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Cooking Sections
The Empire Remains Shop - Birmimgham

2019 – 2022

overview

Industrial building at night with yellow illuminated windows
The Empire Remains Shop, Light Works. Cooking Sections, 2019. Image: Handover Agency.

GRAND UNION PROGRAMME

2019 – 2022
Cooking Sections: The Empire Remains Shop–Birmingham
Junction Works (Old Canal & River Trust Offices)
106 Fazeley Street, Birmingham

The Empire Remains Shop -Birmingham is our long-term project with Cooking Sections, a public programme activating Junctions Works, a historical grade-II listed former Canal & River Trust Office in Birmingham. Owned by Homes England, Junction Works is the potential future home of Grand Union. Since its launch in 2019 the The Empire Remains Shop programme continues with new commissions and projects into 2021. Visit the Empire Remains Shop website for rolling public programme.

Information about the artists

Cooking Sections (Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe) is a duo of spatial practitioners based out of London. It was born to explore the systems that organise the WORLD through FOOD. Using installation, performance, mapping and video, their research-based practice explores the overlapping boundaries between visual arts, architecture and geopolitics. Since 2015, they are working on multiple iterations of the long-term site-specific CLIMAVORE project exploring how to eat as climate changes. In 2016 they opened The Empire Remains Shop, a platform to critically speculate on implications of selling the remains of Empire today. Their first book about the project was published by Columbia Books on Architecture and the City.

Cooking Sections was part of the exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion, 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. Their work has also been exhibited at the 13th Sharjah Biennial; Manifesta12, Palermo; Lafayette Anticipations, Paris; Serpentine Galleries, London; Atlas Arts, Skye; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Storefront for Art & Architecture, New York; Peggy Guggenheim Collection; HKW Berlin; Akademie der Künste, Berlin; 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale; Brussels ParckDesign; and have been residents in The Politics of Food at Delfina Foundation, London. Their work has been featured in a number of international publications (Lars Müller, Sternberg Press, Volume, Frieze Magazine amongst others). They currently lead a studio unit at the Royal College of Art, London.

They have recently been awarded the Special Prize at the 2019 Future Generation Art Prize and have been selected for British Art Show 9.

2019

Junction Works exterior, 106 Fazeley Street. Image: David Rowan

Building on a previous attempt to open an Empire Shop in Birmingham in January 1931, the first franchise of The Empire Remains Shop opens in the heart of the post-post-industrial landscape of Digbeth. Conceived for the renovation period of the building, the Empire Remains Shop will take over the facade and windows to host a range of new commissions and existing works that employ food as a tool to assemble new sites and geographies, while exploring origins, destinations and exchanges across the present and future of our postcolonial planet. Visitors to The Empire Remains Shop—Birmingham can take part in the rolling programme of visual and sound installations facing Fazeley Street, the railway and the canal, to activate the site during the construction process. The series of works aim to uncover Birmingham’s past and present relationship to Empire through culinary, chemical, cultural and agricultural extractions, inventions and interventions, while exploring other possible futures.

This project marks the beginning of Grand Union’s reanimation of this building, reinstating the public’s relationship to this historic site. The franchise of The Empire Remains Shop is framed by our vision for what we hope this new home can be for the organisation, and for Digbeth in the face of regeneration. The programme will be shifting and changing seasonally, but is intended to be flexible and responsive to the needs of our context and our development of the building. We want to conceive of this collectively, and use Junction Works as a base to unpack other histories in the city.

Birmingham overcame the unfavourable conditions of an iron-free, landlocked sprawl of market-towns to lay the foundations for the industrial revolution. A lack of iron ore in its own sandy soil was counterbalanced by its geographical accessibility to nearby charcoal forests, where Blast Furnaces to make cast iron were being built for the first time. Its distance from the sea – and therefore from imperially-plundered resources – were balanced by its convenient central location and active practical social and positioning as a ‘junction’, capable of colliding and sifting through the transfer of goods, bodies, and knowledges that brought the city through its inland harbour and extensive canal network closer to the shores of Empire. Birmingham’s reputation has been formed of such onshore-offshore collisions that pushed the productivity and manufacturing capacity of the city towards small items that did not require large vessels to be transported. From gas harnessed into light by-way of locally-conceived steam machinery, to site-specific fine metalwork skills making the shackles and bullets that would build and hold military and colonial power; from chocolates and sauces made from the ingredients thrown up by empire, to dub reggae and bhangra (and Balti) sampled by the migrants who moved through it, the city embodies the clash between technological progression, social organisation and cultural diffusion. Through its wide range of contributors, The Empire Remains Shop—Birmingham is a platform to investigate and explore the electrification of cities, programmed obsolescence, ballast bricks, the origins of Made Nowhere, petrol foods, unsounded factories, hostile environments, and much, much more.

