report workshop

What makes a good data chef?

The last edition of the Data Cuisine in 2015 brought us to Leeuwarden, where this year’s Media Art Friesland Festival centred on food as a topic. Leeuwarden is a small town in the north-west of the Netherlands. It’s a cosy and tidy place, where the real Frisians speak Frisian, a language that is the closest to English. It doesn’t have much manufacturing industry, and lives mainly from agriculture and service industry.

Eight people participated in the workshop and of these three were from Leeuwarden. Like often, when we run a Data Cuisine workshop, people from other cities or even countries travel to join the workshop. This time, most participants lived in the Netherlands, but some originally came from Sweden, Germany or Austria.

Working with such a small group sounds like spending a lot of resources on a workshop whose experimental character doesn’t promise any kind of immediate revenues. But Data Cuisine workshops are intense, in that for most participants it’s not easy to bring the data and the food together — which means a lot of knowledge transfer, support and talking on the our part. In Leeuwarden, where we didn’t have two full days for the workshop, we felt that more participants could have been problematic in this regard.

Having run this workshop six times already, we have learnt that participants mainly struggle with two challenges, both connected to the data:

Knowing which story to tell and finding the data, that support the story

A data dish is only as good as the story you want to tell or the statement you want to make with it. Some participants arrive at the workshop, knowing exactly what they want to say with a dish, but they don’t have the right numbers at hand that they could use. Finding the necessary data set during the workshop is almost impossible — if the particular statistical data exist at all. Unfortunately, a good amount of ideas for data dishes couldn’t be realised simply because the data was missing.

In other cases, people bring data to the workshop, that they find interesting, but the numbers don’t allow an interesting comparison. But a high-contrast comparison between data points is necessary for representing statistical data with food, since food is not a super-precise but rather a ‘low-res’ medium.

It does not sound too difficult to find a story to tell or a statement to make —­ but sometimes it’s exactly this part that challenges participants most. It’s easy to get hooked by some interestingly looking data, but that’s not enough to create a good data dish. The stronger your own angle is on the data, the better the dish.


A statistics on cannabis consumption among 15-16 year old kids inspired Saskia and Saibot. They have never tried cannabis and wanted to make a statement about kids not having to. They wanted to create a dish that could serve as an alternative to smoking a joint — a dish that gives you a natural high because of its taste.

The second big challenge is to transfer the data into food

It seems to be rather difficult for most participants to stick to the data and to work on a more or less precise representation. Certainly, it’s easier to use the statistics for inspiration only. We however insist on the relative accurateness of the transferred data, because the precision of the data gives a dish a true kick. In order to be precise, we can’t avoid rulers and balances, measuring cups and sometimes calculators.

To sum up, being a Data Cuisine chef requires rich imagination, an associative mind, but also the ability to enjoy precision and the challenges that come with it. Data visualisation and representation is a language with a distinct set of rules and a huge vocabulary. It becomes exciting when you follow those rules and when you are able to choose the right “words” out of the vast array of possibilities in order to say what you think.


Daan, Anja and Franzi expressed their concern about the ageing Dutch society. They chose data in the form of the population pyramid of Dutch citizens in 1960, 2015 and 2050, and created a pasta graphics with it. The three colours represent the young (green), the not-so-young-anymore (red) and the old (black). In order to give a taste of the different age groups, the 1960’s pasta is topped with a meat sauce made with a prefab blend of spices by Knorr. The 2015 ‘back-to-basics’ pasta comes with Carbonara, and the pasta of the future is a mix of noodles and Wakame salad.

More on the results of the Leeuwarden Data Cuisine workshop can be found here:

action report workshop

The Out of Soil journey


In April 2015, when we did the Out of Soil project at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin, Dr Vandana Shiva invited us to India. Supported by the ifa foundation, we went there in late September and participated in Bhoomi, the festival of the living soil in Delhi. We also ran two workshops as an extension to the original Out of Soil project.

The Soil Games workshop

The first part of our trip took us to the Navdanya farm in Dehradun, which is a rural region north of Delhi. Navdanya is an organisation, which is founded by Vandana Shiva for conserving seeds, biodiversity, culture and farming knowledge. People with different backgrounds come from India and all over the world to this farm to learn about sustainable agriculture. When we arrived, we joined the final days of the A-Z seminar of eco-agriculture, a 4-weeks course that provides hands-on knowledge about organic farming and biodiversity.

Together with seminar participants, we held our first workshop on Soil Games. We started out with the question: what would soil say if it could speak? Discussing this in pairs of two, people wrote down their personal slogans and attached them to their garments.

