Launch Event: Wednesday 17 November 6-8pm / All Welcome
For their Stanley Picker Fellowship commission Portal Tables, The Decorators take the idea of commensality – the social practice of eating together – and extend it beyond the human to include microbial communities.
Domestic food fermentation gained momentum during the periods of social-isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people sharing home-made recipes through social media. Bacterial communities, such as those nurtured in food fermentation, actively participate in human digestion. It is believed that bacteria produce joy in the human body through the release of hormones like Dopamine and Serotonin, perhaps serving as a substitute for the social joy of IRL (In-Real-Life) human interaction.
In parallel, a growing area of research has been exploring how bacterial communities digest xenobiotic materials, synthetic and foreign to animal life. It was found that different species of bacteria eat plastic, including Pseudomonas Putida and Ideonella Sakaiensis. These findings distort the structure of commensality as we know it and open-up ethical questions regarding the use of bacterial life as a solution for human happiness or pollution.
Portal Tables is a set of three polyurethane inflatable furniture pieces that encourage affect between microbial and human communities. The pieces are designed to be flatpack, easy to wash and used anywhere within the home or outside. Portal Tables comments upon the contemporary obsession with microbial life, probiotics and wellbeing, and speculates on the possible relations and social encounters – political, tender, economic, friendly – across bodies and species.
Kimchi-Pool (2021) seats up to twelve people around a large vessel as they collectively make Kimchi – fermented cabbage and radish napa with various seasonings – a staple of Korean cuisine. Users may choose to seat, kneel or lean, negotiating their bodily position and weight around the bouncing materiality of the Kimchi-Pool. The largest Korean community in Europe lives near to the Stanley Picker Gallery in New Malden, within the Royal Borough of Kingston.
Cheese-Board (2021) has been designed for one person to make Labneh, a type of soft cheese traditionally made in Lebanon. A person can kneel at the edge of the table and use it as a working surface. Then lay down on the top of it, while waiting through the fermentation process.
Sofa-Bread (2021) sits two people. It invites a diversity of postures – feet up or down, upright or laying down. The two ceramic bowls are for bread dough to be proved whilst users rest together with it on the sofa.
On the walls of the gallery are two diagrams. The first is anthropologist Susanne Kerner’s diagram of commensality, outlining different levels of food sharing, evolving from one body – such as in-utero feeding, where food is shared between mother and foetus – to many bodies, from siblings to strangers, banquets to food banks. The second diagram distorts the first, shifting the gaze to the inside of the human body, thus considering the microbial communities involved in commensality.
The two short films for the exhibition are directed in collaboration with Sergio Márquez, with graphics and motion design by Stephen McLaughlin, and original soundtrack by Maxwell Sterling. In the second of these films (below) Kimchi-Pool was activated by a group of regular participants of the yearly Kimjang Project, led by Justina Jang, festival director of the Kingston Korea Festival, Cheese-Board was activated by Inês Neto dos Santos and Sofa-Bread was activated with the performance Resting (2021) by Laura Wilson, performed by Elina Akhmetova and Piedad Seiquer with costumes by Lucie Kordacova. These live activations were filmed at the Picker House, Kingston upon Thames.
The Decorators is an interdisciplinary design collective founded by Suzanne O’Connell, Carolina Caicedo, Xavier Llarch Font and Mariana Pestana in 2011, and appointed to the Stanley Picker Fellowships at Kingston University in 2018. With backgrounds in landscape architecture, design, curation and psychology, they work on spatial design projects that aim to reconnect the physical elements of a place with its social dimension and expand notions of community.
Portal Tables was launched online in May 2021 with the video-essay Portal Tables: Connecting Multiscalar Communities. A preview of the project was displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum for London Design Festival (18-26 September 2021) with the furniture piece Sofa-Bread, before the project received its full premiere at the Stanley Picker Gallery in November 2021.
Edition: A special digital print-on-demand edition accompanying Portal Tables is available for sale individually (£20 each) or as a set of 6 (£100). Available exclusively through the Stanley Picker Gallery, proceeds from the sale of our editions and publications support our public programme and keeps the Gallery free for all visitors. Please contact us for details.
Thank you to everyone involved in the project, to the Stanley Picker Trust, Arts Council England, Victoria & Albert Museum/London Design Festival, ITI/Larsys (Instituto Superior Técnico) and the Kingston Korea Festival.