Could there be a more ideal candidate to represent for the lifestyle, consumption, and contemporary culture in Europe, than the banana? One of our most mundane fruits, it is totally alien and dislocated. Something slightly curvy and yellow begs the question, how much do we actually know about our everyday goods? We are living in a material culture, one in which most of the things surrounding us have far-flung origins. Taken on a journey for processing, and transported in truck, train, and giant shipping containers over thousands of kilometres, we are left with a tiny mark, a sticker, a label, carrying the oh so intimate – and often downright misleading – ‘made in’ title naming one single country. As familiar as the tag has become, it is completely insufficient for our increasingly interwoven and global trading patterns.
Despite the more than 8000km that separates Iceland and Ecuador, what both countries have in common is the banana. Like many places in the world, Iceland has a perfect supply of immaculate fruit with unblemished yellow skin. As such, the banana not only ends up in our supermarkets, it can also go straight to the dumpster courtesy of standardisation and expiry date regulations.
We have created economical systems of food supply and security that, on the one hand, grant us the instantaneous access to the most remote goods, but are simultaneously full of paradoxical and nonsensical consequences. It’s an illogic that doesn’t have to be the pervading logic. The banana passport is an attempt to warp the definition of the ‘made in’ label, subjectifying the banana, a single character that goes on a journey of which we can see traces.
A collaborative project between Björn Steinar Blumenstein and myself, we developed it based on statistics and conversations with local food importers. The passport holds information of the major shipping ports and canal ways that it encounters on its 14-day journey in specialised oxygen-sealed cooling containers. At the same time, you can find information about its standardisation regulations, the average length, curve, and the one and only mass-produced clone of fruit, the Cavendish Banana.
The passport is an interventionist prop, but it is also the initial start of a larger research project about cargo shipping, called Cargo, in which we follow the voyages of a regular aluminium can that has a stopover in Iceland. In comparison to the banana, this one does not encounter one linear trajectory, but travels back and forth between countries due to its long-haul processing stages. Also feeding into the ‘made in’ label, we took the example of the canned drink, Appelsin. The can is filled in Iceland but its material sourced in Brazil. The aluminium oxide is processed in Iceland, shipped to Rotterdam, rolled into sheets in Germany, pressed in the UK, then back on the boat to Iceland, where it is filled with the ‘national drink’ – water mixed with orange infusions from abroad.
Cargo is a call to question our systems and think about the ways in which we can – and importantly, want to – source our everyday goods and products. We need to question the systems we have created, and all those accompanying paradoxes provide space for creatives to intervene, rethink, change, and improve choices.
Image credit: Johanna Seelemann and Björn Steinar Blumenstein
Cargo features in the exhibition The Magic Box – Shipping, shopping, and the global consumer,
Maritime Museum of Denmark, Elsinore, (opens 25 April) mfs.dk