• Grace Richardson Banks

Inedible Harvest: interview with Farrokh Aman and James Binning

Investigating the cultural fascination with consumption and perfection, San Mei Gallery presents Inedible Harvest, an exhibition by Farrokh Aman and James Binning as Natural Selection, exploring the rituals of food production and the role that objects play in establishing and influencing social customs. It's Freezing in LA! finds out more.

Inedible Harvest is an exhibition drawn around a series of handmade vessels that are cast from eccentric and oddly shaped fruit and vegetables, which would not be accepted for sale in most supermarkets. These oddities discarded in vast numbers by the food industry are reproduced en masse and re-embodied through their extensive reproduction. Instead of being discarded, these fruit and vegetable forms are celebrated, turned into plaster moulds.

The exhibition 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.

We interview the artists behind Inedible Harvest: James Binning, founding member of Turner Prize-winning art and architecture collective Assemble, and Farrokh Aman, architect and designer at Sergison Bates and David Chipperfield. 

Rituals and their breakdown mark the inspiration for your work, what rituals around food did you draw on from your personal experience for the work? How have these changed?

FA: The pre-Covid answer to this question would have been very different! Beautiful vessels, holding them, using them and passing them around is incredibly poetic. The haptic qualities of our work are incredibly important to us.

JB: One of the things that I always find very enjoyable about sharing meals is the way in which the table and all the things on it give clues about how things are about to unfold - whether it’s going to ceremonious or very sociable and loose, all these things are indicated by the kind of room you are in, the shape and size of table, how you are all seated right down to the objects there for different dishes or courses. Those things for the most part are very specific, very highly evolved, and so thinking about making things that become a part of some of those rituals and how they might alter or give some things more focus was great. I like the fact some of what we’ve made is very crude, quite clumsy and other aspects are quite refined - they feel like they’d fit in quite different circumstances and I like that about them.

Do you feel like an imbalance with our natural world - exemplified by the unsustainable aesthetic approaches to food at the heart of your work - have eroded our collective eating experiences?

FA: That imbalance doesn’t feel like it’s exclusive to how we engage with Nature, it feels very much about an imbalance with whichever context we find ourselves in. This is extremely palpable in London. The way eating out and the ‘food scene’, I hate that phrase, is about consumption more than anything else. I would say that most people probably love the experience of collective eating but perhaps the issue is not so much about the experience and more about a disregard for what it entails, where things come from, how affordable food is made possible.

JB: Maybe, though maybe not as much as TV! I suppose the ties between a lot of communities have gradually weakened and the emphasis on meals as a form of communal, social experience has dissipated, it’s not such a staple. It doesn’t appear to me to be universally true though, I think among lots of communities food still plays a huge role.

You highlight the importance of material choice and the process of making in the purpose of your work. What led you to depicting food in this way?

FA: What began as an exercise in expediency, the use of found forms, has developed into an appreciation for the beauty of often disregarded produce. Whether that is due to shape, rotting or lack of knowledge about a specific vegetable. An iterative process of making has a way of taking on a life of its own and so has our use of fruits and odd vegetables and the implications of that in terms of our culture of consumption.

JB: Very simply I think it is also about just recognising and celebrating the strange variety and extraordinary wealth of agricultural produce that is available today - that this variety is accessible and enjoyable is unprecedented and extraordinary, and obviously also raises a lot of questions, some of which maybe linger a little longer if the things themselves aren’t cut up and consumed. 

Was there any processes that stood out to you as particularly important or evocative of the ideas you were trying to put across?

FA: The first cast that comes out of a mold is always very revealing...a nerve wracking moment! We strive to strike a balance in both depicting the original characteristics of...say a cassava and finding an otherness...making something new. 

JB: Hmm, yeah when you demould one it’s a bit like the moment when a dish comes out the oven and you need to see whether its cooked through...only you can’t then put it back in the oven if you haven’t got it quite right.

What do you hope is the reaction to your work? What new rituals do you hope we collectively practise in the future?

FA: 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 weeks 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.

JB: Empathy - If you can call it a ritual!

And on top of that what role do you think artists can play in conversations around climate change? Do you feel that artists have to justify the value of their work from a sustainability perspective?

FA: I think I am a bit skeptical about how far reaching the impact of the work of an artist can be at the current moment. Not to say it is not important to try! Even reaching a few people is valuable but we live in a very noisy time as well as a bit of a despairing political moment. But looking at how the recent protests, energetic activism and the pandemic have brought issues around social justice to the fore, I am cautiously optimistic.

JB: There is a lot of climate science, huge amounts of information and projections that give mostly very awful prognoses about the liveability of the planet in the future and that can be quite overwhelming and disempowering so if art has a value then perhaps it’s in relating to these ideas in less direct and confrontational ways, being a bit more ambiguous, what Tim Morton might be getting at when he says ‘that people resist it less when you don’t point at it’. 

Join Farrokh and James for the closing of Inedible Harvest on 8th August, 12-6pm where Farrokh Aman will be serving Iranian dishes from Annapurna Cafe.