HS Projects presented an exhibition by Dan Rees of sculptural works, shown in the UK for the first time, that draw together various strands of his ongoing research into the use of seaweed as a food resource.
Rees’ work looks at the role of the Artist in today’s society and their potential as an instigator of social change. This installation focuses on seaweed, a commodity embraced by the East which remains a niche market in the West. Rees uses the idea of edible seaweed as a way to consider how the West must embrace new ideas in order to create a future where the sustainability of the planet and the needs of the population are valued above all else. The stark contrast of seaweed and aquaculture production in the East and West is due to many historic and geological factors, but the use of seaweed in Western diet dates back hundreds of years. Many of the advances in its cultivation were developed in the West, which suggests that the lack of farming in today’s society is largely down to negative cultural perceptions.
‘Tri Tin’, 2015 takes its name from a company in Vietnam distributing a type of seaweed known as Caulerpa lentilifera, commonly known as Seagrapes. The stack of eight Tri Tin boxes, containing 500 boxes of Seagrapes, represents the first large stock of the product that is known to be transported from Asia to Europe. If the slow growth in demand for edible seaweed within European markets continues, imports of products such as this will no doubt become common place. Tri Tin thus represents a product of the near future.
Dan Rees sees seaweed as the new superfood for the modern, young, stylish, metropolitan, health conscious consumer in ‘Untitled’, 2016, where a mannequin dressed in vintage Yves Saint Laurent clothes is positioned on top of Tri Tin.
‘Nha Trang’, 2015 a documentary video, mounted on a flat screen TV to the side of an IBC tank, internally lit with aquarium lights, depicts the workings of a small seaweed farm in Vietnam, a country where this type of aquaculture is mainstream, but has yet to establish itself on the international market. Rees has previously used IBC tanks (intermediate bulk containers) as mini domestic seaweed farms. The 1000 litre containers are easily purchased and transported and can be adapted as a form of small scale aquaculture farming.
Dan Rees’ research is positioned between posing a practical solution to pertinent questions concerning global food shortages and a utopian vision. The political aspect is found in the fact that seaweed is readily available for foraging in costal regions, is extremely nutrient rich and highly sustainable, requiring no land or fresh water to grow. Despite being eaten for centuries in parts of France, Ireland and Wales and its spreading appreciation, it has never become a mainstream food resource in the West, partially due to its perception as a poor person’s food, perhaps amplified by its use during the Irish Potato famine.
There is virtually no seaweed farming outside of Asia, although projects and initiatives are starting to be explored such as seaweed farming in Venezuela and Spirulina farming in Africa, its potential as a serious food alternative to wheat and corn remains largely unexplored. Harvesting and farming initiatives in this type of aquaculture helps diversify and localise food production, something that in poor countries becomes extremely important.
A blank Trivision billboard also features in the exhibition, a somewhat outmoded piece of technology no longer produced in Europe, with this model imported from China. ‘Trivision Billboard’, 2015, rotates on a timer, programmed to turn in a specific wave formation at various intervals, evoking both continuity and change. The work suggests the role of marketing and advertising in our daily lives and influencing the role of cybernetic feedback systems.
‘Tri Tin and other works’ was at 5 Howick Place from June to December 2016.