Roxanne Brennen, a recent graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, created a new tableware collection to stimulate the brain in the same way that sex does. “Our brain reacts to sexual acts and to the experience of eating in a very similar way,” she says. Both acts, for better or worse, are rooted in our basic, primal human instincts, and according to the designer are greatly influenced by the “loss of control, the discovery, and the experimentation of the act.”
Because our Western eating experience is so controlled by etiquette and restrictive rules, Brennen experimented with the idea of taking some of those behavioral codes out of the equation. Dining Toys encourages an alternative way of eating—one that is rooted in playful, sensual, sexuality—in order to help us discover what we “have lost” and to reconnect with our forgotten “animalistic instincts.”
The design itself is far from primitive. Brennen uses a delicate, pale color palette and a white stoneware with porcelain-like texture and appearance. Each piece is constructed by hand, which allowed the designer to produce “very thin and fragile pieces.” Some pieces are lighter and more delicate than others, and each item in the collection works to emphasize the relationship between the body and object.
Culture Trip: Your collection, for me, is vaguely reminiscent of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) at the Brooklyn Museum—particularly her thirty-nine place settings based on vulvar forms. I’ve always been incredibly moved by that installation and how it represents the female body through domestic (food) objects. Did this “iconic feminist” work influence Dining Toys at all?
Roxanne Brennen: I do love the work of Judy Chicago and her Dinner Party. I think the statement it makes is incredibly strong and I believe it was needed. Now that you have asked me about it, I can see the resemblance towards her work. However, during the process of creating the Dining Toys project, I cannot say I was [directly] inspired by it—at least not consciously.
I’ve had others ask me if I was influenced by feminist works and I always wanted to make it clear that Dining Toys is not a feminist project. It’s about creating more freedom around how we eat in western civilizations through instincts and sensuality. [This doesn’t just apply] to women, but to all genders.
CT: You talk about the fragility of materials in this collection. Do you think the delicate nature of the materials adds to this sense of sensuality?
RB: The behavior we have with objects and how we handle them varies depending on the strength of it. Fragility asks you to take more care. Be more delicate and go slower in your actions. While strength allows you to act faster and in a rougher way. The collection of Dining Toys has a variation between pieces that are very thin and fragile, and others that are stronger and can be handled with less delicacy.
CT: You mention how the act of eating and sex are both “basic needs influenced by the senses but also experiences enhanced by the loss of control, the discovery, and the experimentation of the art.” Can you describe what you mean by the “loss of control” and “experimentation” in regards to these designs?
RB: The Dining Toy collection allows you to discover how you wish to taste the food. It is composed of pieces made individually from each other, but that can also be assembled [as a group].
[People can choose] which ones to use and there are no rules set in stone on how they should be handled. It is left to us to find out how our instincts want to react to the way of eating. The tableware we use at the moment enhances the control on our actions and on the rules we have been educated to follow around a dinner table. This collection breaks those norms and [allows you to] follow your instincts.
CT: Do you think our emphasis and cultural insistence on eating and dining etiquette is, perhaps, repressive?
RB: I do understand how etiquette around eating [evolved throughout] history. However, it stopped evolving at a certain point and I believe it’s time to start adapting to the time period we are in—to enhance the experience of eating and the food itself. As much as eating is a primary need, we also want to make the food taste good. This daily need [to sate our hunger] has become more of a [social] ritual, rather than [a means to] survive. Why not make the experience as enjoyable as possible?
CT: How do our domestic objects create boundaries around our primal energies?
RB: The rules [surrounding food etiquette] are not the only things that restrict us. The tableware has been created around those rules and therefore tells us how to behave. When you are a child and the sauce at the bottom of your bowl is amazing you will lick it. I still do it. And it feels amazing because you allow your body to feel how it wants to act. But the bowl is not designed to let you do that. Quite the opposite. Most of the time when I lick my bowl or my plate I end up having food all over my face.
[Traditional] tableware also indicates what is yours and what belongs to the others. It creates very defined lines. You have a plate, a glass, cutlery and so does the other person. When you eat together, you still eat apart. Do we really need all those boundaries?
CT: I also thought of Georgia O’Keeffe when I first encountered your Dining Toys collection. Did her work have any influence on you?
I cannot say that I was directly inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. My first inspirations came from the actions we have during foreplay and sexual behavior. It’s in those moments [that] we are free and let our bodies react to the experience.
CT: What can we expect from your next collection?
The next step is creating a whole experience in collaboration with a chef. I have started with the tableware because it is what controls our movement the most, but I also want to work on tables and chairs. I believe they also restrict our behavior. I want to create a complete experience for people to try.