Animal Vegetable Mineral’s Edible Art Class. All photography unless otherwise stated by Paul Singer.
Animal Vegetable Mineral, also known as AVM Curiosities, was set up by young entrepreneur Tasha Marks, who left university with an insatiable appetite for combining food and art. Having interned at Bompas & Parr she was ideally placed to set up her own company, which now creates bespoke food based events such as the Edible Art Class taking place at The Book Club on Tuesday 9th April (full listing information here) I was fascinated to hear about the unique career that she has forged for herself so caught up for a quick Q&A. Read on…
Tasha Marks – Photo by Paul Mitchell.
You set up AVM shortly after leaving your degree. What first attracted you to first study food history and do you feel this is a much neglected area?
I was lucky enough to specialise in food history in the final year of my Art History degree at Sussex University, which is partnered with the V&A in London. I signed up to the 3rd year course not knowing what it was, as they had yet to confirm which curator would be available. I knew I wanted to study with the V&A so I took a risk. The year before it had been Chinese ceramics so I’m thrilled that I got silverware curator Ann Eatwell, who taught me the material culture of dining from 1300s to present. Although I had always been interested in food, my passion was ignited in those ten weeks, but I have no doubt it will last a lifetime. I think that food history is very much in vogue at the moment, but there are ‘food history superstars’ like Ivan Day and Peter Brears who constantly inspire new enthusiasts. Though it may have been neglected at one point in time, food is timeless, and we’ll always be interested in what we used to, are and will be eating in the future.
You recently created some ‘Toxic Treats’, exploring not so edible confectionary: what did you make for this event and who was it for?
The event was an exploration of adulteration in 19th century foodstuffs; specifically sweets, which have a particularly sinister history. I felt that our prevailing image of the 1800s was a little one-dimensional, culminating in a Mrs Beeton-esque scene of copper jelly moulds and fancy cakes. But northing could have been further from the truth for the average London household. From children’s sweets dyed with copper, to wine sweetened with lead; we have a chronicle of counterfeit confectionary and falsified foodstuffs. Complimenting the lecture was a series of associated edibles; Fake Coffee Beans (made from chocolate and chicory), Milk Sherbet (with a Bakewell tart lolly), Toxic Tonic Sweets (which glowed in UV light) and an edible print of the Lozenge Maker. I could go on and on, but to understand the true nature of this horrible history you’ll have to come along to the next talk, happening later in the year…
Animal Vegetable Mineral’s Toxic Toffee (UV Sweets).
Do you create all of the food that appears at your events (for instance at Eat Your Heart Out) or do you work with other people, and if so who?
I create all the AVM edibles myself, though I have a very supportive partner and a lovely younger brother (who is a chef) who will get involved to assist and execute events. Unfortunately I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’m very bossy in the kitchen. I’ll regularly work to 2/3am on a project because I want it a certain way and I completely lose track of time. In the case of Eat Your Heart Out, however, the event was a collaboration between me and more than 20 other bakers and makers. We all worked on our separate creations under the wonderful theme of the ‘anatomically correct cake shop’.
How does it work if you attend one of your classes as a guest?
Every event is wildly different but they all aim to create a curious experience: a moment of wonder and edible excitement… both silly and cerebral in equal measure.
What prompted you to set up your company so soon after graduating? What have been the highlights so far?
Well I wrote my dissertation on jelly, so naturally I went on to intern at Bompas & Parr after I graduated (us jelly experts like to stick together!). I had a wonderful three months there, but felt like I should get a “proper” job so went to work for a children’s publishing agency. This was a terrible decision, as after nine months in an office I felt like completely drained. I realized then that I was someone who learnt through trial and error, and the best way of doing that was to start my own company. Animal Vegetable Mineral had been on the to do list since it university but only as a vague idea. So I started by working on projects that I was interested in and the company organically evolved as I went on. Two years later and I feel like AVM has a really strong identity, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without the wonderful collaborators I met along the way. Working with Pertwee, Anderson & Gold Gallery, The Robin Collective and Rambling Restaurant have led to some of my favourite projects, however I think that accidentally using a 2500-year-old Etruscan bowl to serve popcorn at the Museum of Curiosity has to be one of the most memorable moments!
What next for AVM?
In the near future I’ll be contributing to another exciting group show at St Bart’s Pathology Museum; Sacred Tarts. Celebrating the sweeter side of religion through this more ecclesiastical of emporiums, amongst other exciting edibles I’ll be preparing Christ Cameos (made with church wine) and an edible Shroud of Turin. I’m also preparing for a solo art exhibition at the Herrick Gallery later in the summer, which is top secret for now but check the website for details. Plus in the meantime there’s some good old-fashioned messy, arty fun in the form of the Edible Art Class at The Book Club in Shoreditch, where I’ll be holding workshops in Chocolate Model-Making, Lickable Lifedrawing and Edible Painting-By-Numbers.
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