At a design festival once, I attended a lunch that had been designed by Marije Vogelzang. I knew there would be a surprise in store.
When I arrived, I was famished and needed food...and fast. Much to my stomach's disappointment, the meal entitled 'Distance Lunch' was themed around creating distancing from the food and consequently meant eating slowly. Oh dear belly.
First course was a string of peas beautifully laid out inside a round dish like a necklace, to be eaten with very long, slender cutlery. Out with the table manners, elbows were raised everywhere so that everyone resembled puppeteers trying to pick at each slippery pea. I tried each time to prick more than one pea on my tiny fork, failed miserably and was forced to relish the taste of each sweet pea one by one. Pouring the whole plate of peas straight into my mouth just wasn't an option.
Next up were root vegetable 'frietjes' (chips) served in Dutch-style paper cones and mayonnaise. At last my stomach thought: fast food. But no. The cutlery this time involved long pointy paper thimbles to be worn on your thumb and index finger so that they functioned like pincers. The chips had to be pinched out from the cone and dipped into mayonnaise that was also served in a cone. As a seasoned chopstick user, this task came a little easier than the last but it was still rather challenging to eat gracefully at a table full of strangers: we just had to laugh at each other's pathetic efforts.
'Distance Lunch' is one of the projects featured in eating-designer Marije Vogelzang's new book Eat Love, published by BIS Publishers. Eat Love presents all of Vogelzang's and her food/design studio Proef's projects since her graduation from the Design Academy Eindhoven. Categorised by eight chapters or themes, the projects are laid out in a playful way, illustrated with photos featuring a lot of people, and hand sketches and annotations drawn by Vogelzang. Coffee cup stains are happily splashed on the pages throughout.
For Marije Vogelzang, food is much more than just something to fill your stomach. Vogelzang 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. "Marije uses food as a material, no more, no less", says Li Edelkoort, Vogelzang's former teacher at the 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 'Funeral Dinner' featured in the chapter Culture, made an emotional impact upon Edelkoort whose mother had recently passed away. Based upon the Dutch funerary ritual of serving food at a wake and upon white as the colour of mourning in some cultures, the Funeral Dinner presented modest all-white snacks served in specially designed white crockery. It turned out that white foods were perfect 'solace' foods; sharp and bitter or subtle and gentle. Edelkoort says she was the perfect guinea pig for this project. "The white was very 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".
Eating is an action, a verb. Sharing is an integral part of the process. The work of Vogelzang aims to brings people together and get us thinking outside the box. "With this book, I want people to get inspired by a different view on food - or is it a different view on design?", Vogelzang says. Throughout the book, she raises questions about our views on food and eating. In the chapter Science, Vogelzang poses, Why don't they serve more carrots in the hospital's eye ward? What do vitamins look like? Does 'in-vitro' meat have a soul? And in Technique: Did you ever smoke an egg, knit spaghetti or print on bread? In Psychology, she asks, Why do I dislike the idea of eating insects when I do like to eat shrimps?
During the 2008 London Design Festival, Vogelzang created an installation inside the design shop Mint whereby diners had to smash open their food. Traditional root vegetables - staples of Dutch and English cuisine - were baked inside clay: an ancient cooking method. With a small hammer, we broke through the clay shell to reveal piping-hot baked vegetables. The result was a messy table landscape that resembled a modern 'eclectic archaelogical site'. The more polite English visitors were hesitant at first to make such a mess in public, but after a little encouragement they soon hammered open their own vegetables and left with clay on their hands and a little smile on their face.
Vogelzang's projects are diverse and totally different each time, whereby she delves deep into background of each assignment. At the next event that I will attend, I have no idea what to expect. Li Edelkoort sums it up perfectly. "Marije has the gift of being able to renew herself each time. She is a work in progress." One thing I will remember though for the next time, is to not bring an empty stomach.
Author: Louise Schouwenberg
Design: Studio Kluif
Dimensions: 24 x 18 cm
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