Minding the Gap

Maximum impact at the MAXXI

September 2015
By way of six distinctive categories: body, home, street, city, landscape, and world, the exhibition Food. Dal cucchiaio al mondo at the MAXXI in Rome explores the architectural issues associated with the storing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food and raw materials. In so doing, it tackles the global political, social, urban, and economic effects that these issues have on communities and territories across the planet. DAMN° surveyed the terrain.
As a counterpoint to Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life / Expo Milano 2015, the MAXXI in Rome is showcasing a sociopolitical exhibition about the impact of food on everyday lives. Entitled Food. Dal cucchiaio al mondo, it surveys the trajectory of food from its production and distribution to its consumption and disposal. Over 50 works by artists and architects are on display, in addition to projects made in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the United Nations World Food Pro-gramme (WFP).
Giovanna Melandri, president of the MAXXI, writes in the introduction to the catalogue, “In 2050, the world population will reach a total of 9.6 billion people and more than two-thirds of the world’s citizens will live in towns and metropolises. In the meantime, even today, almost a billion people live below the poverty line. [...] This is why in the year of the universal Expo in Milan, MAXXI has decided to offer its own contribution to a contemplation of the theme of our planet’s nourishment and sustainability.” The exhibition is the last of a trilogy of shows curated by Pippo Ciorra, following on from Re-Cycle. Strategies for Architecture, City, and Planet (2012) about the concept of recycling, and Energy. Oil and Post-oil Architecture and Grids, about resources. “My idea was to focus on the state of food generated in the home, on the streets, in the city, and in the workplace”, he says. “So we go from how the domestic space is designed to how the big nations are buying grain from Africa, and from the very small scale of the body and rituals to the big, geopolitical events.
Divided into six sections: body, home, street, city, landscape, and world, the show essentially focuses on the relationship between food and space at different scales. For the Body section, Italian architect Matilde Cassani has designed a Japanese teahouse where a tea master performs a tea ceremony once a month. It draws inspiration from the legacy of Sen no Rikyū, who pioneered the tea ceremony in 16th-century Japan. “The teahouse is produced with the minimum amount of space needed for the tea master to move around in to make and offer tea, and is the module with which you build the whole concept of space in Japan”, says Ciorra.
In the Home section is a reconstruction of the Frankfurt Kitchen, the first fitted kitchen designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1926, which revolutionised the modern domestic space. The first fridge, designed by Kelvinator in 1918, and some 1950s Tupperware items, are also on view. However, the exhibition largely eschews product design. “Industrial design today is about glamour, something you can probably find at the Expo, and we wanted to engage in something that has a strong political sense and a clear relationship with people’s lives”, explains Ciorra. One such exhibit is of photographs taken in Sudan about the WFP’s SAFE (Safe Access to Fuel and Energy) initiative to provide fuel-efficient stoves in developing countries.
[caption id="attachment_9428" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Dabbawala Lunch Delivery System, 2014 RMA Architects Mumbai Photo © Rajesh Vora Dabbawala Lunch Delivery System, 2014
RMA Architects
Photo © Rajesh Vora[/caption]
The collective consumption of food in the city takes in Mensa Moltke, a university dining hall in Karlsruhe, Germany, designed by J. Mayer H. Architects, the MJosé Van Hee and Robbrecht & Daem-designed Market Hall in Ghent, and the multi-purpose Market Hall by MVRDV in Rotterdam. Snøhetta's Vulkan Beehive series in Oslo, two hexagonal vol-umes constructed in geometric forms based on the honeycomb, serve as a reminder of the important role of bees. Presented in the Street section is the research on the dabbawalas’ lunch delivery system in Mumbai, by RMA Architects, founded by Rahul Mehrotra, In the morning, the 5,000 dabbawalas collect home-cooked meals in lunch boxes from the homes of around 200,000 workers and deliver them to their workplace, returning the empty metal boxes to their homes in the afternoon. The reason for this meal distribution, which involves the dabbawalas catching trains and cycling, is that the workers prefer eating home-cooked meals prepared by their wives or mothers. A more high-tech exhibit is the Tesco Homeplus virtual store in the Seoul Subway. It enables customers to scan the QR codes of their items, pay for them with their smartphones, and then have them delivered to their homes.
One of the highlights is the commissioned replica of White Limousine Yatai by Atelier Bow-Wow. Originally created for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in Niigata, Japan in 2003, it consists of a 10-metre-long food cart, a variant of the mobile food stall seen in Japanese cities. In this elongated version, several dozen people can share a meal on a table the same length as a limousine. “This beautiful free-food de-vice designed by Atelier Bow-Wow fits perfectly with the idea of micro-urban public spaces that food can create”, enthuses Ciorra. The Landscape section dis-plays visionary agricultural ideas, such as Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s House of the Agricultural Guards (a theoretical project made in the 18th century about a spherical building) and Le Corbusier’s 1938 study for agrarian reorganisation. Realised projects include Stanislaw Staszic's Graduating Towers for salt extraction built in Poland during the 18th cen-tury and the Génoscope by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, a structure for the promotion and sale of the Limousin breed of cattle in western France. On the humanitarian front is the Women’s Opportunity Centre in Kayonza, Rwanda, designed by Sharon Davis. It is a multi-use facility developed by Women for Women International, where local women learn how to farm, store, prepare, and market food.
[caption id="attachment_9431" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Global Seed Vault, Spitsbergen, Norway, 2008. Peter W. Soderman © Cary Fowler/Global Crop Diversity Trust Global Seed Vault, Spitsbergen, Norway, 2008. Peter W. Soderman
© Cary Fowler/Global Crop Diversity Trust[/caption]
The World section flits from Peter W. Søderman's Svalbard Global Seed Vault for conserving crops in the Norwegian mountains and Heatherwick Studio’s Seed Cathedral for the Shanghai Expo 2010 to Chris Terry’s photographic series, The Family Meal, for the WFP. Terry photographed the conditions of refugee families in Ecuador, Jordan, and Myanmar, plus those of impoverished families in Chad and Niger. Artworks are featured throughout. In black-and-white photographs from the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark is roasting a pig under the Brooklyn Bridge, and Joseph Beuys is standing in an enclosed space next to a piece of fallen machinery representing a ‘honey pump’ – the work Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz was performed at Documenta 6 in Kassel. In Mohamed Allam's video Alphabet (2014), a young, hooded man describes the process of making a gastronomic bomb out of vinegar, oil, TNT powder, icing sugar, baguettes, chocolate, sugar, and vanilla. Fusing the ideas of food and terrorism, it is as if he is reciting a recipe for a cookery programme.
Produced especially for this exhibition is the acrylic wall painting Del Montte – Pure Red Rum (2013) by Mexican artist Minerva Cuevas. It satirises how American company Del Monte exploited crop production in Central and Latin America. The artist amended the brand name in reference to José Efraín Ríos Montt, the military president of Guatemala in 1982-1983 who was responsible for the murder of members of the indigenous Ixil ethnic group. Presented alongside the painting are 150 cans of tomato purée that have been re-labelled to include political facts and figures. A photograph by Pedro Reyes called Grasswhopper (2013), a mini burger made with worm flour, fried caterpillars, beetle salad, and butterfly wings, adds humour. The Mexican artist imagines this as the fast food of the future, with in-sect protein replacing meat and fish. It’s an ominous idea that is certainly worthy of thought.

Food. Dal cucchiaio al mondo is at the MAXXI, Rome until 8 November 2015.


[caption id="attachment_9430" align="alignnone" width="677"]The Grasswhopper, 2013. Pedro Reyes The Grasswhopper, 2013. Pedro Reyes[/caption]