about the installation

introduction by Nikki Hafter

These artworks respond to a series of sensory food-making workshops for people with and without language impairments held at Headway East London. In these sessions we explored whether making food together can aid communication. I found that when gaps in verbal language arose, total communication proved critical as a means of exchanging information “between people - embodied, gestural, visual; and between people and materials”1.

During the workshops it emerged that ‘correct’ labels for objects could be replaced with indications of function, appearance, sensory effect, or similar or opposite things. An example occurred when a participant selected a picture of an oyster to describe drinking fresh orange juice.2 She then made the sucking action of eating an oyster, to show the similarity with drinking sharp juice. This action operated like an ideophone,3 evoking similar and contrasting sensory effects at once. I saw that speaking and listening with all our senses could enrich communication and draw connections to memory and between each other.

I initially designed a physical interactive installation to approximate the sensory scope of my workshops. Lockdown demanded this become accessible online, and highlighted how digital communication is mediated by sight and hearing. Understanding that, online, description must substitute smell, taste, touch and emotion, extended my thinking around digital accessibility.

Isolation inspired many to share everyday experiences online. As I explored bread-making during lockdown, I noticed that physical and temporal distances between people baking in separate kitchens could be overcome by efforts to notice with and communicate for all senses, as in my workshops. This installation, too, attempts “nearness… by attending to what is near”4: an approach that may preface total communication for the digital world, and test what language is and can be.

1. [Fox, A. and Macpherson, H. (2015). Inclusive arts practice and research: a critical manifesto. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.]
2. During this reflection activity we used images from food magazines to help us describe our experiences.
3. An ideophone is “a member of an open lexical class of marked words that depict sensory imagery.” [Dingemanse, M. (2019). “Ideophone” as a comparative concept. In K. Akita & P. Pardeshi (Eds.), Ideophones, Mimetics, Expressives.] In this case an action, rather than a word or sound, represents sensory effect.
4. [Heidegger, M. (1971). ‘The Thing’ in Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Hofstader, A.]