Paperclips and Samosas: a Q&A with Paola Antonelli on the Design of Food Paperclips and Samosas: a Q&A with Paola Antonelli on the Design of Food

Paperclips and Samosas: a Q&A with Paola Antonelli on the Design of Food

by Nicola Twilley

December 19, 2010
Paola Antonelli is Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her mission, as she explained in this TED video, is to show how design affects every aspect of life. For her, a Post-It note is as important an example of good design as an Eames chair.

GOOD: What kind of strengths and weaknesses do you see in food design at each scale?

Antonelli: They are really three universes that each have their own laws. The world of genetic and molecular modification is rife with a lot of controversy about motivations, profits, and patents—it's a very complicated space because it's a world of intense innovation and uncertainty at the moment. It's a world of revolutions that have not yet been tested. It's both dangerous and exciting, and I see it as having great potential.

There is also a lot of interesting design going on at the level of the food unit. So many chefs and designers are re-inventing food at the unit level these days—Ferran Adrià, Marti Guixé, and many others. I love everything that they do. It's so interesting to see how they experiment.

GOOD: Your point about pasta's resistance to new design brings up an interesting question about the pace of innovation. Do you think that change is able to happen more quickly at the molecular level than the unit level?

Antonelli: There are some foods that are almost immutable. A few years ago at MoMA, we did an exhibition of anonymous design called Humble Masterpieces. Well, pasta is like that. You should think of the samosa as if it was a paperclip, and then you can think of Ferran Adrià's egg yolk made of coffee as like a stunning one-off ceramic. They will both be timeless, but the paperclip is such an expression of civilization that it can't be done by one person, and the ceramic is the creative expression of one person, one artist, or one designer. They are just two different types of design.

GOOD: Who do you think should be setting the priorities for designing food moving forward? Do you think public funding would help expand the field in a positive way?

Antonelli: You know, I don't know. Some people think that complete democracy is the way to go with everything. I don't. I think people should respond to innovations made by groups or individuals. The public can vote on the outcome of experimentation, but experimentation doesn't happen by committee.

If I think in terms of the different scales, then at the systemic level I believe there should definitely be much more public investment, policy, and regulation. Here, somebody like Michael Pollan is the expert—I'm really an ignoramus compared to him.

When it comes to the molecular level—scientific experiments with DNA or different molecules—I think that the traditional route is often the good one. That means that individual researchers should have to sweat their way to get the funds for the most radical experiments, or they should innovate in school, when they have the freedom to do it.

But, of course, it all goes back to the question of whether I think there should be more public funding for design—and there, my answer is "Oh my God, yes!" And not just for food design—I think we should value design much more highly than we currently do, and invest in it accordingly.

GOOD: If there was more money available for design in general, and food design as part of that, there would still be the question of distribution. How would we make sure funding went to the right people and projects? Are there any models for this that you think work particularly well?

Antonelli: The exemplary state is The Netherlands. Designers are really supported there. It's a much smaller country, though. When you look at the United States, it's so huge. And in Europe, it is understood to be the government's role to support culture, which is not the case in America. The Netherlands has this belief in design, art, and architecture, and it really supports them, and that's fantastic. In places like Delft, you have the Technical University working with the art school seamlessly. That's my obsession—getting design and science to work together. Government support helps build the bridges to make that happen.

Images: (1) Paola Antonelli; (2) chocolate printer parts and a seed safe by Marti Guixé; (3) "Marille" pasta shape designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and "Mandala" pasta shape designed by Philippe Starck; (4) riots in Pakistan during the global food crisis of 2007-8; (5) a paperclip and two samosas.

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Paperclips and Samosas: a Q&A with Paola Antonelli on the Design of Food