Monday, 30 September 2013



Lamp post

Yeah, right, I hear you mutter, as you look at a badly lit photo of something unidentifiable. Allow me to identify the object as a lamp post with a speaker attached. For a week or so it played different sounds everytime I passed. Turkish drums one morning. Crickets on another. The sounds of something burning. Breaking waves. And one lunchtime, just to confuse the shoppers, the voiceover for what sounded like a retro documentary on fire.

This was part of the Sensation festival organised by the cultural events team at Chelmsford City Council. They explain that the concept behind the festival was about multiple sensory experiences. Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.

Happily their leaflet fell into my hands just as I was feeling the need to learn and experience new things. As the activities were mainly free there was no excuse for not to attend at least one.


So on Friday night, Mimi and I paid a visit to Anglia Ruskin University to hear a talk by Caroline Hobkinson. Let me begin by saying the campus is amazing. I've often gone past but never actually visited. It goes without saying that I loved the green sofas on the man entrance. What I really liked though was the atmosphere. Tend way that giant bean bags, low stools and sofa were grouped in open areas. For me a vital part of learning is talking to other people, and these spaces with inspirational images and words on the walls really encourage this.

Caroline's talk was about how we experience and our expectations, often cultural around this. She shared some of her own work, which falls somewhere between performance art and chef. Diners eating from a table that has been lifted to a gallery ceiling. Eating with wooden stakes or oversized cutlery. Cameras hidden in food so that the dinner party can be projected on the walls of the room. Eating blindfolded, or bring fed.

By reminding the audience of birthdays cakes, and celebration meals she was able to put her work in context. We all have rituals around good which are absurd when viewed objectively. Eating with forks, lighting candles on a cake, and eating certain foods for certain times of day (why not noodles for breakfast?).

Do not eat!

We then got the interactive part where we ate the contents of the box we were given on arrival. So we'd explored expectations of taste from colour and texture. The impact noise can have on taste. How holding your nose can prevent you tasting something. And the tastes that are like a touch.

Caroline reminded us that food is central to our lives. We celebrate with food. We socialise with food. We mark travels with food. We might not talk to anyone in a strange location, but rely on the food to gve an experience of the locale. Then our memories of trip are all about food.

It was a fascinating way to spend a Friday night. It made me realise that food is very central to my life (and that's normal!). Mimi and I talked after about preparing a meal and the associated experiences as one might go to the theatre or an art gallery. We also recalled our own experiences of rituals tied to food; pumpkin carving parties, New Year's Eve, and Brunch club being key examples.

I'm now looking at the programme for the Chelmsford Ideas Festival with fresh eyes, keen to engage and learn.


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