It’s a Friday morning at the National Gallery of Victoria, and Spanish food designer Martí Guixé is addressing an audience before the opening of his exhibition Fake Food Park. Inside the gallery it’s like another world, created just for children.
Coloured wallpaper adorns every surface – collages of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables that bang and crash against each other. Dining booths surround a kitchen. Along the walls, plates full of coloured plastic strips that look vaguely like food items sit on stainless-steel kitchen benchtops. They feed into stations designed to “prepare food”: one for heating, one for adding texture, smell and sound. Some of the fixtures are familiar items, but they have all been reimagined to look bizarre and childish, like props out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Catalan-born Guixé is known for his unusual approach to design. Over the past 20 years, his acclaimed exhibitions have asked people to reconsider the way they prepare and eat food. In 2007, he opened Candy Restaurant in Tokyo, with traditional white tablecloths and à la carte service but offering only trays of delicate candy. In 1999, he created Pharma Food, a system by which people could gain nutrition and nourishment by breathing in particles containing vitamins and minerals.
Today in the gallery, with the launch of Fake Food Park, 52-year-old Guixé faces a new challenge. Through the creation of a fake meal, he’s asking a group of laughing, screaming children to reconsider the way they eat and prepare an evening meal.
If Alfie Cornall – the three-year-old son of my two best friends – is anything to go by, the message of his latest exhibition isn’t really getting through. Because Alfie is lying on the ground in the middle of Fake Food Park trying to lick the collage of fruit that has been so carefully stuck on the ground.
Here’s a blow-by-blow of Alfie’s experience at Fake Food Park:
10.30am: When Guixé is finished his introduction, Alfie storms into the exhibition with the other kids. It is mayhem. He sits down on the floor and tries to lick the fruit on the ground. We gather our concentration and head over to put on an apron and wash our hands. Alfie doesn’t want an apron, so we wash our hands in the basin, which isn’t a basin at all, but a tap with a television screen below it playing a cartoon loop of water running into a basin. Alfie loves it.
10.33am: The exhibition is set up as a production line, so you choose the raw fake food at the start. Alfie takes a few strips of blue plastic, a few round pieces that look like doughnuts, and some green stringy stuff. I put a purple thing in his bowl, but he doesn’t like purple so he throws it backwards over his head.
10.35am: The first process in the production line is heating food. Alfie puts his bowl underneath a silver range hood and presses the button. The whole thing lights up, then makes a ding when it’s done.
10.36am: Alfie gets distracted and wants to go back to the basin to wash his hands some more. We get back on course and start adding texture, sound and smell to the meal. He places his food underneath another range hood and rotates a handle a few times. The machine shakes before lighting up again. Alfie doesn’t really like the handle thing, so we move on. The smell part is particularly interesting. Alfie pulls a lever from side to side and a scented vapour starts pouring from a hole in the wall. Alfie is significantly lower than the hole so he stands up on the bench, covering his food in the vapour.
10.38am: Once the food has texture, taste, heat and smell, Alfie takes it to the middle of the room, where there’s a row of computers. The computer guides you through this strange process of where to put the bowl of fake food and arrange it on a plate. When it’s on the plate, it reappears as real food on the computer screen.
Alfie’s plate contains two scoops of ice-cream, a piece of pizza, some grapes and a peach. We then send a picture of the meal to his mum and dad. Alfie is a bit perplexed by this process, and I wonder if, when I return him to his parents, he’ll ask them if he can have pizza, ice-cream, some grapes and a peach for dinner. This time, the real kind.
Fake Food Park shows at NGV International until September 11, 2016. Entry is free.