‘6.7 Million Tonnes: We’ve Bin Through A Lot’ by Faustine Pallez-Beauchamp, Pauline Tristani, Andrea Arteaga Ruiz, Weiqi Li, Yijie Cai, Vikas Garg and Sih-Ting Lin.
“We discovered a whole world of food waste through curating this exhibition.”
Faustine Pallez-Beauchamp is from France, doing an Erasmus year in the Curating Masters at the University of Essex. She and six other students were tasked with curating an exhibition for their end-of-year project at the University’s Art Exchange Gallery. The group was very international, with students from India, Mexico, China and Taiwan as well as France. Food was a topic they could all unite behind. “Everyone gathers around food,” Faustine explains. “And we wanted something more political, so food waste was a good topic.”
They decided to focus on household food waste so they could engage with a more personal angle about food waste to draw people in. ‘6.7 Million Tonnes: We’ve Bin Through A Lot’ was born, and ran from 29 April to 28 May 2022.
Curation is an art form of itself, and although some displays were dictated by the pieces themselves – Liz Elton’s Late Harvest was 4m long and the only place for it was on the main wall – the students wanted to split the exhibition into two parts. The first demonstrated the problem with food waste, and included pieces by, Klaus Pilcher (who features in Food Waste as Art Part I), Catriona Coulter, Yiming Mao and Itamar Gilboa.
Upon entering the gallery, guests were greeted by a sample from Itamar Gilboa’s 2014 Food Chain Project. For an entire year, he noted every food he consumed, about eight thousand items and one hundred different products, from which he created moulds and plaster replicas. This visual manifestation of a one year-eating log resulted in a giant supermarket of white sculptures, deliberating stripped of labelling and branding to focus the spectator’s attention on the profusion.
The second part illustrated solutions for food waste, such as art and design that reinvents what we think of ‘waste’ like the pieces by Lor-K and Liz Elton, and exhibits by Sean Roy Parker and Björn Steinart which made use of food that would normally be thrown away.
Named Catch of the day, Björn Steinart’s project started in 2018 and aims to fight food waste by handcrafting vodka from dumpster dived fruits. Spirits produced from leftover fruits prolongs the best before date to infinity since alcohol over 23% can never go bad. Armed with a simple open-source distilling machine, Steinar is seeking innovative ways to fight food waste, and at the same time the project serves as an icebreaker to discuss its challenges.
Having food waste as a subject matter affected the practicalities of the project. Sean Roy Parker arrived at the gallery two days before opening to create his exhibit Fermental Health ‘fresh’. He collected leftover vegetables from a nearby organic farm and local café, and for those two days he fermented the leftovers in jars in the back room of the gallery. His installation essentially produced ‘live art’ as the food ‘waste’ continued to ferment and change throughout the month. The students were able to participate in that process, and as a result was one of Faustine’s favourite displays.
The exhibition’s opening was very busy and generated a lot of interest. Faustine was proud that they were able to bring the community into the project and involved lots of people. The organic farmer who supplied the leftover vegetables for Roy Parker’s exhibit gave a Zoom talk about food justice as part of the project, and the local café was given the fermented jars after the exhibition. Faustine remembers visitors who were particularly interested in the exhibition. “It was great when people came and talked to us and wanted more insight,” she says. “The impact it had means the exhibition is still living even now.” The plan was to organise a big feast with the community for the after party, using the food displayed in the exhibition, but health and safety did not allow it. Nevertheless, they managed to serve the alcohol from Björn Steinart’s project, which went down very well.
This was the first time for all of them to look at food waste. “I was aware of it,” Faustine says. “I think in France we have more things about it than in the UK, and I was aware of certain things, but when I started doing some research for the exhibition, I discovered a whole new world. I am passionate about it now.”
What struck the students the most was to see how many things you can do with food ‘waste’. As Faustine points out, even though we may have to wait for the food system to change, we can do things now to help combat food waste, as individuals and as communities.
You can follow the project on Instagram
All images by Douglas Atfield