Food Design

Straddling the disciplines of architecture, design and art, the Viennese creative duo Honey & Bunny presented in Amsterdam last week at the What Design Can Do event. Otherwise known as Martin Hablesreiter (38) and Sonja Stummerer (39), the couple stage food performances at biennales and shows most recently at Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan. Their performance in Amsterdam, attended by largely European industrial and graphic designers, took place on a makeshift plywood construction. The pair invited participants to take a seat on parts of the structure, sometimes cramming into awkward spaces, lying flat, standing, or perched on high while merrily filling wine glasses in preparation for the first course. First up: a helping of edible grasshoppers, followed by a sprinkling of crunchy maggots, rounded off with a serving of traditional Dutch stamppot (mashed vegetables). While Hablesreiter and Stummerer stayed mum during the entire performance, participants squealed, laughed and pulled faces ranging from incredulousness to sheer disgust. According to Hablesreiter,

“Disgust is just a topic of culture.”

A Dutch mom and daughter pair, perched on a ledge, pick at the stamppot and circumnavigate the grasshoppers, loudly debating their first course. A pale-faced young designer seated in a comfortable lower part of the structure, closes her eyes and places a grasshopper in her mouth. She turns to her friend, who lies prostrate, either to witness the deed or for a sense of familiarity during a totally unfamiliar experience. A beautiful Asian woman disaffectedly pops the insects into her mouth, one after the other, waiting for something more radical to happen. Hablesreiter comments afterwards, “We didn’t expect everyone to participate, it was impressive that everyone did what we wanted. In Vienna not everyone would have tried the insects. In Japan I have no idea how they would have reacted to this performance.” Through their performances, books and exhibitions the duo have been raising questions about how we eat. Eat Design, their new project not only asks questions about what we eat, but also the way we eat, including body position, tools and the clothes we wear. Reactions to their work often stem from the disruptions it causes.

“People think we have an instinct concerning taste and smell, it’s not true, you learn it. Tastes are influenced by culture. Everyone thinks that taste absolute when it’s not. If you try make people unsure of their taste, it’s disruptive.”

During a performance aimed at a commenting on the traditional tools of food consumption during Vienna Design Week, the pair used industrial equipment like blowtorches, saws and drills to prepare the meal. Critics complained they were toying with food. One blog labeled it “fascinating and repulsive at the same time.” According to Hablesreiter and Stummerer, “The plate, knife and fork construct hierarchy, patriarchy and racism. Everyone in Europe tries to eat like the Queen of England and we accept these hierarchies. We want people to think about how they behave, how consumption of food is used to keep social organization as it is.” Driving the point home literally during the performance, participants were faced with surgical pans as dishes and empty syringe cartridges as glasses. Hablesreiter comments, “In central Europe serving different courses during a meal was designed to keep the housewife away from the table.” The pair maintains the design market perpetuates these types of practices. “Designers design five different plates and forks to keep a system alive. No one asks why this is.”

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