Building on a previous attempt to open an Empire Shop in Birmingham in January 1931, Cooking Sections opened the first franchise of The Empire Remains Shop in collaboration with Grand Union, in Junction Works, in 2019. It is a public programme activating an historical grade-II listed former Canal & River Trust Office in Birmingham, which is the potential future home of Grand Union. Envisioned as a long-term project, the building hosts a four-year rolling programme of installations that aim to trace and uncover Birmingham’s past and present relationship to Empire.
Located in the Warwick Bar Conservation Area of Birmingham, Junction Works is situated at the intersection of the Grand Union Canal and Digbeth Branch Canal. Once an important example of a purpose-built canal office, the building fell into disrepair and is now derelict; however it retains its strong industrial character and heritage at the heart of post-post industrial Digbeth. Since 1790 it has served a variety of canal transportation and manufacturing purposes, such as confectionary and screw production, the evidence of which can still be identified within the Junction Works site and architecture.
Summer 2021 sees the launch of The Field Commission, a process of reimagining the public land adjacent to Junction Works. In collaboration with Homes England and Canal & River Trust, the project will, over five years, transform the canalside site through a series of year-long artistic commissions, programming and events.
Asad Raza (born in Buffalo, USA) assembles coalitions of living and non-living agents within his practice. Often exploring dialogical exchanges and rejecting disciplinary boundaries, Raza conceives of art as a metabolic, active experience. Absorption, in which a group of cultivators create over 300 tons of neosoil, was shown as the 34th Kaldor Public Art Project in Sydney in 2019, and at the Gropius Bau, Berlin in 2020. For Untitled (plot for dialogue), in 2017, he installed a tennis-like game in a deconsecrated sixteenth-century church in Milan. Root sequence. Mother tongue—first exhibited at the 2017 Whitney Biennial–combines twenty-six trees, caretakers and objects. Schema for a school was an experimental school at the 2015 Ljubljana Graphic Art Biennial. Raza premiered Minor History, a filmed dialogue with his 91-year-old uncle, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2019.
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.
For the inaugural twelve-month Field Commission, Asad Raza will present Reabsorption, a new work that takes the form of a metabolic process occupying the entirety of the field site, creating a unique form of remediation.Working with soil scientists, architects, and community members, Raza is continuing to study the existing soil to determine its toxicity and created a recipe for a neosoil specifically designed to dilute this toxicity.
In the second stage of the project, three pyramidal structures designed by Raza will be constructed on site. These structures will play multiple functions as shelter, storage, and as “shoulders” to large stacks of material piled against them, reorienting architecture into a supportive, interdependent role. They also catalyze the project, as the soil excavated to enable their construction will be treated and remediated. Using the pyramid structures as a base, Raza and a team of cultivators will collect waste materials from around the city, mixing and tending them to create this neosoil according to the new recipe. Adding this neosoil from the industrial waste of Birmingham will dilute and detoxify the existing soil. Visitors to the site can engage with the team and also take away healthy neosoil.
By engaging with the soil on site as a living community that comprises the inheritance of Birmingham, including toxic particles, Reabsorption offers new ways to think about urban regeneration. Raza’s project addresses questions of land ownership, food poverty and ways of living with the toxic residues of colonial and industrial expansion in Britain. The project will be accompanied by a series of art and ecology events, with invited specialists and speakers over the next 12 months. As a whole, the project is deeply enmeshed with Grand Union’s Collaborative Programme, which strives to connect with people outside of the gallery space and build audiences for art. We believe that art can be a tool for social change, but only when embedded within communities, with and for them.