Laura Wilson (b. 1983. Belfast, Northern Ireland, lives and works in London) is co-curator of I Have Eaten It, she will work with Huma and the artists to realise the project, design, cook and serve the menu, alongside a screening of VEDA (2020) commissioned by 5th Istanbul Design Biennial.
Wilson is interested in how history is carried and evolved through everyday materials, trades and craftsmanship. She works with specialists to develop sculptural and performative works that amplify the relationship between materiality, memory and tacit knowledge. Wilson’s interdisciplinary and research-based works have been exhibited widely including at: MIMA, Middlesbrough, UK; First Draft, Sydney, Australia; The Collection, Lincoln with Mansions of the Future (2021); 5th Istanbul Design Biennial; Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich, UK (2020); Nicoletti Contemporary, London, UK; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; Bloomsbury Theatre, London, UK (2019); The British Museum, London with Block Universe; The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London (2018); Invisible Dust, Hull City of Culture, UK (2017); Delfina Foundation (2016 & 17) Site Gallery, Sheffield (2016). A Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow, Wilson has been awarded the inaugural Jerwood New Work Fund and the Dover Art Prize 2021.
Your practice is very collaborative touching upon topics around materiality, memory, and tacit knowledge. What do you love most about collaborating with others?
The unexpected nature of working with other people is what I find so exciting – the exchange of information, ideas, stories and really getting to know people that I may not meet otherwise.
I have been lucky to work with a range of different people through my work for example: scientists, archaeologists, dancers, stonemasons, brickmakers and bread bakers. Most of these people have become long-term collaborators, with our conversations spanning many years beyond the lifetime of a project.
It also offers opportunities for my work to be presented to new audiences. In September 2019 I was invited to present a site-specific performance at the International Baking Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, USA. Taking place across four days, the event was the largest most important trade event in the Western Hemisphere for people who work or are connected to the baking industry – displaying equipment and the most up to date technology and products. AB Mauri, the company who invited me, had seen You Would Almost Expect to Find it Warm (2018) , my performance which was part of Block Universe and presented at the British Museum in 2018.
For Las Vegas I presented Dough, Baby (2019). It was performed by Iris Chan and Adam Moore, two performers who I’ve worked with on previous pieces, and it saw them move in duo, each with a mass of fresh bread dough. Most of the people viewing the performance work with dough every day, so presenting the work within this context encouraged a lot of very different conversations as opposed to presenting it in a gallery, plus we were surrounded by donuts and bread machines. The whole experience was amazing, but really quite surreal.
Where did you spend lockdown and how did it impact your creativity?
I spent lockdown in London. I’ve lived here for almost twenty years and when everything stopped moving it gave me the chance to pause and really live in the City. I ran, walked, and cycled under the huge blue skies, more aware of birdsong – it offered some sort of hope amongst the constant stream of news. Coincidentally prior to lockdown, I had been working on a project with Dr. Ellie Cosgrave, an engineer and Lecturer in Urban Innovation and Policy at UCL’s Department of Science Technology Engineering and Public Policy, exploring with a group of older people how our rapidly changing urban context affects how they are physically able to move in the city. Our workshops were unable to continue due to lockdown, but we took the time to reflect on our discussions with the group through a series of letters to one another. A new video work entitled You Move Me (2021) brings together filmed choreographed movements and footage recorded in the City over the past year, alongside a text which evolved from our writing exchange.
So much of what I do is about working with people, and particularly at the beginning, I found it so hard not to be out and about meeting and working with people. Alongside adjusting to remote working, in the studio I started to draw again – this has become an integral part of my practice over the last eighteen months.
Earlier in 2020 for our Kitchen Takeover, you made a Kitchen Takeover around recipe sharing. Would you say you started doing this more, has it influenced other works?