Illustration, Overview of Gas Lighting c.1900.

Empire Shops were first developed in London in the 1920s to teach the British how to consume foodstuffs from the colonies and overseas territories. Although none of the shops ever opened, they intended to make foods like sultanas from Australia, oranges from Palestine, cloves from Zanzibar, and rum from Jamaica available and familiar in the British Isles. The Empire Remains Shop speculates on the possibility and implications of selling back the remains of the British Empire in Birmingham today. A public installation by London-based collective Cooking Sections, The Empire Remains Shop hosts a critical programme of discussions, performances, dinners, installations and screenings. It traces the contemporary history of imperial fruit, sugar, rum, cocoa, spices, and condiments, as well as the economies and aesthetics that emerged from them. It attests the ways in which global food networks have evolved up until today.

Christmas Pudding Loose Leaf Image Credit: Cooking Sections 2013
Christmas Pudding Loose Leaf Image Credit: Cooking Sections 2013

Following the first Empire Remains Shop that opened in London in 2016, the project invites institutions, collectives or individuals to open their own franchise of the Shop and use the existing framework to unpack colonial legacies in further places. Embedded in the original meaning of the etymological origins of franchise in French—to free oneself from servitude—the project challenges the franchise model that later in the 20th century was used for opposite purposes, such as unowning manufacturing, distribution, sales, and workers through dispersed intricate legal and financial structures. The Empire Remains Shop re-envisions the franchise as a platform that puts to question networks and infrastructures between created centres and imposed margins. Unlike many contemporary franchises that enforce standardisation regardless of location, any franchise of The Empire Remains Shop is site-specific, differentiating itself through its response to local contexts and colonial histories.

2020

A sign painted on the side of Junction Works building. In yellow and white it reads, In a hostile environment respectability will not save you.
Alberta Whittle, No Mudder Country Here, 2020

The 2020 Empire Remains Shop–Birmingham programme launched with a new commission by Alberta Whittle at Junction Works.

This new commission, No Mudder Country Here, was a hand-painted billboard on the side of Junction Works, viewable 24/7 by passersby. There was also a light installation visible from the windows of the building, featuring subtle transitions over the course of an hour.

Alberta uses visual, textual and spoken language in her interdisciplinary practice as a way to challenge and interrogate constructed representations of history and society. Alberta’s ongoing research refers to the legacy of colonialism, particularly the Windrush scandal, and the hostile implications of this for migrants in a contemporary political context. Her creative practice is motivated by the desire to work collectively towards radical self-love. Informed by diasporic conversations, Alberta considers radical self-love and collective care key methods in battling anti-blackness. Her practice involves choreographing interactive installations, using film, sculpture and performance as site-specific artworks in public and private spaces.

Alberta Whittle is an artist, researcher and curator. She was a RAW Academie Fellow at RAW Material in Dakar in 2018 and is the Margaret Tait Award winner for 2018/9. She is a Committee Member at Transmission Gallery in Glasgow and a Board Member of SCAN (Scottish Creative Art Network).

2021

Canal side site for The Field Commission.

2021 sees the launch of The Field Commission, a process to reimagine the public land adjacent to Junction Works. In collaboration with Homes England and Canal & River Trust, the project will transform the canalside bank of land into a research space for a series of year-long artistic commissions, programming and events. The first Field Commission will be developed by artist Asad Raza, who will be interrogating and engaging in the soil as a living community that comprises the industrial inheritance of Birmingham, including organic and inorganic materials, and toxic particles, rather than just a space to contain crops. Soil is the thin layer that feeds our earth, and due to the process of industrialisation it has been contaminated on a massive scale. To enable the field to grow, Raza’s project will build technosoil from the industrial waste of Birmingham and address questions of land ownership, food poverty and ways of leaving with the toxic residues of the imperial and industrial expansion in Britain.