Food Politics —

From Michael Pollan: Cooking Matters on the Food Programme from June 2013

The decline in home cooking does parallel with women entering the workforce, [… since the 70s …] the food industry, who had been trying to insinuate itself into our households for a very long time – for about a hundred years, without too much success – recognised there was an opportunity here, and they stepped forward and said ‘We’ve got you covered, we’ll do the cooking. You don’t have to do it, and you don’t have to argue about it anymore’. The symbol of this for me is this amazing billboard that Kentucky Fried Chicken erected in the 70s with giant bucket of fried chicken, underneath a two word slogan ‘Women’s Liberation’. And they identified themselves with the aspirations of women, and they also redefined not cooking as a progressive thing to do. They found a tension and then relieved it. This isn’t to blame feminism for the collapse of home cooking, it’s to suggest that the industry used the rhetoric of feminism to get into the kitchen.

Place, People, & Identity —

A few things that go together:

At the moment I’m on the look out for instances where people visually communicate where they’re from in bold and colourful ways. 


I first got interested in the film The Warriors as part of a workshop I was running, around the topic of urban spaces and identity. It’s an amazing film that sees a gang dislocated from their main Coney Island turf and subsequently fighting their way back through a series of rival gangs. Each group wears their back story on their sleeves, The Orphans wear rags and have razor blades whilst The Baseball Furies are a baseball gang with the fiercest face paint I’ve ever seen. Each member has an identity built from their gangs kit of parts (hair cuts, uniforms, weapons, patterns), this results in a sophisticated ‘same but different’ look amongst the members of each gang and the cumulative effect is both visually striking and laden with narrative.


I saw these Asafo flags in the Artist and Empire show at the Tate Britain. From what I can gather the Asafo Companies were and are a hierarchical people’s militia of the Akan societies of Ghana, with influence extending more broadly to act as social and political organisations. The areas colonial past can be read in the morphed Union Jacks in canton (meaning the upper left quadrant of the flag), each flag has a wide, patterned border, and each depict allegorical fight scenes. These flags become identifiers for the various Companies of Asafo. Their interest to me is in their variety within the constraints of the vernacular graphics.


The Palio is a horse race in Siena. Characterised as violent, dangerous, and intensely political it’s been running twice a year since the 1600s. Spectators from ten city wards gather to watch their champion race for the glory of their part of town. The horses, riders, and spectators are covered in banners of the 17 various contrade colours. As Wikipedia says: “Each is named after an animal or symbol and each with its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations.”For example, Bruco means caterpillar and it’s residents were traditionally in the silk trade. The amazing thing here is the pride, fervour, and consistency with which each contrada’s colour is applied. I found it through this BBC programme: The Toughest Horse Race in the World: Palio


Feral: Shifting Baseline Syndrome & Trophic Cascades —

After writing this post I found a Ted video of Monbiot explaining what I wanted to in a much better way. So you could watch that instead.

I’ve just finished reading Feral by George Monbiot. It’s an articulate, intoxicating and inspirational read even if points are, at times, a little simplistically or evangelically argued. He advocates for rewilding as a method of more holistic conservation than simply maintaining what already exists. He argues passionately for how this could create a more imaginative, thrilling, economically and ecologically advantageous environment.

There were two particular ideas which I’d not come across before that seemed so logical and exciting that I wanted to write them here to remember:

The first is Shifting Baseline Syndrome. This is what happens when conservationists (or policy makers or whoever), seek to effect a change to put something back to the way it was, believing that this ‘before state’, is not just an acceptable scenario, but that it’s the best it could be. Monbiot uses fishing as an example of how people’s reference points move. Current fish stocks are being measured against their 1970s population, this however, is already a substantially reduced position and doesn’t provide a good reference point for the best case scenario, (which for fish populations was sometime before modern commercial fishing technology got involved).

The second is the idea of Trophic Cascade. When deer graze they eat and kill lots of saplings and would-be trees that don’t get a chance to grow. You end up with treeless grasslands, or similar monocultures that don’t provide the kinds of habitats that encourage a diverse flora and fauna. This is not good as trees are brilliant for everything it seems – from creating better soil conditions, to providing dead wood habitats for thousands of creatures, and helping to prevent flooding by helping with soil erosion and rain run-off. This situation has arisen over decades of human influence that’s squeezed out top of the food chain predators. What happens when you reintroduce these predators (think wolves, lynx etc.) is that the browsing animals begin to get eaten and so are reduced in number, limiting their effect. But the more interesting thing is that it alters their behaviour and how they eat. Rather than being allowed free reign the deer are more cautious, and so don’t hang around the river where they are in the open and are easy prey. This allows plants that would have previously been eaten to grow up around the river, leaves fall into it, which increases the ecology of the river and also provides shade. All these factors encourage shrimpy creatures and subsequently the eels etc. that prey on them. So everything is connected and can be altered by relatively smallish tweeks at the top of the ecological cascade.

This reintroduction of predators is currently being played out in Wales where they’re looking for people to let Lynx on their land.

And if that’s not far enough the Long Now project: Revive and Restore is looking to take extinct species (so completely gone, dead and not here anymore), and using Jurassic Park style technology genetically modify and selectively breed back a range of animals. Their key specimen being a Woolly Mammoth! Brilliant talk by Stewart Brand about this here.


Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector —

I went enthusiastically to the exhibition about collecting – those who know me well know that I like collecting, collections and collectors a lot. I did my final year project on it at university and it’s been a mild obsession ever since.