I love cooking, and over the last few years, I have been doing a lot of research into yeast, grain, and the history and production of bread. I find it fascinating how recipes evolve over time, from people to people, culture to culture, and how we adapt recipes to suit what we have in the cupboard. The Kitchen Takeover gave me an opportunity to think about how food sits within my practice. I have always shared food with the people I work with, be that me baking a loaf of bread for them, planning over coffee and Lincolnshire plum bread, having fish and chips on the end of a farmer’s field after digging on an archaeological site, or exchanging recipes.
For my Kitchen Takeover, I decided to Cook for my Collaborators. This included: making an egg dish for Martha Brown who I worked with on Fold and Stretch (2016), Courgette soup for Una Kerr who I met through Trained on Veda and Parkin for Lily Marsh a stonemason who I spent twelve weeks carving a block of stone into the likeness of bread dough during Folds (2017).
Over the last year, I’ve reflected on my experiences of food growing up in Northern Ireland, and how much I learned by being in the kitchen with family members, in particular my Mum, my Granny, and Auntie Pauline the woman who lived next door to us. Recently one of my recipes was included in Phaidon’s new book The Kitchen Studio: Culinary Creations by Artist available now in all good bookshops.
What is Trained on VEDA for people who don’t know about it? And is it an ongoing project?
My project Trained on Veda (trainedonveda.com), is a malted loaf and evolving artwork connecting bakeries and galleries across the country through veda bread. Through this project I have been revisiting the original recipe of veda bread, a dark-brown malted loaf once popular across the UK in the early part of the 20th Century (for its long shelf-life and digestive qualities). Now only available in Northern Ireland, which is where I’m from. Working with sixth-generation baker Marc Darvell from Darvells bakery who is based in Buckinghamshire, we have developed a malted bread inspired by the history of veda, enabling people to taste the bread across the UK again and to generate discussion around food, nutrition, and our diets.
It is an ongoing project, initiated in 2016 during my residency at Delfina Foundation and developed with TACO!, Grand Union and Site Gallery. Producing the bread with bakeries, alongside exhibition and events I hope to open up the work to a wider public, to generate discussion, to talk about recipes, regaining lost skills, the link between food and wellbeing, and passing on knowledge. Most recently as part of this project I was commissioned by the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial – Empathy Revisited: Designs for More than One as part of their online programme: Critical cooking Show. The video work: Veda (2020) takes Trained on Veda as a point of departure to explore collective memory, embodied knowledge, and the passing on of traditions, recipes, and gestures within the wider context of my practice. The video sees me cooking a recipe with chef Irem Aksu, where we discuss the word ‘veda’ and cook a collaborative dish inspired by veda bread – Trained on Veda Almond Tarator with Baked Hake and Samphire Tempura – and discuss our respective heritages: Northern Irish and Turkish. I was also joined via video call by former collaborators, choreographer Lucy Suggate and archaeologist Dr Melanie Giles, to discuss the traces left on our bodies and muscle memory.
I would love to hear more about your two recent commissions ” Old Salt” and “To the Wind’s Teeth” and how they were formulated.
In 2019 I was invited by Mansions of the Future and The Collection in Lincoln to research the Museum’s archaeological collection towards developing new work. Over eighteen months I researched the history of Lincoln and Lincolnshire’s unique geography and landscape, meeting local people and exploring the Museum’s rich archives.
When researching in the Museum’s collection I came across their collection of briquetage (the ceramic equipment used in saltmaking) excavated as part of The Fenland Project (1982- 95). The coarse ceramic material was used in the Prehistoric and Roman periods to make and support evaporation vessels for extracting salt from seawater along the Lincolnshire coast. I’m inspired by the histories and communities these objects represent as well as our individual relationship to salt as an everyday and often overlooked mineral, which can be found in our body, on our plate, and in the sea. Interested in our lived experience and personal relationships to salt, I developed a soundscape through a series of video conversations with archaeologist and salt expert, Tom Lane and participants who joined the project following an open invitation to volunteers working across Lincolnshire County Council’s Heritage Service volunteer community and with Mansions of the Future.
