Edible Intervention With AVM Curiosities- Merging art and food with Tasha Marks of AVM Curiosities -

Merging art and food with Tasha Marks of AVM Curiosities

From ancient alabaster ruins crafted from sugar to a Victorian Afternoon Tea at the V&A, AVM Curiosities can take you on a delicious journey like no other. TOAST chats to founder and award winning food historian and artist Tasha Marks about her incredible work exploring the relationship between art and the senses.



We live in a time of flavoured edible mist, nitrogen ice cream bars, Georgian-themed cocktail fountains and a recent supper club that involved actually killing a crab before eating it. Immersive and experimental food experiences have exploded in recent years, and the movement shows no sign of stopping as demand increases for even weirder and more wonderful concepts.

Doughnut walls and other such transient novelties may come and go, but the work of Tasha Marks, a food historian and artist, is thoughtful, deeply imaginative and steeped in meaning, as well as being completely captivating and uniquely stimulating. Her company, AVM Curiosities, has been exploring the relationship between art and the senses through a series of high-calibre events and edible interventions since 2011.

AVM Curiosities is my artistic practice - it stands for Animal Vegetable Mineral, referencing early museum classifications and those magical cabinets of curiosities” explains Tasha.

I studied Art History at university and like many Art Historians I wanted to be a curator. I was very interested in museums, and in storytelling and objects. Our final year courses were taught by V&A curators and for my year it was the silverware curator Ann Eatwell - she taught us food history from the 1300s to the present, and it changed everything I was into. It was a eureka moment when I realised that these fantastical feasts and epic banquets from the past were just the start - the first chapter in the relationship between art, food and history. I realised that combining my love of galleries with my love of sweets would not be such an impossible thing after all…” 

And so now, through AVM, Tasha champions the use of food as an artistic medium, with boundary pushing projects ranging from museum-style exhibitions and sculptural installations to interactive lectures and limited-edition confectionery. Like many of us, Tasha has a sweet tooth and an insatiable fascination with all things sugary.

I always try incorporate confectionery wherever possible. I’m inextricably drawn to the sweet stuff! Puddings, desserts, chocolates always seem so frivolous, but in that is their great power. Nobody needs dessert - it’s a brilliant extra. We don’t expect to be filled by dessert, for it to sustain us, for it to be anything other than delicious, and because of that playfulness, this bountiful bonus can be pushed in all sorts of directions making it the perfect medium for art and for experimentation” Tasha enthuses.

I wrote my dissertation about jelly - it was called ‘From the high table to the high chair: The cultural demise of jelly’. From there I met some really influential people who began to shape what I do now - I’m eternally grateful to Bompas & Parr, Ivan Day and the sculptor Kate MccGwire for making me the creative I am today

AVM Curiosities Georgian Ice Cream

Benugo VA Afternoon Tea AVM Curiosities

Tasha’s sugar rush shows no sign of stopping; one of AVM’s recent projects was Alabaster Ruins - a contemporary sugar sculpture that quite literally looked like intricately carved pale white alabaster, taking inspiration from stone, marble and the banqueting tables of the Elizabethan Era, and bringing together fragments of English Tudor, French Gothic, German Baroque and Classical Greek structures to celebrate European architectural heritage at the V&A

Adding the senses to a gallery space gets people to interact in a way that they might have otherwise felt nervous to do to – you are told not to touch things, so by adding food, smell and sound you are telling a story but you are also changing behavior, enhancing the ritual and making the whole experience performative. Not only do the paintings come to life, but the visitors often do too” explains Tasha. 

I think food is a great storyteller, we engage with food in a way that people often resist with art. Art has an aura, it’s commanding and exclusive, which is both a strength and a massive weakness. I do what I do to tell stories - to provide a taste of history and a flavor of the future… quite literally sometimes.”

Throughout the early modern period sugar was a real luxury, with sugar sculptures becoming synonymous with status, identity and power. Drawing on this history, Tasha created Alabaster Ruins by combing ancient and modern techniques, using a 17th century ‘sugar-plate’ recipe alongside cutting-edge 3D printing technology. The forms, scanned and cast from the V&A’s own collection, were transformed into ‘ruins’ - pointing to the consumption and transition nature of European culture, and the museum’s urge to preserve it.

Albaster Ruins Tasha Marks AVM Curiosities

Alabaster Ruins Tasha Marks

(Albastar Ruins by Tasha Marks) 

Alabaster Ruins was a career highlight for me. Both the techniques and the content were a step forward, and to have the museum that birthed my passion for food history also be the ones to display my largest sculpture to date - well that was the cherry on top.” Tasha explains.

Food history is so much more than olde mutton pye - it’s full of spectacle and splendor, of Renaissance banqueting houses and sugar castles that fire really sugar artillery. But it’s also a history of mankind, we all eat, we all have an appetite for the new and nostalgia for the old. Food history is timeless, it’s past, present and future, and in my work I’m fortunate to get to cherry pick the tidbits.”

Other outstanding projects by AVM Curiosities include Lickable Leighton – a bespoke tasting menu for Leighton House Museum that complemented and enhanced the historic setting. AVM created an ‘edible architecture experience’ consisting of a taste-tour of the house; using textures, tastes and smells to highlight different rooms and areas such as Sicilian sweets in the Silk Room, edible paint in the studio space, and a 19th century vegetable salad with edible flowers and home-grown herbs in the Victorian herb garden.