I was disappointed to find that this riotous, spectacular and curiosity inspiring subject had been presented in the most sterile way I’ve seen yet. Artists’ collections had been shown next to one example of their work, but in lots of cases it was a photography collection next to some photographs or a taxidermy collection next to some taxidermy. In this sense the exhibition did a very blunt job of drawing a line between the inspiration and the art it inspired, in most cases making the artworks look like bad copies of the collections.

The worst offender was the display of abstract painter Howard Hodgkin’s collection of Indian pictures. The pictures are small intricate paintings that have a strong use of colour. Outside the room was hung a piece of Hodgkin’s work, all big brush strokes and block colour. Yes, the use of colour was an obvious thread but other than that, this lone, decontextualised artwork, when hung next to the collection (of paintings!) seemed frankly inferior. Surely this is not the point of the exhibition? An exhibition which is dealing with both artist and collection should showcase each in it’s best light but this reduced both somehow.

The other aspect which was lacking was the critical angle about the politics of collecting itself. Whilst collections as artworks was tackled as a topic in the Martin Wong/Danh Vo piece, the idea of artists acquiring items as a whole collection, or from other collections was absent, as was the idea of ownership or authorship through collecting. In the case of Howard Hodgkin the fact that the pieces in his collection had been created as art, had then been collected and returned to object status, loaned to the Ashmolean Museum as ‘His’ collection and then displayed at the Barbican again seems to be a journey that could benefit from some curatorial scrutiny.

Of course all of these gripes are just that – an enthusiast rambling, and there were good bits. Showing all the packing cases that the collections and artworks had come in (albeit in a corner) was brilliant, and I liked the rugs which were liberally strewn around each area. 

(N.B. I’m sure some of these issues are at least touched on in the audio guide or the book, but I shouldn’t have to pay £40 to get a bit of thoughtful insight when I’ve already paid £12 to get in.)


Royal Mail & Online / Offline Communication —

This came through the other day. It’s a counterpoint to the GDS stuff I was talking about before. 

In this online world a mostly off-line (public) service knows it needs to get smarter, and the way it’s going to do this is with algorithms and digital systems. But it’s recognised that this more digital behaviour might effect some of it’s more off-line customers negatively. So they’ve communicated in the most relevant and appropriate medium what’s happening, why, and what it will mean for the end user. Good communication that’s all.

(I’ve realised here I think I’ve started mixing up off-line, non digital and human as the same thing. Weird)



The Bay by Metronomy is a proper music video. Shot entirely in Torqauy (I think- yeah something like that). Great great great.

I'm not one to slap up advertisements normally but I really like these new H&M adverts. I was trying to figure out why I like them- I think it's to do with economy. I feel like they were cheap to do and the effect of a simple set up of 3 cameras is great- all the value is added in the edit and makes for a series of (I imagine) cheap and effective videos. They succeed in what they are trying to do which is look vibrant and exciting and catch your eye- the nifty visual trick of the 3 cameras is engaging and quirky.


Notes on: The Faux–Vintage Photo

Physicality, with its weight, smell and tactile interaction, grants a significance that bits have not (yet) achieved. The quickest way to invoke nostalgia for a time past with a photograph is to invoke the properties of the physical, which is done by mimicking the ravages of time through fading, simulated film grain and scratches as well as the addition of what appears to be photo-paper or Polaroid borders around the image.

That an old photo was taken and has survived grants it an authority that the equivalent digital photo taken today cannot achieve. In any case, that the faux-vintage photograph aspires to physicality is only part of why they have become so massively popular.

Quotes taken from Nathen Jurgens interesting piece about The Faux–Vintage Photo Pt 2.

(here follows some badly written but hopefully interesting thinking spawned by this article.)

I wonder if the key is that by allowing the digital image to appear as real and specifically old, it becomes imbued with an inherent value which is associated with effort and specifically time. On the one hand this desire to obtain and own things which contain 'time-value' could be seen as an anchor against the fast moving and changing world we live in now. It could also be, (and this is where my pop sci-cology kicks in) that we are scared of death- time is running out and if we can somehow possess, and therefore control time, we can keep it away for that bit longer. Or perhaps, more accuratley, by getting hold of stuff with embued 'time-value' we can be seen to be adding gravitas to our own legacy, by extending the perception of our timescale (period we have covered with our life) we can be seen to be more successful or better remembered when we do die.

There is another aspect here- not just to do with faux-vintage, but things with a patina of age (a beautifully rusted garage door, or a worn piece of wooden type). Second hand objects in general (some more than others of course) can be seen to be carriers of 'time-value' but the way this value is traded is is stories and narrative. The objects acquired at a junk market have had a life of their own before I get hold of them and by purchasing them (and here real currency plays little role in time, It could have be expensive or cheap the effect is the same) I acquire their unknown story, narrative and history with it. In that way the buyer can feel like they are acquiring time.

Links: Tech

An exciting more-than-a-prototype-but-maybe-not-completely-finished-yet modular robot by Modular Robotics is making me wish I had the $300 they wanted for a starter kit (which sounds pretty reasonable for what you get but you know). Really really cool- great kids toy- but also one for my Christmas list. Link:here. Ben Bashford & Friends made this prototype/ experiment / hack called Display Cabinet and It's great. Another effective example of physical computing and RFIDs hanging out and working in the real world. Link for full write up: here