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Media Partnership / Product Design

Designer Avi Ben Shoshan’s ceramic utensils transform eating into a performance

Avi Ben Shoshan’s ceramics practice was shaped at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art where, paradoxically, Avi studied industrial design. It was here that the Tel Aviv-based designer and maker took a ceramics design class which, he tells us, “completely changed the way I perceive objects”.

After graduating last year, Avi has been building a pastel-hued portfolio of work which considers the interplay between objects and the body. “In my work I explore the complex relationship between objects and the human body,” Avi tells us. “My interest in food and in tactility lead me to the inspection of the human body and its different parts, shapes and movement, in an attempt to create a passionate connection between the body and an object.”

Using the everyday spoons that we use to fill our mouths and stomachs as his foundations, Avi has designed his own versions which force the user to reconsider their physical movements, and the sometimes subconscious rituals which surround the consumption of food. “Through the practical objects I create I examine questions revolving around the physicality, mentality and symbolism of the body in historical and functional contexts, trying to emphasise the practical and sensual interaction between the body and the object, body image in general, sensuality, and physicality,” Avi says. “In my project Food Performance I tried to reimagine the use of utensils and the different ways in which they meet the body and serve as it’s extension.”

Elsewhere, Avi’s ceramics work extends to cute, near human-like ceramic products ranging from water jugs to pots, each heavy with Avi’s signature off-kilter sense of humour.

We caught up with the designer to delve deep into the heart of his practise.
 

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Where did your interest in design emerge from?
I have always played with different materials and tried to reach and study different ways of creating things. I used to teach myself everything I wanted to know: I worked with fabrics and took a course in dressmaking and sewing; I drew, dyed fabrics, and built furniture and different objects. I discovered my passion for food 7 years ago and started playing around in the kitchen, teaching myself how to use new products. I worked in a few places as a cook, and also worked with a few chefs. After a while, I decided to go back to product design and object making, and applied to Shenkar, where I graduated last year with a BA. For the past year I’ve been working at my studio, which is a part of a scholarship I got from Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center.
 
You studied in the industrial design department of Shenkar college of art design and engineering. Can you tell us a little about the course? 
The time I spent in college was very challenging and very interesting. The programme is industrially-oriented, and it took me time to find my path there. In the meantime, I got a chance to explore various work methods until I was able to form my own voice, and to understand my direction and my passion as a designer. In my second year at school I took a ceramics design class, which completely changed the way I perceive objects. I took another class and started to design objects for food. Since then I’ve been working with ceramics.
 

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Can you explain how food and movement merge together in your design practice?
It’s important for me to point out that in terms of my experience, the Western eating culture has had very little change in the past few decades. There is something about the use of a knife and fork that enforces a manner of eating, which in a way restrains intuitive desires and instincts, and limits the human body to a specific movement.

The utensils which I chose to design do not dictate the manner of eating, but rather it is the manner of eating that dictates their use. Meaning, the utensils were designed around the physical, intuitive and primary action. The design is inspired by slight hand actions and gestures; they bring together the most basic instincts with the more “civilised” use of the utensils. I was aiming to create an extension for the body that can continue the original and intuitive movement of the hands.

Bringing together food and industrial design started even before I began my studies at Shenkar, when I discovered my strong passion for food culture and the different elements from which it is composed. It’s a field I’ve been engaging with for several years, one that accompanied me also during my studies, both as a job and as a hobby. When I began working on the project last year, I realised that I’m not interested in creating eating tools for specific dishes, and that what intrigued me most was the interaction between the diner and the dish. That is, I perceive food as a subject which is very sensual, liberating, intuitive, sexy and inspiring. During the greater part of my time as a student I worked in a restaurant in Tel-Aviv, which had an open kitchen overlooking the crowd of diners. I had accumulated many hours of viewing and observing the manners in which people eat and dine; and I interpret the spectacle of eating in many different ways, from sexy and sensuous, to bizarre and fascinating, or grotesque and revolting.

The fleshy tones you work in – pinks and nudes – mimic the human body, making your ceramic utensils an extension of the body itself…
I started working with this colour palette during my work on Food Performance. I was aiming to reference fleshy colours, but also colours of our internal organs, like a tongue or liver. I kept playing with this palette, as I felt it resonates with a soft and organic sensation that I’m interested in working with. It relates to the ideas I’m dealing with, revolving around the tension between human physicality and the inanimate.

Do you hope to turn your prototypes into products to sell?
I would like to try, mainly because I think it would be interesting to discover whether or not this new form of utensils can be used as a generic commercial food product. For now, it is still a work in progress.
 
For now, you’re experiencing how the tools are used through a series of workshops run in partnership with a pastry chef…
Yes. In these workshops, created with pastry chef Michal Bouton, we tried to understand different social and personal aspects of the human interaction with food. We treated it as a ceremonial experiment that integrates food and objects and brings up questions about human habits, and about relationships between people, objects and food.

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This interview was made possible with the support of Vibe Israel