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MoDA: What's for Dinner? exhibition

What’s for Dinner?

Exhibition at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture

April to October 2006

Meals and snacks structure our days. How we eat, where we eat, what we eat and with whom reflect our place in the social and ethnic diversity of Britain today. Eating habits also embody our personal relationships with family, friends and neighbours, and frequently determine the use of space within the home.

In 2004, the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) was awarded £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Your Heritage’ fund for an exhibition, “What’s for Dinner?” which ran from April to October 2006. A key part of the design brief was that the exhibition should feature mechanisms for visitors to contribute their own thoughts about food and eating habits. With this subject more than many others it was clear that every visitor was to some extent an expert. It was therefore important that there should not be too much greater ‘value’ attached to the ‘museum’ text compared to visitors’ text. The designers solved this problem by bringing some of the text outside of the glass cases and providing blackboards for visitors’ comments, thus blurring the distinction between ‘official’ and ‘non-official’ exhibition text.

The exhibition itself was complemented by a range of activities including student projects, an outdoor exhibition of sculpture, artists’ installations, community projects and activities for schools, all on themes relating to food. One of these components was the commissioning of a documentary film, made by recent Middlesex University graduate, Monica Pedrali, who interviewed a cross-section of people about their eating habits. The result was a thought-provoking film which captured participants talking very naturally about food and its importance in their lives.

The “What’s for Dinner?” project was assessed by external evaluator, Jocelyn Dodd, as part of the requirements of the HLF bid. She commented on its success:

"The external funding of this exhibition enabled a significant amount of preliminary research to be undertaken, this was led by a strong curatorial direction and focus. This combination ensued that the exhibition was based on rigorous research. Without this the elemental building blocks would be missing and clarity of purpose would have been hard to resolve… This underlying research is also evident in the impressive range of locations and sources exhibits have been brought together from as well as the impressive range of materiel. As a consequence of the research informed decisions have been taken about the content, which led to the choice of apparently simple and clear themes –breakfast, snacks, dinner, new flavours and speed and convenience. This level of clarity emerges from a highly resolved piece of work. This illustrates just how important sound academic research is in underpinning the development of the exhibition. Apparent simplicity emerges from having worked through things effectively and coming to come clear and resolved conclusions."

She further commented about the scale and ambition of the project:

"A big idea with ambitious aspirations ‘What’s for Dinner?’ is a modest scaled exhibition in terms of size but there is nothing modest about of the ideas it embodies. It is a big idea, a huge topic, which is highly topical, a really key contemporary theme that is of concern to social commentators, doctors, nutritionists, economists, business people as well as the general public. This exhibition is an excellent example of a small museum being innovative and experimental talking a topic one might expect a major museum to have initiated…it has created an environment where visitors can engage with material and are invited to respond to it. It is thought provoking, posing as many questions as it gives answers…Here we see how MoDA has been able to be nimble, creative, experimental and innovative."