works in Food Forward are ultimately rather weak and sometimes even shallow illustrations of fascinating possibilities regarding our relationship to food in the future.
(Image on top: Christian Jankowski, film still from The Hunt, 1992/1997; Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London)