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Poo Saves Lives”, with that statement, Marnix van Holland, business developer at Hivos made clear that dealing with shit is serious business. Van Holland was one of our guest at the daily breakfast talks that were hosted in Milano to get a bit more in depth understanding of the topic Eat Shit that we addressed this year at the Salone del Mobile. 

Breakfast talks delving into the brown secrets of live

Talk 1: Shitty Systems

Poo Tower, Arne Hendriks

In the first conversation we delved into the topic of waste systems. How can we clean up the shit and use it for energy? Hivos is building bio digester in local areas to provide a source of renewable energy for cooking and lighting that cannot be easily obtained otherwise or at comparable cost. Another important benefit is the fertile organic slurry - the bio digester effluent - that improves soil structure and plant disease resistance, and protects against a variety of plagues. In this respect, bio digesters also contribute to increasing food security and climate smart agriculture.

But not only in local areas, also modern cities are facing difficulties in cleaning up the mess. Designer Francesca Miazzo therefore started in the region Amsterdam Noord the project WASTED to get rid off the plastic waste. She built a community laboratory for small-scale reprocessing of plastic waste by working with the local community to collect and reprocess disposed plastic, and collaborating with designers to co-create new materials.

“It clearly shows how designers are working on global issues on a local scale. By sharing knowledge on these projects, we can upscale it and really try to make impact” As Francesca Piredda of the international DESIS lab explained. 

Designer and artist Arne Hendriks (tutor in the Food & Non Food department) was literarily  cleaning up the shit in Milano by building a pigeon poo tower. With the shit of pigeons and wet paper he created bricks and stacked these into a tower; a beautiful symbol of how you could work with shit as a building material. But Hendriks also likes to make a statement with it;  tpigeon shit should be cherished. “It is precious material since it is a very good fertilizer, preferably this tower should be built on Dam Square to make people aware of that.”



[Image Bristol Poo Chart and e-chromi suitcase


During the second conversation we looked at shit as a material; journalist Jop de Vrieze , author of Allemaal Beestjes ]all bacteria, red[ explains that only recently we became aware that we need to treat bacteria as friends instead of enemies, since they do an amazing job in extracting the healthy nutrients from our shit.

The students of the Food and Non Food department, who were all present at the exhibition, questioned De Vrieze about their projects. One of them, following a very strict diet of only eating solely white bread , asked if she was committing a massacre to her bacteria population by doing this.

De Vrieze reassures her, but stresses the fact that the condition of our intestines has a tremendous impact on our well being. “You have to take care of your own population, like a mayor is looking after its citizens.”

During the talk, the audience is also tested with the Bristol Poo chart that visualises several shapes of shit that reflect people’s well being. Most people present mention that they produce a beautiful shaped sausage, though not everyone felt eager to share their shitty experiences. There is still a lot of shame around the topic

Marije Vogelzang, head of the new department at Design Academy Eindhoven explained why she chose to put shit on the agenda in the first place. “As a new department dealing with both food and non food items, shit is the first thing that comes to mind as the best –in between-er. Vogelzang who co curated the exhibition together with creative director Thomas Widdershoven also envisioned a ‘living exhibition’ in Milano where alumni projects on food where paired with current projects of the food and non food department. She is very proud that the 17 students that are present in Milan are performing so well and are not afraid to share their insights on shit. “We experienced that after working with the topic for a couple of weeks, the disgust disappears.”

That however is not the experience of design researcher Daisy Ginsberg who already in 2009 worked on the topic of shit together with the University of Cambridge on the e-chromi project were they genetically engineerd bacteria to secrete a variety of coloured pigments, visible to the naked eye. They designed standardised sequences of DNA, known as BioBricks, and inserted them into E. coli bacteria. Daisy Ginsberg and James King worked with the team of Cambridge to explore the potential of this new technology. “ Even thought the coloured poo samples that she shows around are from plastic, a lot of people still don’t like to touch them. It is hard to reframe the ideas around shit, but it truly matters to do so.”


Talk 3; Shitty Traces of the future

Sunjoo Lee: Shit drawings

“If talking (about) shit distinguishes us from animals; we should wonder why we hardly speak about it”, mentioned philosopher Julian Baggini during the final breakfast talk. Baginni, author of many philosophy books recently wrote The Virtues of the Table  how to eat and think, where he explains how eating habits are very strong connected to our social and cultural live.

For Baggini its important that designers stress our foodism and pooism

Will future scientist examining our faeces be able to know about the values and ethics that guide our eating? Reduced to its essential waste elements, does food lose traces of what makes it more than of nutritional value? What about our instincts?

Instinct is a very strong guidance. That fits the work of designer Leanne Wijnsma who is working with smell and stresses how much we can alter our natural instinct. What if we could get rid of the scent of smell; would it be less disgusting? She passes some smell samples to the audience to test how people respond to the fragrances of shit; ‘personally I like the smell of it”, Wijnsma mentioned. Also students of the Food and Non Food department who have been analysing each others shit for a couple of weeks mention that the smell is not the hardest thing; especially when your poo is healthy, the smell is not too bad and after all most people like to smell their own shit. That’s why it is also used (in very little amounts) as a base in perfumes.

It shows that at the end we all start with shit.

Published: 30-Apr-2015 17:50
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