Features

Design that goes inside your body

May 25, 2009

Tablecloths rolled from dough, crockery baked from bread: The delectable work of Dutch eating-designer Marije Vogelzang shows us that it’s perfectly alright to play with your food.

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Design surrounds us everywhere, but if you think about it, how close can a designer get to the human being? They may create a mug that you put to your lips, a chair that you sit on or a dress that hugs your body. Dutch eating designer Marije Vogelzang goes one step further. Her work couldn’t actually get any closer to us: we put her designs inside our bodies by greedily gobbling them up.

A Design Academy Eindhoven graduate, Vogelzang was one of the first designers to really explore the relatively new field of design and food. Eating designer is the term that comes closest to describing her role; however, even that is too limiting. “I like to say that it’s the verb of eating that I work with,” she says. “Eating is also growing, harvesting, transport, cooking, sharing, feeding someone. That’s all the act of eating. Many times I don’t touch the food; by that I mean altering the essence of the ingredients.” Vogelzang has been commissioned to create eating concepts for special meals – past clients have included Droog and Dutch embassies around the world, events, exhibitions and workshops.

You may be wondering what the difference is between a chef (or even a caterer) and an ‘eating designer’. Taste and aesthetics are integral to the design, but Vogelzang’s projects are not about Michelin-starred gastronomy nor does she claim to be a chef or a culinaire extraordinaire. Rather, she is a master storyteller using food and senses. Behind every bite you’ll uncover a deeper meaning. With projects including a tablecloth made of pastry that conceals different fillings beneath, a pistol-shaped lollypop and a colour-food project (which connects the colours of foods to positive emotions), Vogelzang approaches food from a conceptual point of view to reach our minds via our bellies. “My real interest in this field began when I started to see that you could put design ideas onto food and even more interesting was that you could make a design to put inside your body,” she says. “Food is for everybody, it’s democratic. My designs feed you; they become a part of you.”

For Vogelzang, food is much more than just something to fill your stomach. She designs not only the food, but the experience that goes with it. She tells stories with food from which culture, memory, psychology and rituals are inseparable. Bringing people together, reconnecting and sharing is an important part of the experience.

“Marije uses food as a material, no more, no less,” says Li Edelkoort, Vogelzang’s former teacher at the Design Academy. “The main thing she has added to the field is a consciousness of the ritual aspect of eating, the emotion.” Vogelzang’s graduation project from 1999, Funeral Dinner, especially made an emotional impact on Edelkoort at the time, whose mother had recently died. Based on the funerary ritual of serving food at a wake and on white as the colour of mourning in certain cultures, the Funeral Dinner presented solemn all-white snacks served in custom-designed white crockery. White foods were perfect ‘solace’ flavours: sharp and bitter or subtle and gentle. Edelkoort says she was the ideal guinea pig for this project. “The white was purifying and soothing. At the same time white has no borders. The atmosphere was serene, very emotional. It helped me to make the first step into the process of mourning.”

The work of Vogelzang aims to get us thinking outside the box. “I want people to get inspired by a different view on food… or is it a different view on design?” she says. Using design and the medium of food, her work questions our views on food and eating. Why don’t they serve more carrots in the hospital’s eye ward? What do vitamins look like? Why do I dislike the idea of eating insects, when I like to eat prawns? Did you ever smoke an egg, knit spaghetti or print on bread? What did you eat when you fell in love for the first time?

Her Amsterdam-based design studio Proef (meaning ‘to taste’ in Dutch) functions as a food laboratory with a multitude of diverse projects simmering in the background. Vogelzang’s work often incorporates a strong social component whether it be creating a menu for Dutch World War II survivors, obese American children or South African citizens. One of her upcoming projects is working with a hospital. “In the Netherlands, there is a big problem with malnourishment in hospital patients. I’ve been asked to help the hospital address this problem and create something to give stimulation to people to start to eat again. I don’t know the solution yet. It might not be a product even, it could be a service. It’s a great kick to think that people could actually get better from my work and that we are turning negativity into positivity through food.” And, unlike with tangible products, which are a material by-product of design, Vogelzang’s work is completely perishable, so that all that remains afterwards is but a few crumbs and the lingering memories on our tastebuds.

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