“My thesis was called, ‘From the High Table to the High Chair: The Cultural Demise of Jelly,’” laughs Tasha Marks director of AVM Curiosities. Art History students might be expected to research Picasso or Impressionism – but Tasha was already being drawn toward more culinary pursuits.
‘Food Artist’ or ‘Food Historian’ might seem like an esoteric career path, but just six years since launching AVM Curiosities, she has already amassed an impressive body of work. There was the Turkish carpet made from sugar which she designed for the Istanbul Design Biennial, and the chocolate replicas of Leonardo’s Last Supper – which were infused with gold, frankincense and myrrh – as well as the edible black bubbles which filled the air at a V&A ‘Friday Late’, over the Alexander McQueen exhibition.
“We’re told in galleries that you must behave in a certain way, and you must speak quietly and you mustn’t touch anything – definitely don’t lick anything,” Tasha says, explaining the delicious appeal of showing culinary art in exhibition spaces. “Food breaks down a lot of boundaries. It’s interesting how it changes the atmosphere and changes people’s behaviour,” she says, using the example of an instillation she put on in The Barbican, London, ‘The Poetry of Toast.’
Visitors wore Victorian toasting forks round their necks like amulets, and travelled through the exhibition – using laser-cut stencils to dust a cinnamon or chocolate quotes on their toast, exploring the scholarly past of the simple slice. “To have food in a gallery is to play with an alien space,” Tasha explains. “It introduces something homely, and familiar and welcoming” she says – pointing out how there are few things more nostalgic, yet more unexpected in a gallery space then the smell of hot, buttered toast.
Tasha clearly has a knack for approaching topics from a unique angle, but she attributes her early love of food art and history to a university lecturer. The appropriately-named Ann Eatwell, was the silverware curator at The V&A, and specialised in the material culture of the table. “One week we might cover sugar, and the next week would look at salt,” Tasha explains. “It gave me a taste of the banquets and fantastical feasts from the past and the theatrical perspective.”
On graduating in 2010, Tasha got a job with ‘Bompas & Parr’ – experts in multi-sensory experience design. The pair had only recently launched their own creative practice, known back then as The Jellymongers. “They’re an inspiration,” she says. “They have an amazing talent for coming up with wild and outlandish ideas, and then working out how to make it happen afterwards.”
It was the nudge that Tasha needed to launch her own practice, and soon AVM Curiosities was born. Tasha’s historical approach means that she often works alongside national institutions from The British Museum to The National Trust. Recent projects have ranged from television consultancy for The Sweet Makers (BBC2), to ‘Alabaster Ruins’ – an exhibition at The V&A in which she used 3D printing technology to make moulds of historical fragments, which were turned into edible ruins, using a 17th century ‘sugar plate’ recipe.
Tasha cites fellow food historian, Ivan Day, as one of her biggest inspirations, particularly his way of learning by doing. She explains how historical recipes often lack measurements or even method. “They might say ‘add sugar and eggs’ but it won’t tell you how much sugar, or how many eggs. What Ivan has taught me to do is to start with more recent recipes, and then work backwards to try and create the original dish.”
Food art and food history are both new areas of research, but it’s easy to see the appeal. In the next month, Tasha is giving a talk at the LAPADA Arts & Antiques Fair – Introduction to Renaissance Sugar Sculpture. She’s presenting a Glutton’s Guide to the Thames at The Watermans River Weekender (“From Thames Soup to Spam Fritters’), and is hosting an Aroma-Tour at The Dulwich Picture Gallery. She has a hectic schedule, but there’s clearly an appetite for more, and I suspect that she won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Words by Rachel Walker.
For more informationon Tasha, AVM Curiosities and upcoming events, visit www.avmcuriosities.com