Interview with Cooking Sections

Interview by Kirsty White

Cooking Sections is a collaboration between London-based Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe, who started working together in 2012 while studying at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. The duo describe themselves as ‘spatial practitioners,’ and use a combination of art, architecture and landscape design to comment on the systems that organise the world.

Often responding to specific locations and communities, they find food a useful tool to understand the social, political and environmental factors that might be at play in any given context. Accordingly, their projects have taken shape as collective meals (‘Under The Sea There Is A Hole’ (2015-ongoing)), recipe books (‘Empire Remains Shop’ (2018)) and even a new ice cream flavour (‘Devaluing Property Real Estate Agency’ (2016)).

I asked them a series of questions via email ahead of their upcoming exhibition ‘Salmon: A Red Herring’ at Tate Britain as part of Tate’s ‘Art Now’ series.

Your upcoming exhibition at Tate is based on your long term project ‘CLIMAVORE’. Could you talk a little about this project and what you will be showing in the gallery?

Our upcoming exhibition at Tate Britain focuses on salmon, the colour of a wild fish which is neither wild, nor fish, nor even salmon. Today the fish grown in farms would be grey (they have no access to shrimp or krill that would give them their salmon colour). Chemical substances added to their industrial feed give them the desired salmon colour that matches consumer expectations. The project follows salmon and many other colour oddities that result from the metabolization of man-made substances. The piece for Tate will include a site specific intervention, an installation, an extensive public programme and a new book published by isolarii, unpacking some of these forms of colour pollution, signalling environmental distress.

I’m interested by the phrase you use, ‘the colour of a wild fish which is neither wild, nor fish, nor even salmon’. Can you clarify what you mean by this?

In the UK, as in many other countries around the world, salmon has gone through a massive transformation. Some decades ago it was a fish that thrived in rivers and seas, and was an important staple for coastal communities, but what we now consider wild salmon has become a rarity that is illegal to fish and sell commercially in the UK. At the same time, a new species of Atlantic salmon has been engineered, which is grown in cylindrical nets all across Scotland, polluting and degrading the marine environment. It has been artificially optimised to put on weight in the least amount of time. Would you call battery-caged chickens, chickens? Farmed salmon is the equivalent, but underwater. Besides, growing this fish is a landscape-consuming practice that requires soy protein, which in turn means deforesting the Cer-rado Savanna in Brazil, depleting anchovy stocks in Peru and Senegal and threatening the livelihood of ecosystems and communities worldwide. Plus, they need to be fed artificial colouring derived from petroleum to match our expectations of what colour salmon should be. This species that is eaten all across the country and is referred to as ‘salmon’ is neither exactly a fish nor is it wholly salmon, but a direct product of intensive aquaculture.

You mentioned in your artist talk at the AA School of Architecture a house sparrow in Skye that turned ‘salmon’ after eating one of the feed pellets from a salmon farm. Are there other examples of animals or plants changing colour through ingesting man-made substances that you reference in your work?

For the past year we have been conducting research into how the effects of the climate emergency not only lead to a transformation of weather, seasons and human-induced “natural” disasters, but a total change in how we see the world. In the last decades, countless animals and ecological networks have been transformed by pollution, rising tempera-tures and the disappearance of species: Alpine snow turning pink because of the warmer climate, frogs turning red due to exposure to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), or bees producing blue and red honey after feeding on candy syrup waste when confronted with a lack of flowers. In the midst of an unprecedented environmental crisis, it is important to understand the far reaching effects that are literally changing the colours we are surrounded by.

Your research spans visual arts, architecture, ecology and geopolitics. Why do you choose to situate your projects within visual art, or do you find that you are working as readily within other disciplines?

Our practice deals with space and how it is constructed, governed and managed. Food has been our lens and tool with which to observe those landscapes in transformation and question how we can adapt our infrastructures to ensure a thriving ecosystem for the generations to come. We work within the visual arts, but at the same time the project oper-ates within the hospitality industry, alternative farming and food production, rural economies and coastal conservation. For our work to be meaningful it has to be situated in the spaces it wishes to influence and transform.

How would you like to see the art institution influenced and/or transformed?

There is an urgent need to transform our ways of living to ensure the planet is hospitable for generations to come. We are surrounded by toxicity in so many forms; we need to construct new methods of how to live while addressing the actual causes. Pollution is here to stay, so our planet demands cultural, infrastructural and economic changes in order to respond to new complex, perhaps uncomfortable, scenarios. Art institutions can certainly play an important role in that; not only reflecting on the effects of climate change or exhibiting approaches of how to address them, but institutional changes that can transform both the institution from within and the landscapes they are heavily dependent on. This might include the architecture, collections, exhibition materials, and even the light and air conditioning of galleries. Led by artists and architects, cultural institutions can become models that set precedents for how to respond to the climate emergency.

You have two new commissions coming up, one for the 12th Taipei Biennial in 2020 and another for Prospect 5 in New Orleans, US in 2021. Have you started thinking about these commissions, and if so what do you have planned?

Our contribution to the 12th Taipei Biennial and Prospect 5 expands on our work with ‘CLIMAVORE’ to envision new seasons of food production and consumption that respond to man induced climatic events. We are looking into the effects of intensive aquaculture and water pollution in other industries that despite being extremely different contexts to salmon fishing, possess the same narrative around harvesting or extracting natural resources. Both New Orleans and Taipei have a long relationship with the coast and their fisheries, which are being radically transformed and degraded right now. Both projects will address the material histories of oyster harvesting, envisioning new modes of inhabita-tion and production; in summary, new ways to care for and live with the coast.

Cooking Sections’ exhibition at Tate Britain will run from 27 November 2020 to 28 February 2021

Published on