PSYCHOLOGISTS say we don’t like food on a plate that points towards us, no matter how beautifully it is presented. According to new research, anything pointy — a young carrot, perhaps — should be at a 45-degree angle from the diner.
You might doubt the purpose of such research, but food design and our reaction to it has become an industry. Yes, there is design in the layout of a meal, not just in the packaging. Take our beloved Mikado biscuit, with its coconut-topped marshmallow and contrasting, crumbly biscuit base and stream of gooey jam; or the Loop-The-Loop iced lolly, or Licorice Allsorts.
They are functional and attractive, summing up the elements that make for successful design, and are just three of the foods in an exhibition, ‘Appetite For Design: A Culinary Design Experience’ at the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny.
With a strong national food culture here in Ireland that enjoys an international reputation, it’s hardly surprising the subject should receive this level of attention, but it’s intriguing to see both art and design exploring it and the diversity in their approaches.
“We’ve picked a selection of well-designed foods and taken them out of their context to look at them differently,” says Ahmad Fakhry, of Designgoat, the Dublin-based studio responsible for curating the show as part of Irish Design 2015.
“In the last five to ten years, food design has really taken off. There are courses in it now in places like Eindhoven and Milan, with another in Paris coming soon.”
Along with Cian Corcoran, his co-principal in Designgoat, he has chosen work from a mix of Irish and international food designers in three categories: design of food that focuses on culinary experiences, such as melting, blowing and foaming, and the mixing and reassembling of food to transform the flavour and consistency.
The second highlights the creation of mass-produced food and how it’s shaped and formulated.
A well-known result is the Billy Bear ham roll product, which designed to appeal to children, and its success is evidenced by the excited pointing of any toddler at a supermarket cold meat counter. “It’s an example of process,” says Ahmad, “and industrial design”. And, thanks to another development in food industrial design, vacuum packing means Billy Bear won’t fester in the confines of an exhibition space.
The third element looks at the design of products used in preparing and serving food, so expect everything from plates to coffee machines, and from kitchen tweezers to glassware at this show.
Meanwhile, in Cork, The Lavit Gallery’s ‘The Art of Food’ draws on the tradition of art depicting food, a popular subject among the old masters, like Cezanne, and also, through subsequent centuries, to the work of artists like photo-realists Ben Schonzeit and Charles Bell, and Pop Art’s food brand depictions. But while there is a citation of art history in the exhibition — watch out, in particular, for Joe Dunne’s Homage to Chardin — it’s very much a contemporary show.
Works by established and emerging artists include the suggestion of food preparation, in James English’s chopped apples; Caroline Ward’s white bowls full of vivid green pea soup, set again crisp white linen, are captured from an aerial perspective, showing the wider dining experience. Pots of jam and marmalade are homely and inviting, but without being twee.
It’s still life, but unlike the works of the old masters with their staged, albeit beautiful vignettes, in the selection at ‘The Art of Food’ there’s a suggestion of practicality; that it’s all in preparation for eating soon or for the arrival of guests. It’s function and beauty, just like design, but depicted in art.
* ‘Appetite for design: A Culinary Design Experience’, National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny’ until June 30, 2015.
* ‘The Art of Food’, The Lavit Gallery, Cork until May 30.
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