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Cooking Sections
The Empire Remains Shop – Birmingham

2019 – 2022


Gif image of an industrial building. Illuminated windows change from pink to yellow back to pink..
The Empire Remains Shop, Light Works. Cooking Sections. 2019 (images by Tom Bird and Handover Agency)

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

Last year saw the launch of 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. As the programme continues with new commissions and projects into 2020 The Empire Remains Shop – Birmingham coincides with Grand Unions 10th year anniversary.

Visit the Empire Remains Shop website for rolling public programme.


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.

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.

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.

This project has been commissioned by Grand Union and Homes England.

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 are nominated for the Visible Award.

(images by Tom Bird and Handover Agency)