“Investigating cultural fascination with consumption and perfection, San Mei gallery presents Inedible Harvest by Natural Selection, an exploration into the rituals of food production and the role that objects play in establishing and influencing social customs. Natural Selection is a partnership between James Binning – founding member of the 2015 Turner prize recipient art and architecture collective Assemble – and Farrokh Aman – architect and designer at Sergison Bates and David Chipperfield architectural practice. Their exhibition Inedible Harvest at San Mei will commence July 21st through to August 8th with a programme of workshops, talks, collaborations and partnerships: aiming to raise questions about contemporary food culture and its implications in a varied, critical and enjoyable way.
Inedible Harvest is an exhibition drawn around handmade vessels that are cast from eccentric and oddly shaped fruits and vegetables that would normally not be accepted by supermarket norms. Reproduced en masse, these oddities discarded by the food production industry are repeated in themselves through their extensive reproduction. Instead of being discarded, these fruit and vegetable forms are celebrated, turned into plaster moulds.
Inedible Harvest utilises a wide variety of clay bodies and glaze techniques, from fine Chinese porcelain wares to terracotta and black glazes favoured by the ancient civilisations of the Greek archipelago, to raku-fired stoneware clays with low- fire yeast glazes commonly used in the Baltics. The combinations are eclectic and unspecific, in aggregate combining to create a panoply of objects for eating, drinking and sharing in new collective rituals. Through the production of these vessels, the process of their creation comes into play as much as the exploration of the aesthetic qualities of organic materials and shapes. Inedible Harvest displays a common core of interests oriented towards environmental consciousness and sensibility, presenting a critical approach to contemporary modes of production and creation in the arts and beyond”.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
James Binning & Farrokh Aman: We tend to begin by visiting places with excellent produce – there have been a few favourites and the shops on Bethnal Green Road have been an important resource. We’ve become a bit more specific in what we are looking for, whereas initially we were looking for simpler forms as technically we were a bit less clear what we would be able to work with and how different surfaces would respond to mould-making or how the vegetables would be affected by the reaction with the plaster. But really we are looking for unusual specimens, vegetables that are unusual or unexpected in their shape, texture or volume.
How would you define your work in the Inedible Harvest exhibition in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Beguiling, strange, varied, inedible.
Could you share with us some details about your new body of work at San Mei gallery and how does this participation in this group show come from?
We’ve known each other for a while but it’s really been a very informal project, we liked the idea of doing something together that would naturally end up being very different to the kinds of things we make in our regular practice, where we could be less precious and experiment a bit more freely. We were starting from a point where we both were interested in learning and developing an understanding of clay work and the processes involved. The project has really come about through of a lot of tests and failures and a gradual process of technical refinement, but even with the final pieces its very loose – we went up to Rochester Square in Camden and worked with Sevak, the technician there, to try out many combinations of all their house glazes. We aren’t ceramic artists, we really set out to learn a new technique and we had a shared interest in developing knowledge.
You both mainly work as architects; this profession incites a multidisciplinary dimension that usually involves manifold creative and practical skills as well as broader sources of knowledge. Being involved into the art of ceramics, does it feel like an alternative way out for your creativity? Are there more art fields that you are also engaged with?
It definitely is an alternative kind of creative practice but on a broader level the principles of artistic production which drive Natural Selection are also present in our work as architects – the myriad practical and creative skills that come with an architectural education; an interest in form, in process, in method…
‘Inedible Harvest displays a common core of interests oriented towards environmental consciousness and sensibility, presenting a critical approach to contemporary modes of production and creation in the arts and beyond’. Do you believe people have started to feel more engaged with such a critical thinking nowadays?
Our work inhabits a space between quite a precise industrial, repetitive method of production that enables a high volume of production and the randomness and unpredictability of working with organic objects. We aren’t really tapping into anything new as a way of working – it’s a mix of quite an empirical, systematic approach to production and experimentation and a willingness to try new things. Critically I think the process is very quick – from the object to the mould and production of multiples is very expedient, we can make a lot which means we are able to be very playful and test a lot of combinations of clays, glazes, forms. It is very unprecious and has in common with a lot of contemporary practice a lack of concern for style, an interest in variety, chance, an idea about the image or idea of the thing developing through the process of making it. This way of working and thinking has existed for a long time but its directness and unpredictability are increasingly popular because it is more likely to produce something unusual and unexpected amidst a world with lots of the made things that surround us are moderately tasteful and very familiar.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
We don’t have a studio space as such – we’ve been using a shared area within a studio building where we work that is set aside for larger scale production. In the evenings, a few others are usually in there making other things and the building has a very varied group of artists and skilled makers in. We’ve leant on a few of those people for technical knowledge, often if someone with a bit of expertise we need walks through to make themselves a drink they’ll be pulled into helping us out on a quick query or seeing whether we they can lend us a piece of kit we need. So it’s a place where there is a lot of different knowledge and expertise quite informally and easily accessible and which has been really valuable in making the work in a material and through processes that we weren’t familiar with and were keen to learn about.
What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
Something that has struck us – in the most welcome way – is the non-uniform way in which people engage with our work. Our exhibition opened a few days ago and conversations we were having were really varied and rich. From quite technical ones to discussions about the colourful culture of our city. We don’t hope for one thing or another and the open endedness and the space for discussion is very enjoyable.
Which are your plans for the near future?
In the course of making the first moulds, firing and glazing all the objects we’ve been through a couple of seasons already. There’s completely different produce on the shelves now than six months ago, many of the familiar vegetables that are available all year round but also many strange new, more seasonal visitors. I think reflecting on this series we’d like to make larger, more technical pieces and to really push the way that pieces are glazed. I think we are really interested now in learning more about some of the unusual and unpredictable ways of glazing pieces, using hand-built tunnel kilns or tepee kilns for instance. There’s a really deep craft knowledge but also more culture in that kind of production, it’s quite folkloric and more rural and we’ve talked about producing some batches that we can then glaze and fire somewhere out in the land, in collaboration with people that have knowledge in those processes.
©All images are courtesy of San Mei gallery