By Faye Saulsbury
“An appalling waste of perfectly edible food.”
“This art has sparked conversation about food waste.”
“Unpleasant to look at.”
These were just some of the comments made on social media about the 32 tonnes of real, fresh carrots that were piled on Goldsmiths, University of London campus earlier this month.
I found out about this bizarre occurrence not through a gallery website or an artist press release but from a tweet that went viral. George Greenwood, a data analyst at The Times, tweeted “Does anyone know why a significant volume of carrots has just been dumped on Goldsmiths university campus?” Within a day, it had been liked by 64,000 people and shared 10,000 times.
Twitter, of course, provided the answer to the mystery. The carrots were an installation by Goldsmiths art student, Rafael Pérez Evans. He assured viewers that all the carrots used were discarded by supermarkets for being “too ugly” to sell and that they would be used as animal feed after the exhibit.
His piece was titled Grounding and was designed to imitate “dumping” – an act of protest seen in mainland Europe.
In protest of price drops, farmers in France, Spain and Belgium have dumped vast amounts of fresh produce in urban areas. In 2009, protestors in Belgium poured three million litres of milk over the streets in Brussels, and threw eggs at the E.U.’s headquarters, after their demands to reduce production quotas was ignored.
Evans interprets these protests as the result of a growing disjunction between urban and rural life. City people are supposedly “blind” to the processes and labour that go into producing their food; dumping protests shock them into understanding.
Alongside this, Evans hoped to draw attention to the fact that a third of produce farmed in Europe is discarded. It is discarded not because it is inedible but because supermarkets consider it too “ugly” to sell. To compensate, farmers are often contracted by supermarkets to grow more produce than could ever be sold – a hugely wasteful practice.
These are certainly important issues – and Evans is quite right to say that urbanites can easily turn a blind eye to them. However, his installation drew much criticism.
“Lewisham is one of the poorest boroughs in London and this mass dumping of carrots at Goldsmiths is beyond insensitive,” wrote a fellow Goldsmiths student on social media.
“Evans only used veg that was already considered waste,” replied another, “that’s the point.”
However, for an onlooker like myself, the most interesting aspect of the debacle was the action of another group of Goldsmiths students. Like many, they too were annoyed at the food waste.
But instead of tweeting angrily from the sidelines, when life gave them carrots, they made carrot cake.
They documented themselves grating the carrots and to make carrot cake and carrot soup on their Instagram account @goldsmithscarrots. They then sold their homemade goods at a stall right next to the original installation. They reported making over £700 in two days and donated the entire amount to local food banks.
And Twitter, in response to that, declared, “I CARROT BELIEVE IT.”
Whether you’re repulsed or impressed by this display, one thing is for sure: Evans’ mountain of carrots did what art should do. It shocked people, informed people, and inspired positive action. Perhaps carrots really do help us see.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova