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Photo by Hannah Collins
2 of 2
Photo by Hannah Collins
Honey by Hannah Collins
London artist Hannah Collins is based part-time in Barcelona, and has a portfolio of work that includes photos, films and books. We put some questions to her about one of her latest projects, the results of which can be seen this month at the Fundació Suñol.
Why and when did you decide to spend part of your time living and working in Barcelona? I moved to Barcelona in 1989 - I wanted to bring up my daughter, who was then a year old, away from London and I found Barcelona very interesting at that time.
I lived full time in Barcelona until 2001 when I took a job as a professor in the University of California starting up a media department. Since that time, I live in Barcelona part-time and the rest of the time I travel, like many other people, I guess. I have always loved the relaxed local feel of the city though, of course, it's changed a lot over the years.
How did you first get to know Ferran Adrià? In your opinion, what is it that makes his work so special? I got to know Ferran in the first place because a collector gave him a photograph of mine - its a picture of a man's hands with five eggs balanced between the fingers. He has it in his taller (workshop). We then met over this project. He has a unique hold on the connection we have to what we eat; he is also witty and totally involved in his practice - it's a highly disciplined thing. But you should read my book which speaks a lot about how Ferran's work and mine have intersected in this project.
Did you ever eat at El Bulli? What dishes were particularly memorable? I have eaten in El Bulli - it's not really the dishes but more the attitude and the precision of what they did that is impressive and the level of inventiveness. I have been looking at the things from the world that go into the kitchen (roses, honey, bottarga [cured fish roe] and so on) so that is really my viewpoint more than the dishes themselves. The meal as an event is amazing, though - time flies by. I particularly liked the coconut Easter Egg as it reminds me of a prehistoric dinosaur egg; it seems to have nothing to do with a kitchen.
Why did you decide to embark on this global voyage - taking in Europe, Latin American and Japan - to capture the 30 or so featured ingredients? Were there any particular challenges involved in this project? How long did it take to complete? The project was a decision between myself and Ferran... it was always about looking at the way we use different things to make food. He chose the things and I went to where they came from, so the 30 places came from the things we chose. So, he uses roses from Ecuador, for instance. It was important to go to the exact place each thing came from - I discovered that things come from particular locations for very particular reasons. For instance, anemones which Ferran has used come from Cadiz, where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet; and honey from Northern Italy which has whole areas of [just] one flower so the honey [is] made from [that] one flower and has a particular colour and taste.
Of course there were many challenges from an artistic point of view. It is trying to unite places on a different scale, with different light and different visual possibilities together with all the pictures I made in Ferran's kitchen, so that in itself is a complex and visually challenging task; keeping 30 experiences together and giving them even space. It took maybe 18 months to take all the pictures partly because many of the places I needed to go were seasonal.
You worked with different small family enterprises in this project - did you find many similarities or differences in the way they each worked; please describe? What did they think about your project? What were some of the more unusual/surprising places that you visited? You would have to ask the people involved what they thought of the project - I suppose each had only their own experience to draw on - my experience is what united the project. Food producers have quite strong connections to the place they live; for instance, the Muinos family in Galicia have a powerful connection to the sea and the Galician way of life. They dive along the rocks collecting seaweed in many different weathers and so they understand things in a different way, connecting landscape and seasons and plant life and nature together.
Did you try all the foods you photographed? Any special favourites or ones that you didn't like? Of course! I liked the water from Wales a lot - it is very light and clean and doesn't leave a taste in your mouth. It was a complete surprise that water could have such a strong identity without being a strong taste; the water from this particular place is called a young water, so it hasn't been in the ground very long. The honey is also incredible - completely different tastes for honeys from different flowers. I liked just about everything, I think.
What do you think of Barcelona's own food markets nowadays? Do you consider yourself a 'foodie'? Which restaurants in Barcelona do you recommend? I have shopped in Barcelona's markets since the week I arrived in Barcelona. I used to hate it when they closed a market for a while and worked on the building but it's usually done with great respect for the stall-holders and the markets have stayed viable and modernised with time in a good way. Only the Boqueria has maybe suffered, particularly as tourism has encouraged the stall-holders to stock different things that are more about immediate consumption and less about cooking and the kitchen. I love to shop in the market but again you really have to read the book to know that! I like a lot of restaurants in Barcelona - old favourites like Amaya at the bottom of the Ramblas and then there are always new ones springing up: Tarantino's at the bottom of Commercio or a new tapas bar on Nou de la Rambla.
Has this project inspired you to work on other gastronomy-related undertakings? What else do you have planned for the future? I would love to do a book about food sources in Japan but that is for the future. I have always photographed food so it is just part of what I do; this time I wrote and drew maps and so on, so that is also part of what was achieved in this work. Right now I am working on a new project about a private collection of objects in London and something in Colombia where I did a museum exhibition a couple of years ago. I think using the book as a real form for art this time was a really positive thing and very enjoyable to work on.
El Festí Fràgil. Rutes a Ferran Adrià (The Fragile Feast. Routes to Ferran Adrià). Fundació Suñol (Passeig de Gràcia 98, www.fundaciosunol.org), until September 1st. The accompanying book of the same name, available in English and Castilian, is on sale at Vinçon (Passeig de Gràcia 96), www.vincon.com