London-based Cooking Sections was founded in 2013 after Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernández Pascual met at Goldsmith’s Center for Research Architecture, where they were studying for a Masters and PhD respectively. The duo run ADS3, a studio in the Royal College of Art’s Masters of Architecture program, and in May they were shortlisted for the 2021 Turner Prize. Their installation at Tate Britain earlier this year, Salmon: a red herring, asked what colors we expect in our “natural” environment as our planet changes due to global warming.
How does architecture inform your practice?
Our work is rooted in the exploration of how landscapes and territories are shaped and governed. Having a background in both performance and architecture, our practice uses food as a tool to understand how space is constructed by the political, economic and social transformations that make it “perform” in multiple ways. This allows us to research, deconstruct, construct and advance the complex ecological layers involved in this process. In this regard, architecture is a crucial discipline for discussing the political construction of space.
In parallel, we also teach a design studio at RCA’s School of Architecture. The studio is focused on metabolic systems and how we think about waste in a post-industrial area, especially when the “clean” and “dirty” binaries have ceased to exist. We are all surrounded by, and in fact, made up of contaminants, many of which are created by the built environment and the construction industry. As we wonder how we are forced to live with waste, we are interested in finding ways to reject life with the structures and processes that created the world we inhale, digest, absorb, lick, sweat and excrete. everyday.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
Having been independent for nine years, we have become accustomed to working in various working conditions. The precariousness in which most people work in the arts and culture sector ironically makes these practices nimble and adaptive. Of course, like everyone else, we have moved much of our business online and have been successful in delivering many programs and projects remotely.
We are also very fortunate to be working with an excellent network of collaborators in Skye and other places where we have ongoing projects. The pandemic has only underscored the importance of devoting more effort to thinking about the longer-term legacy of work, focusing on the most significant layers of it. For example, our CLIMAVORE project has integrated some of these constraints, designing new programs inside and outside to continue its philosophy in order to continue to grow and adapt to the difficult context.
How important is it to build sustainability into the physical manufacture of your facilities and the warranties that go with it? I think of the terrazzo of Mussel beach, paint and materials used for Salmon: a red herring, the energy consumption of the lighting system, the inks and papers used in publications, etc.
Over the past decade, sustainability as a concept has often been co-opted by less sustainable practices, so in a way, sustainability has lost its real meaning. It’s like the carbon footprint, another concept that the big fossil fuel companies invented to avoid their public responsibility to be the world’s biggest polluters, and instead, people feel guilty about their choices. Of course, we need to be aware and responsible for our impact, but in the climate emergency there must be radical systemic changes that only governments or big business can undertake. In any case, we obviously think about it a lot, choosing “tree-free” paper in our publications, designing sculptures that can be packaged flat to reduce the volume, avoiding petrochemicals, and so on. Most importantly, we have been working for two years to develop a terrazzo material for the cementless construction industry – one of the most polluting sectors – which instead uses food waste as the main aggregate.
What are you currently working on and what are your future plans?
Over the next few months, we are expanding our Becoming CLIMAVORE project which has just been launched as part of our Turner Prize nomination and exhibition in Coventry this year. From the 10 restaurants we work with in Skye and Raasay, 22 museums across the UK have removed farmed salmon from their menus and introduced CLIMAVORE dishes, made with regenerating ingredients that proactively enhance water or soil ecology. This provides visitors to these museums with alternatives, while creating a public forum to discuss transitions to alternative models. This work examines how salmon farming in particular, and food companies in general, have transformed animal and human species, colonizing our seas, lands and innards. By removing farmed salmon from menus and introducing dishes based on seaweed, oysters or mussels – ingredients that filter water as they grow – Becoming CLIMAVORE is developing new approaches to more equitable, community-based and restorative food systems. At the same time, we are working with marine biologists to develop a small-scale intertidal polyculture farm, to grow food while cultivating habitats on tidal pools. This will become a repeatable and scalable model for coastal communities in Scotland and beyond.
An exhibition of the work of the five nominees shortlisted for the Turner Prize runs through January 12, 2022 at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, the City of Culture 2021, where the Turner Prize winner will be announced on December 1, 2021.