After a mapping of soil topics and game types, we drew possible connections between the two areas. In small groups, people started quickly developing ideas for soil games and sketching them out on big sheets of paper. In the end, they created about seven different concepts of soil games, ranging from a simple memory game to a very complex variation of Monopoly called “Monoposoil/Soilpoly”. As players enjoy growing their fields in the game, they learn about the consequences of capitalistic agriculture and their choices on organic or non-organic cultivation.


The Soil Stories workshop

We also ran a Soil Stories workshop with students at J.P. International School in Muradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Working with 82 teenagers within a very limited amount of time, we focused on creating soil related narratives. Muradabad is a small rural town where most families farm, so most kids have a connection to soil – which also became apparent when we invited the students to share their personal stories dealing with soil. In groups of five they created one story cube, by combining key elements of their own stories with terms from our introduction into the topic or elements of myths and legends.

This resulted in fifteen story cubes that were amazingly rich in associations and ideas. One group after another threw their dice. Depending on the words displayed, the kids invented a part of a story that was to be continued by the following group. Since the time was limited, we could not explore the full narrative potential of the story cubes during the workshop, but we could see that they would work very well both as a creative method of story telling and as an inspiration for the kids to think about soil in an unusual and fun way.





The Out of Soil action at Bhoomi

The last stop on our Out of Soil journey was the Bhoomi festival in Delhi. Being half conference, half festival, Bhoomi is an event that celebrates the living soil, and this year it brought together 20 speakers and performers from around the world. More than 250 people attended the event that took place at the International Conference Centre in the heart of New Delhi. We set up a scaled-down version of the Soil Press Station, comprising Out Of Soil Stamps with information specifically relevant to India, ‘Soil says’ stickers, and the world map. During the one-day event we spoke with many people, handed out the stickers for them to fill in and wear, and stamped the Soil Stamps in order to assess people’s personal land footprint. The conversations we had with the visitors often centred on the issue of food consumption, and we got the impression that most people we talked to are naturally very conscious of their diet and its relation to soil and health.

Again, the ambiguity of the project—looking like an info booth of an NGO at first glance, but being an artistic participatory project—generated a lot of curiosity about our background and intention. The playfulness of the project levelled the potential threshold and allowed for a very diverse audience to engage in an open discussion about who has the right to land, how land is used and what it takes to preserve fertile grounds for the livelihoods of people.




action process + art process + design workshop

Out of Soil continues in India

The Out of Soil project started as a playful action in Berlin in April 2015. The project and its different parts have taken their cues from the ambiguous meaning of the words ‘out of soil’ as in ‘made out of soil’ or ‘running out of soil’.

We are happy to announce that the project Out of Soil will be happening in New Delhi, India end of this month. New to the project are Soil Speaks stickers which give wearers a chance to give soil a voice. We have been invited by Dr Vandana Shiva and Navdanya
to perform the Out of Soil action at the Bhoomi: Maati Ma – The Festival of Soil on October 1.

As a new extension to the Out of Soil project, we will run a 3-day Soil Games workshop with high-school students in New Delhi. Soil is much more than just a matter of economic and existential value, but the way we perceive and use it is deeply rooted in our cultures. The workshop brings up the culturally different concepts and personal stories connected to soil and transforms them into games.

Together with the students we will develop and play games that relate to the themes of soil and land use. We will introduce various game mechanics and talk about typical local games. Moreover, participants will learn about soil and land issues in the world, about the composition of soil as well as plants and life underground. Also traditional and cultural meanings of soil will be looked at: what role does soil play in myths and religious beliefs? We will discuss the economic and social meanings of land, land use, ownership and agriculture and their ramifications on the life of each of us. Based on these introductions, games will be developed and tested in small groups, and eventually presented at the Festival of Soil.

Out of Soil in India is supported by IFA, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.


process + art

Out of Soil: How much land is in your food?


Out of Soil is a performative project by Myriel Milicevic and prozessagenten and brings to attention the correlation of land use, farmers’ rights and the question ‘How much land is in your food?’.

Our soil is under pressure. Growing consumption and demand for resources take a toll on the soil — urbanisation, intensive farming, erosion and land grabbing are only some of the manifold consequences. Soil as matter is as much affected as the lives of people who have farmed for generations. Out of Soil examines these different aspects in a playful action.
Out of Soil: made from soil / not having soil.

