Marije Vogelzang is a Netherlands-based Eating Designer with roots in the aesthetics of eating and performance art.
TIM YOUNG: You are an Eating Designer. How is that different from a Food Designer or Food Stylist?
MARIJE VOGELZANG: I believe that food is already perfectly designed by nature, and that there is a much more interesting field that lies beyond merely the shape of the food – though this is important too. What is interesting to me is the verb “to eat”. I think it’s most interesting to explore the creative potential of eating habits – culture, rituals, psychology, society and biology, for example.
TY: Do you feel your work is akin to performance art?
MV: Sometimes it is. I did a Pasta Sauna at Performa09 in NY. The Pasta Sauna is a space you can enter and enjoy a bowl of freshly cooked pasta, while the boiling water steams your surroundings, creating a sauna.
TY: How does the visual aspect of your work support the social themes you want to address?
MV: The visual aspect is a tool to communicate a story. If I want to tell you a story and I will shout it to you, you will not listen and put your hands over your ears. If I tell you a beautiful, engaging story, tasty and sparkling, you will be much more willing to listen. That’s how I see design. It’s a tool for communication, nothing more and nothing less.
TY: What us the significance of color in your work?
MV: Color is highly important in any food and food culture, first of all because humans are very sensitive to the color of food for health reasons. Humans are trained to use color as a reference to the freshness of food. Blue food is many times toxic or poisonous or could reflect signs of decay. Also, from a cultural point of view, the color of food can be important. For example, egg-yolks are much paler in southern Europe than in Northern Europe. Northern Europeans prefer more orange colored yolks. For them it seems as if the egg is healthier. In reality the color doesn’t signify healthiness of an egg. It’s just a cultural preference. The color of the yolk gets determined by the food given to the chickens. Chicken food manufacturers have color-charts for farmers to choose their yolk-color from!
TY: At what point do you incorporate color into your creative process?
MV: It depends highly on the process. Sometimes color is the starting point— like with my White Funeral Dinner, made entirely from white food. White is the color of death in many countries. But sometimes color can be the tool. I did a food-color project in response to the issue of obesity in children in which I connected colors to positive associations and presented snacks in all the colors of the rainbow, to help children chose food in a different way. I was trying to replace the negative connotation of GOOD and BAD – black and white – into a positive connection between color and positive emotions. Sometimes I play with color because it can have a beautiful dramatic effect, like with the monochrome lunch I did for Wallpaper magazine. A table full of black, white, gray and brown food. No red, yellow, green and pink food. A beautiful picture of something we rarely see. I made this to celebrate the beauty of grayness, dullness and boredom, a forgotten gem in the hasty world of sparkles.
TY: Does your use of color depend on the types of foods you are working with? Or, perhaps the clients you are creating for?
MV: Mostly it depends on the story I need to tell. If the story is about the miles your food has traveled to get to you, the choice of food and where it came from is important first; the taste is next important and then also the color. But if I do a project with the story about color – like the white funeral dinner – the color is more important; then I even made the chef cut all the yellow ends of the soy-sprouts to make them pure white.
TY: What is the most unusual commission you have received?
MV: I was just thinking of doing a breastfeeding performance for a milk exhibition in Paris. I am pregnant right now so this could be one of the few times that one could do something like this in life. But unfortunately they had a budget problem.
TY: Can you describe a particularly memorable or controversial piece?
MV: One of the most memorable projects is an opening I did for the historical museum in
Rotterdam. They had an exhibition about the Second World War. Rotterdam had been severely bombed during the war and the war ended in a hunger-winter during which many people died of starvation. Some of the people who were children then visited the opening. I decided to make small snacks from original war food from handwritten recipes I got from the resistance museum. When entering, the guests received coupons – like in the war; with the coupons they could get a cup of surrogate coffee and a ration of small bites on a cardboard plate. Some of the guests hadn’t had this kind of food in their mouth for more than 65 years. It caused them to re-live memories they didn’t know they had anymore. This was a very emotional but beautiful moment. For me, I realized that working with food is a very emotional and personal experience that no other material could evoke.
Visit Marije Vogelzang’s website.
View a video of Marije Vogelzang’s eating performance in Budapest during the Dutch Design Days.