From 20 May-23 August 2021 Old Salt an installation featuring this new immersive soundscape was installed in Lincoln Museum’s Soundwall alongside a display of briquetage, a salt crystal that I retrieved during my swim in the Dead Sea in 2009, and a silk-screen print featuring a text inspired by my research. Designed to replicate the exact dimensions of the 1215 Magna Carta, the print has been produced as a limited edition of four, corresponding to the number of surviving copies of this historic document, one of which can be seen at Lincoln Castle. The printed artwork and salt crystal will be accessioned into the Museum’s collection as a gift to the City and as part of the project’s legacy.
To the Wind’s Teeth (2021) is a new site-specific performance and video work commissioned by The Landmark Trust for Llwyn Celyn. Situated in the Llanthony Valley on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Llwyn Celyn is regarded as one of the most remarkable of all surviving late-medieval houses in Wales.
Located adjacent to the house, I was inspired by the threshing barn, a building that would have been used to thresh and winnow the edible grain from locally harvested wheat. This work follows my exploration into the process of bread making and investigating how the body learns, adapts, responds to and performs manual work, posing questions around labour, regaining lost skills, the link between food and wellbeing, and passing on knowledge through embodied practice. For this commission, my research included learning about this process from Rob Penn author, Slow Rise: A Bread Making Adventure, who over the course of a year, learnt how to sow, harvest, thresh and mill his own wheat, in order to bake bread for his family. Working with Cardiff based choreographer Deborah Light, I developed a new performance which was presented and filmed at Llwyn Celyn by Deborah and three other Wales-based performers: Zosia Jo, Jake Nwogu, and Osian Meilir. The film is being screened as part of Listen to the Wheat (8-27 November) online on POOL’s website, an arts organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa alongside previous video works: The Bakers (2015); With Inordinate Heaviness (2017) and Milling About (2017).
I am very excited about our upcoming co-curated project “I HAVE EATEN IT”. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas behind it from your perspective.
Me too! It has been so brilliant to work with you over the last two years on developing this and I’m so excited that we are going to finally be realising it. I Have Eaten It is something which has grown and evolved with us and is I hope, going to be a very meaningful project in partnership with Refettorio Felix, a Charity based in West London.
Our relationship with food has really changed over the last eighteen months, and the pandemic has highlighted the very real issue of food poverty. There are shortages in the supply chain due to a whole host of factors including Brexit and alongside this food, prices are rapidly increasing.
The project title I Have Eaten It is inspired by artist John Latham’s 1966 happening, where he invited his students at Central Saint Martins to eat a copy of Clement Greenberg’s book Art and Culture. Together they chewed up the pages and spat out the remains into a jar which was returned to the library in place of the book. We are taking this provocative act as a point of departure to spark discussion around the social politics of food, excess and food systems through visual arts.
We have invited each of the artists to contribute an ingredient or a recipe and over four weeks (1-28 February 2022) you and I are going to be cooking alongside the chef’s at Refettorio Felix and serving meals to their community, alongside this we will host a public screening, a workshop and a fundraiser. Through working with artists, local suppliers and using waste food, I hope I Have Eaten It will provide hospitality, care and inclusion for an often overlooked community, making a positive impact in a creative way.
Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?
Currently, I am the MIMA Kitchen and Garden artist in residence Working with local people, the kitchen, garden, and gallery staff to encourage new conversations around ingredients and food.
I have been awarded the Dover Prize, to explore Darlington’s history of producing linen and in parallel with this to research the evolution of Linenopolis, the name given to my hometown of Belfast in the 19th Century when it was at the centre of the world’s linen industry. The resulting work will be presented in 2023.
Also earlier this year The Decorators invited me to develop a performance for Sofa-Bread, an inflatable seat with an embedded dough-proving bowl. This was part of their Stanley Picker Fellowship project reflecting on the paradoxical way in which the pandemic has both vilified microbes and prompted a renewed interest in homemade practices of nurturing microbial life. Their exhibition Portal Tables: connecting multiscalar communities is on display at Stanley Picker Gallery until 5 February 2022.