Food's influence on design

'Design & Making: The story of food' traces the evolution of design through food.
Water or beer African pot, covered with skin, from the Iziko Social History Collection.
Water or beer African pot, covered with skin, from the Iziko Social History Collection.

A thought-provoking Cape Town exhibition, Design & Making: The story of food, traces the evolution of craft and design through food – in particular, the vessels used for its preservation, storage, packaging and distribution.

The exhibition, at the Castle of Good Hope from 12 May to 12 October 2014, is a collaboration between the Cape Craft & Design Institute (CCDI) and Iziko Museums of South Africa’s Social History Collections Department. It is an official Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 project (#461).

“In presenting an exhibition as part of World Design Capital, we wanted to illustrate how the process of design has in fact existed since the beginning of time – when all we had was our hands and easily accessible materials to mediate our environment for our survival and growth – and also our enjoyment and pleasure,” says Erica Elk, executive director of the CCDI. “Developing this narrative also presents the opportunity to show how craft and design – often pitted against each other in public discourse and perception – represent a continuum of making processes that result in products.” 

Design is not absent from the process of making things by hand. There is design in craft and craft in design and we want people to engage with these congruencies, explains Elk.

The exhibition story is told through installations and designed objects: a large group of historic African, European and Asian objects sourced from Iziko’s Collections, plus 30 contemporary objects created by designer-makers from the Western Cape. There are also examples of modern packaging. The exhibition reveals how vessels used for storage, preservation and packaging of food have been radically influenced through human development and technological innovation.

These include the discovery of fire, salt, glass, electricity, new materials such as plastic, aluminium and cardboard; fast production methods developed in the industrial era; and new marketing methods leading to the age of consumerism and waste. 

The exhibition, by focusing on food, focuses on the essence of life, the grand sweep of history, monumental shifts in the landscape of production, industry, and commerce, and the impact of all this on society, communities, and ordinary people. It is also an opportunity to nurture a greater appreciation of social history through material objects – which range from sharp stone tools used 1.7 million years ago to twentieth century Zambian storage baskets.