afternoon, thoughts

The Small Museum V2

Last weekend, I joined in the fun at the BBC HomeLab Kitchen held at the MozFest 2015 event at Ravensbourne in Greenwich. I was invited by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, who was programming the kitchen. She asked if I would construct a “last minute museum” to reflect what had happened in the preceding two days, where last minute was just that, revealing the museum display (and its ideas) to a group at around 5pm on the Sunday to whoever was there, and with prosecco. (Prosecco is excellent presentation bait, by the way.)

All in all, I found the experience of attending and participating in an event to record and report on it good fun and a bit odd. I participated in a couple of the workshops on the Saturday, and listened to what I think was the best session on Sunday – a panel with an architect, a professor and a designer discussing kitchen design and its place in constructing female reality.

Here’s what the space looked like:

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

Themes for the Last Minute Good Home Kitchen Museum

1. Technology vs Reality

It was especially clear from a couple of the workshops that what’s technically possible with an arduino, a pliable api and a willing participant is often a long way from the reality of the kitchen as a space.

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

The kitchens I know and love are often a bit of a mess, full of steam and delicious smells, covered in dishes at their cooking heights, and perhaps most importantly, where people congregate, especially at parties. Yet the kitchens we see in work like Corning’s A Day Made of Glass shows a pristine environment that evokes a similar sense as a building that’s designed to never be lived in. The glass/chrome/clean/clinical tech thing just doesn’t gel with a real kitchen. For me, at least.

It was here that I invoked the power of Julia Child, as my talisman of woman expert, a powerful cook, and fully in charge of her domain. I drew upon her kitchen design, now part of the Smithsonian’s collection, as a direct and deliberate design made literally just to fit her. The distance from there to a day made of glass is great.

Anab Jain, a designer and panellist on day two, suggested to the group that we need to look across cultures and families to understand the flow and rhythms of a kitchen and design for it accordingly. She spoke of the dearth of communal food preparation, and its replacement by fast food and isolation.

It also struck me that this XYZ vs. Reality theme is echoed in the work we did at The Small Museum V1, on our day working with Nandi, the lonely steed of Shiva. We made an installation to try to reveal how Nandi lives in the real world (surrounded by people, food, smoke, prayers, colour, flowers, food), and contrast that with his position in the British Museum, in a stark cold blue room off The Great Court.

2. Woman as audience of kitchen

Active male, passive female

Active male, passive female

I knew as soon as Alex approached me that I wanted to incorporate kitchen infomercials somehow. You know the ones, where women are struggling at the start of the commercial with some simple or mundane task like putting utensils away, only to be saved by characters like Chef Tony and his amazing widget. Every infomerical I watched has a woman “host” quite passively listening to a male chef or other saviour who’s here to rescue here from her inability to operate her kitchen.

Julia Child’s strength and excellence was also a useful contrast to this dynamic, and I found this excellent picture of her holding a huge fish and smiling.

Julia Child and Fish

There’s a lot more to this than just that. This idea that women are often the audience to technological wizardry bears further thought.

And now, The Small Museum V2 lives in a single manila folder, this blog post, and two separate Flickr accounts (mine and Peter’s). There may also be other photographs of it (because I saw people take some), but I have no idea where they might be. I incorporated some quotes I gathered as I witnessed the event, and I had collected lots of workshop detritus, including the “Buddhist Carpenter’s Co-operative” emblem. I also kept back a plate and fork (and a bit of cake) from Saturday’s afternoon tea. I’d stashed it away, and popped a sign up that asked it not be removed, but on Sunday, it was gone! (Either that’s my first museum theft, or someone just did a good job of cleaning up overnight.)

Here’s what the display ended up being, a lot of paper and printouts and sticky tape and post-its and sharpie labels, laid out on a table in the space:


The final museum display

Along with Alexandra, the event was hosted by Peter Bihr and we were also joined by Marcel and Harm from The Incredible Machine, who co-wrote the new IoT Design Manifesto. The museum more or less culminated in a point of view, which was to suggest one addition to the manifesto, given the thinking and absorbing of the ethically centered conversations from the previous two days: to keep liberating women as we continue to develop IoT and other technologies.

Upon reflection, making this last minute museum was a lot like the early stages of designing something. It was a bunch of listening and collecting, and then re-presenting what I’d heard synthesised into some strong concepts. Roll on, V3!

morning, v2

The Small Museum V2: An Improvisation

Today I’ll be at the Mozilla Festival, part of a thread called BBC HomeLab Kitchen, run by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Peter Bihr. There’s more to look at about the thread at Ostensibly, the thread is about tech and the home, how the Internet of Things could impact the home, some future casting about “a new vision for the home in the 21st century”.

Alex asked me to stage a “last minute museum” to round out the weekend, so I attended yesterday, and look forward to today. I’ve already begun collecting some artefacts of the event itself, but am also interested in the theme Alex cracked open yesterday in her Q&A with Rocio Rodtjer, of Women As Audience of Kitchen Tech. This morning’s session – She’s in the kitchen: Why women should contribute to smart kitchen development – should be interesting too. Rodtjer’s point that the kitchen is a public space has got me thinking of all my Kate Millett and Gloria Steinem again.

I can’t stop thinking about how women are portrayed in kitchen-related infomercials. Clearly hopeless, forgetting how to use a draw full of utensils, thank god for Gadget Wizard, etc.

Some material I’ve gathered so far includes:

  • Artefacts from Saturday’s sessions (more today, presumably)
  • A copy of the IoT Design Manifesto V1. Wondering if it’s appropriate for a museum to suggest an update.
  • Photos of Julia Child’s kitchen, and one of her holding a giant fish
  • A bunch of imagery from infomercials where a woman is listening to a man talk about some new thing
  • A small set of kitchen photos from Flickr Commons, including one captioned with “A spontaneous family snapshot capturing the delight of being a woman in the kitchen cooking the family meal.”
  • Hannah Höch’s 1919 photomontage Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany
  • Press coverage for Nigella Lawson being choked in public by her then-husband

I’m exploring how to manipulate the audience. I guess this is The Small Museum V2!