Sometimes you head off to an exhibition thinking, “yeah, well it’ll be kinda ok, I guess” only to be blown away with surprise and delight. And any exhibition that greets you at the door with a giant meringue French bulldog has go to be worth taking notice of. The new show at Somerset House featuring the art and design of the world’s top restaurant, elBulli and its main chef, Ferran Adria, lives up to that promise as it…
…vigorously waltzes you through the bursting colours; grates and oozes you face first over the textures; shocks you with the food photography (personally I wouldn’t like to eat a baby octopus pirouetting on its tentacles – but the stunning black and pink of the photo is mesmerising); tempts you with the over-sized chocolates; plonks you at the projected elBulli table and serves you virtually while the other customers eat, drink and are merry behind you on screen; captivates you into conversation with the gesturing chef on a life-sized screen; stings you with interest at the range of notebooks and journals (why is there a lovely illustration of a dead bird?…I suppose it is an ingredient, or perhaps just its tongue is); dazzles you with the shiny range of cutlery that some OCD magpie has lined up in a glass case; wafts you over, under and around bits of moulded and bent metal that are something mysterious and spell-binding to do with shaping pieces of food; recalls childhood memories of the tackily designed covers of well-thumbed 1960s and 70s European and Moroccan recipe books; shrinks you to guide you through bleached bone coloured 3D models of the buildings on their rocky shore-line; flings you into the ball-pit of coloured plasticine shapes that are prototypes for plated recipes (I loved this section of plate mock-ups next to projected finished pieces – real hands-on design emphasising the aesthetics of the food not just the taste); insists to you that the chefs are rock stars by displaying their Stones albums as well as their photos; educates you by blending science and cookery…..I hope this reads more like a poem than a list because the experience made me feel poetic!
This is a truly well-curated exhibition filled with both strange, alien objects and some so familiar and ordinary that they make you clap your hands in delight like a picture-book toddler (well, in your mind, at least). So fresh and surprising, so cheerful and yet sophisticated. Above all it INSPIRES you (yes, need to shout that in upper case!). Invent, don’t copy, is Adria’s strap line and the people who set up the exhibition took a leaf out of his many notebooks in that respect. The whole impression of the show is that of a non-punishing Charlie’s chocolate factory, where round every corner there is another burst of creativity and joy. Now, excuse me while I rush off and invent something amazing and fun.
And, PS, design for food is one of the fastest growing areas of design at the moment and we have a project coming very shortly where you can, well, not copy Ferran Adria, but out-do him!
The Somerset House show is on until 29th September 2013 and you can see more details on their website here. By the way, hats off to Somerset House for yet another fantastic exhibition. If I had to only go to one venue ever again (God forbid!) I would pick this place, for sure.