Out of Soil Stamps
Each visitor gets Soils Stamps, which are printed at the Soil Press Station with self-made soil paint. The Soil Stamps resemble food stamps, thus reminding us that food can only be produced in exchange for other resources. When a visitor consumes food or beverages, we stamp the Soil Stamps accordingly.

Out of Soil Map
The Out of Soil Map illustrates the issue of large-scale land acquisitions: the buying of large pieces of land in developing countries, by domestic and transnational companies and governments. These transactions have long-lasting consequences for the local and regional agriculture and ecosystems, for farmers and the provision of the local population. We will stamp the Out of Soil Map, depending on what the visitors consume.

Soil Profile
Upon entrance the visitors are questioned regarding their relation to soil. Thereupon each visitor gets a sticker that displays his or her personal Soil Profile. The stickers are to be worn on the clothing. They might serve as a starting point for conversations among the visitors.

The project was developed for the International Week of Justice 2015 at Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. The project takes place at Haus 2 on April 21 – 23 from 17:30 to the end of the talks. Program flyer

About the artist:
Myriel Milicevic explores the hidden connections between people and their natural, social, and technical environments. These explorations are mostly of a participatory and playful nature and stimulate thinking about possible alternative systems.

open data workshop

Data Cuisine workshop and buffet in Berlin

data cuisine - MiCT - food slides - 1024.007_LR

For the fist time Data Cuisine was invited by a an organisation — MiCT — instead of an art institution, with the goal to develop a unique flying data buffet for a special event: the organisation’s 11th anniversary and the Open Eye Award ceremony. Media experts from MiCT, the chefs Sebastian Becker und Maximilian Haxel from bestecklos FingerFood Berlin, Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko (prozessagenten) collaborated on creating a flying Data Cuisine buffet that translates media related data of some of the countries where MiCT works into a culinary experience. It was a truly challenging assignment.

We started with a brainstorming in order to identify some of the areas that MiCT wanted to focus on. The second part of the workshop was about whirling around ideas, casting them away, picking them up again and getting our hands dirty and — after all of this — ending up with something that is not only edible but also tells a data story.
Each of the dishes represents another surprising set of data — each tells a story or poses interesting questions about the media use and the media landscape in North Africa, the Near East or Cuba. On the night of the event 200 guests experienced the seven data dishes and and were surprised not only by the facts and stories but also the unusual method of data representation.

The image above shows a visualisation of the percentage of internet users that use Facebook. The amount of Facebook users is visualised by the amount of blue sprinkles.
In Tunisia, the number of Facebook users is very high, whereas in Egypt it’s much lower. These numbers makes us wonder whether there is indeed a connection between the use of Facebook and the results of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, the Arab Spring had a sustainable impact on the democratisation of society, very much in contrast to the situation in Egypt, that fell back under totalitarian leadership.

Two further examples:
data cuisine - MiCT - food slides - 1024.002_LR

An omelet spiced with cumin and pepper, that’s popular in Syria. It comes with three different cremes: one based on mayonnaise, one being a yoghurt-creme with mint, and a mango-curry-creme based on white cheese. With these three cremes, the workshop participants Majid, Christine and Marketa tried to bring to our attention the somewhat surprising fact that support for Islamic State among Arabic-speaking social media users in Belgium are greater than in the militant group’s heartlands of Syria for example. In Syria, ISIS appears to be dramatically losing the battle for support with more than 92% of tweets, blogs and forum comments hostile to the militants. But the jihadist militants are successful at spreading their message and their efforts appear to be having an effect: outside Syria, support for Isis rises significantly. One can taste the grade of the ISIS support in the cremes. According to the numbers, red pepper was added to them.

data cuisine - MiCT - food slides - 1024.006_LRThis dish combines two variations of potato and compares the numbers of employees in state media in Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt and Iran. In Egypt there are 57.000 people employed in state media, which is quite a big number — whereas in Tunisia it’s only a thousand. This dominance of state media of course influences the public sphere and seems to go hand in hand with the authoritarian rule in Iran and Egypt. Interestingly enough, in Iraq the number of employees is comparably low, and that speaks for a more liberal society than we might think or than we are told. To be discussed.
In order to express this feeling of dominance of state media, Anja and Maral came up with the idea to represent it by a piece of potato, that per se is dense and a bit one-dimensional when it comes to taste. In contrast, the potato espuma — representing a higher grade of liberality and variety of media — feels light on the tongue and is definitely more colourful.

Find all images and dishes on Data Cuisine.

Image credits: Photographs by Uli Holz, graphics by Moritz Stefaner