German designers Kai Linke and Peter Eckart have conceived an exhibition for the London Design Biennale in which disposable plastic cutlery is displayed as archaeological artifacts. Informed by the European Union’s ban on single-use plastic cutlery, Spoon Archaeology aims to respond to the biennale’s theme, Can we design a better world?
Staged as archaeological remnants, curiosities, and objects of fascination they are contemporary witnesses of an era that has just ended and provide information about the state of the global consumer society. Films and infographics visualize the research into alternatives to plastic tableware. In addition, production cycles and material flows as well as cultural anthropological aspects of eating habits are examined.
The installation presents the material and immaterial cultural heritage of the past and present and invites guests to resonate sustainable solutions for the future by questioning traditional design culture. The individual showcases will be bundled together in meandering displays and can be arranged flexibly in the room.
Additionally, “Spoon Archaeology” will show videos in a loop (e.g. a film with hands as eating tools in different cultures), a double-sided poster and a website that introduce further information on the wide-ranging topics of disposable cutlery and its social and ecological complexity. Ultimately, the displayed objects represent centuries of cultural heritage as well as today’s throwaway society. These artefacts raise critical issues concerning the cultural history of civilisation, sustainability, climate consciousness, the functionality of design, and today’s fundamental problem with disposables.
The installation further showcases methods for the critical examination of traditional design approaches, and broadens the view to other cultures. Linke and Eckart do not intend to solely create substitute products, they rather remind the viewer to learn from this collection, take responsibility and develop perspectives for alternative futures.
One important component of the installation is the little-known documentary “Banana Leaf” (1972) by the North American designer-couple Ray and Charles Eames from their archives, which celebrates the reduction of tableware to a simple banana leaf as the highest level of food culture in South India. The installation thus raises sweeping questions concerning the tensions between design and the sustainable use of resources.
The idea for the German contribution to the Biennale stems from the ban on plastic cutlery in the European Union, which will come into effect on July 3, 2021. Disposable cutlery produced in the previous decades will thereby become artifacts of our recent past. As displayed objects, cutlery does not only convey information on their usage or on different cultures, but moreover provide conclusions about dishes, which are part of optimizing food intake, too. Eating tools eventually adapt to the developments of human life and are thus significant factors in our table and dining culture as well as in the history of technology.