I always start with research, with reading; my library and book collection is always my start point. From there I might use a larger archive to mine more information, or if I feel I have enough to start with I will delve into the Internet for additional tangents and ideas” explains Tasha

Then when it comes to the making, it’s all about experimenting, of thinking up possibilities, and then figuring out if I can actually make it. Every project realization is the tip of the iceberg, there’s always a lot more under the surface that goes unseen.”

Lickable Leighton Photo Chloe Rivers Courtesy Of AVM Curiositie

Lickable Leighton Photo Chloe Rivers Courtesy Of AVM Curiosities 

AVM’s other notable clients include The National Gallery, Selfridges, The British Museum, Soho House, the Southbank Centre and the National Trust, to name just a few. Tasha has won various awards (Grey Goose Iconoclast of Taste 2013, Selfridges Bright Young Thing 2013 and Young British Foodie 2013) and hosts regular events, workshops and talks at locations across the capital.

My driving forces are novelty and nostalgia when it comes to my work, so the old and the new for me are always linked. My style when it comes to presentation is more minimal, which I also hope adds to the contemporary edge” she explains.

“What I want to evoke is a taste of history or a flavour of a story. I’m not recreating the past I’m alluding to it, inspired by it to create something new.”

Edible Bubbles Photo Paul Singer AVM Curiosities

The Findibg Of Moss Spiced Honey And Fennel Bread With Candied Figs

As part of Queen Caroline's GardenPartyAVM Curiosities created a pop-up 18th century ice cream parlour in the stunning grounds of Kensington Palace; made in collaboration with Bristol-based Ice cream factory Jolly Nice, three Georgian flavours were available to try; Apricot & Orange Flower Blossom, Chocolate Water Ice and Brown Bread Ice Cream - an 18th century classic. There was a workshop for 11-14 year olds as well as the garden party itself, where AVM created the 'Ice-House' tent containing an ice cream themed cabinet of curiosity, hourly talks by Tasha, and authentic 18th century ice cream samples.

The Poetry Of Toast By Amadine Alessandra Designmarketo AVM Curiosities

The Poetry Of Toast Amandine Alessandra Designmarketo AVM Curiosities Imagery

(Iamger Poetry on Toast, Barbiacan)

One of my favourite events was the Poetry of Toast at the Barbican, it was a performance piece that took an everyday ritual and elongated it into an artistic process. Visitors were knighted with a Victorian toasting fork amulet before being lead to the toast library where there were quotes that ranged from Wind in the Willows to Margaret Atwood. Their nostalgia successfully stimulated, they carried on to the toasting station before eventually using cinnamon or chocolate and a laser-cut stencil to print poetry on their hot buttered toast” Tasha enthuses.

The whole thing was designed to be visually impactful and yet it was the smell of the toast drifting around the gallery that made the biggest impression. Suddenly the alien space of the gallery felt like home. That was my first experience of the power of smell.”

More recently, AVM Curiosities have created a Victorian Afternoon Tea in collaboration with Benugo, which is available in the awe-inspiring surrounds of the V&A's Morris Room. The menu, devised from 19th century recipes, features classics like Mrs Beeton's Cucumber Sandwich alongside the lesser-known Lemon Seed Cake with caraway and poppy seeds. It is a unique and intriguing infusion of architecture, collections, cafés and history.

Benugo VA Afternoon Tea AVM Curiosities

AVM Curiosities Benugo VA Afternoontea

(AVM Victorian Afternoon Tea in collaboration with Benugo

I was spotted by Benugo who run the café at the V&A while I was hosting Obsidian Air, an edible bubble experience, which was part of the Alexander McQueen Late. They liked what I did in combining the senses and storytelling, and contacted me to ask if I wanted to collaborate on a project with the café. As much as I believe we should bring the senses into the gallery, I also think we should bring art into the café” Tasha explains.

“The V&A café was the first purpose built café of any gallery in the world, the original refreshment rooms from 1868 are still in use and everything is still made on site, so when they asked me to work with them on a Victorian afternoon tea menu I was thrilled. I took inspiration from the original V&A menus and also chefs from the period, and I worked with the Benugo chefs to create the final menu” 

Vanity Fair calls AVM CuriositiesLondon at it’s crazy-best’, while London store Sick-Note describe Tasha’s work as ‘the love child of Leonardo Da Vinci, Willy Wonka and Ferran Adria.’. With fantastical food experimentation and the increasingly number of events centred around sensory experiences showing no sign of stopping – what does trailblazer Tasha think will come next?

I think we’ve focused so hard on the visual that I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t return to more subtle modes of display - a focus on savouring simplicity, things like event specific perfumes and evocative soundscapes, alongside good ingredients and skilled hosting” she explains.

“We spend so much of our time online or at a computer that food is one of the few activities that require us to go out and interact. We’re not yet at a point where we can download a sandwich, so why not make that food experience fantastic. Go forth and be immersive, and eat something delicious while you’re at it”

Studio Shot By Teddy Fitzhugh AVM Curiosities

Studio Shot Image By Teddy Fitzhugh Edited 1 

Tasha has various upcoming projects at The National Gallery, The Dulwich Picture Gallery and at the Royal College of Physicians – you can find more information and sign up for AVM Curiosities’ mailing list on their website but before you, here are Tasha’s three top tips for AVM-inspired entertaining at home.   

TASHA’S TOP TIPS FOR AVM-INSPIRED ENTERTAINING 

  • Everything looks good with edible flowers, but not all edible flowers taste great
  • If I had to make a ‘taste of history’ perfume it would be equal parts rosewater and caraway – you can add these to most dishes for a historic edge
  • Always save room for pudding

For more information and contact details for AVM Curiosities then visit their page in TOAST’s Little Black Book.

 
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