by Carole Collet and Bartaku
The Edible Alchemy Table Landscape celebrates the resurgence and rich potential of two plants that have traditionally long been entwined in northern European cultural landscapes: flax (used to make linen) and Aronia melanocarpa or chokeberry (used for food and medicine). Through this table landscape we want to showcase the seemingly limitless potential that each of these plant systems can offer. […] From a perspective that embraces cultural, natural and historical interconnectedness, we want to encourage people to see beyond the utilitarian and value our natural resources for what they are as much as what they can be made into.
The Aronia bush is a deciduous shrub native to North America, where it can be found growing wild in the Great Lakes region. The plant was introduced to Russia in the early 1900s and subsequently cultivated throughout central and eastern Europe. The bush is exceptionally resistant to pollution and pests. With their antioxidant properties due to high levels of anthocyanins and tannins, its berries are rapidly gaining status as a superfood. It is used in medicine to help with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, liver failure, DNA degradation and colon cancer. Aronia is also used to produce jam, jelly, beer, wine, vodka, and textile dyes.
In 2010, artist Bartaku developed for the first time an edible, dye-sensitized photovoltaic technology using Aronia berries. He also used Aronia juice as a key active agent for the Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (TpED), a series of co-creation worklabs and one outcome of his ongoing interest in humanity’s eternal struggle to access energy. These worklabs also demonstrate an instance of extreme adaptation of a natural resource, such as the Aronia, one that can open up new imaginaries and effectively become a closed-loop alchemy – one that transforms sunlight into micro-voltage via a series of biological interconnections.
Linen has been used as a textile fibre since 36,000 BC. A “natural polymer,” linen is a very familiar fabric to most of us, but many of its intrinsic qualities are less well-known: for instance, it has the equivalent mechanical resistance of glass fibre, but is twice as light. We also know that Alexander the Great‘s “armour” was made not of metal but of layers of laminated linen cloth.* In the past decade we have witnessed a revival of the use of flax fibres in the production of a sophisticated range of high-performance composites, now used for their strength and lightness in the manufacture of cars, bikes, furniture and even tennis rackets. Flax seeds are also used in medicine, where they are known to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, support brain functions, soothe eczema, ease arthritis, help control diabetes, and reduce skin inflammations.
The potential of both Aronia and flax as raw ingredients and natural materials has thus been “rediscovered,” with new applications emerging in the fields of science, technology and design. Carole Collet and Bartaku invited the audience to discover both plants and experience their many possible uses – both applied and aesthetic – in the Edible Alchemy Aperolab,* which included the making and tasting of Aronia in Bartaku’s TpED. The installation also featured furniture made from linen board designed by Kieren Jones, and tableware manufactured from a range of new linen composites designed by Carole Collet.