Semi-industrial

SEMI-INDUSTRIAL

This Monday, February 10th 2014, Pedro and Frederico begin leading a one-week workshop at IED – Instituto Europeo di Design in Madrid, on the topic of Semi-Industrial.

Here’s part of the workshop brief.

Since 2005 we’ve been researching how the sweet, one-portion pastries sold daily across Portugal in cafés or small bakeries are an inherent part of Portuguese economy, culture and material landscape. We published our findings in the shape of a 92-cake encyclopedia, to which we added contributions on the subject we gathered from over 20 people, in the book “Fabrico Próprio – The Design of Semi-Industrial Portuguese Confectionery” whose first edition was launched in 2008 and second in 2012. We’ve talked about this topic in several articles, essays, and lectures in different media, venues and cities – from Lisbon to London, Berlin to São Paulo, New York to Berlin. In the process we discovered how when it comes to food – in this case, sweet pastry – the yearning for the artisanal often hides a need for the industrial.

Fabrico Próprio cakes in Portugal are not churned out by the thousand by gigantic machines monitored by workers in anonymous factories. That is not what we think when we buy or eat them. Nor do we think they are reverently made in small batches by an idealised person according to a centuries- old recipe in some haloed ‘sanctuary’ of Portuguese confections. This is the reason behind our choice of semi-industrial as an apt expression to characterise this particular kind of food production: all these cakes are manufactured by confectionery bakers whose face we have never seen, but in whose talent we unquestionably trust. They are not made by machines, they are made with machines. They are not mass-produced in a large scale, they are produced in sufficient numbers to fill many shop counters every morning. They are not from a specific convent or region, they are national — and some are even global. And while the daily design of this confectionery is simpler than the rich tradition of Portuguese culinary and gastronomy, it remains more valuable and authentic than any synthetic product the so-called food industry has to offer. 

This is the perspective we want to add to this workshop’s discussion and research. By introducing the concept of semi-industrial to the design, production and consumption of food, we would like to take our approach to Madrid and other cities, regions and nations. To understand, for example: what is the design behind semi-industrial food staples such as Greek Feta cheese, Spanish Turrón, Italian pasta, Peruvian quinoa, Belgian chocolate and Argentinian (or Uruguayan, or Brazilian) dulce de leche?? Or, perhaps our semi-industrial favourite, the Vienna-born, Paris-famous Croissant, which is made across the world in myriad designs.

From the pesticides we spray on wheat fields to the powdered sugar we sprinkle on a Gugelhupf cake, from the hormones we inject into pigs and cows to the many ways we allow puff pastry to grow, how do we design semi-industrial food, and does it design the way we eat?

From made by hand to made by machines, how can designers trace, shift or cross borders around the manufacturing and consumption of food?

Pedro will be here all week, but on Wednesday Frederico will join Rita in Venice and both will head to Ljubljana for BIO 50’s first meeting and workshop. Semi-Industrial was also the sub-theme with which we applied to the team working on the “Knowing Food” theme for Ljubljana’s Design Biennial, BIO 50.

We are very excited to be part of this experiment in international design collaboration lead by Belgian curator Jan Boelen. We don’t yet know here it’s leading us, but we can’t wait to find out.

Both this workshop and our participation in BIO 50 mean a great deal to us. Semi-industrial is a term we coined ourselves to describe what is, even after 8 years, a subject of endless discovery and fascination. We’ve often had to define, and defend it – not without a fight, sometimes. By taking our project beyond Portuguese confectionery we want to widen its scope and address some of the most pressing issues around a discipline we interpret as one of the most powerful forces shaping our everyday experiences, environments and expectations.

A new Fabrico Próprio chapter begins this week.

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