At the Museum Brot und Kunst in Ulm, Germany, the Austrian duo stages an experience about food, supermarkets, art and design to teach us to perceive ourselves as citizens and not consumers

Best before/mindestens haltbar bis is the phrase shown on packaged food products to indicate their expiry date. The Viennese duo Honey&Bunny, born Sonja Stummerer and MartinHablesreiter, who have been busy reflecting on politics for years food, so much so that they were also hired by the European Union to talk aboutFood Future (we talked about it here) and communicate it effectively.

This time at the Museum Brot und Kunst in Ulm, Germany, the protagonist is the supermarket. And if the Clash in 1979 sang their Lost in the Supermarket precisely to underline the new ultra-consumerist behaviors of the time, Honey & Bunny present us with a photograph of an apparently comfortable, aseptic, safe area like the food and products that are preserved and sold in it in today's world.

So what does Best before/mindestens haltbar bis, used as the title of this new project, mean? We talked about it with Martin Hablesreiter, together with the themes that inevitably arise when visiting their exhibition.

«The title has first of all to do with us human beings. That best before can be translated as "how long it will remain (good)", relating to the food product, but it can also be applied to us: how long will we stay? Climate change is closely related to our existence on the planet.

We are used to thinking that it will collapse but will probably remain after our disappearance... In German the expression has a slight nuance because it indicates that the product can be consumed up to that moment, implying that after... Well, we lose control of it.

We lose it, but we give permission to multinationals and large corporations to establish what, how and when we should eat. Which is rather strange, isn't it?"

What should or could we do to oppose this imposition?

«First of all, stop perceiving ourselves as simple consumers. This is not the case, we are political subjects, we are citizens. Between the product and its consumption there is a rather narrow space in which control is exercised by a handful of people from large companies who decide what others should consume and what behavior they should have. This is why it is false to think of changing the world through consumer behavior.

Often we don't even know what we're buying: what's behind a frozen pizza? I don't know anything about the working conditions expected to produce and package it...

Food policies should also protect human rights, but how do I know if this is actually the case? The European Union in general spends 83 billion dollars a year on food policies and could change the way we consume.

Currently, the company that offers the lowest price is successful, but what if the company that guarantees an eco-sustainable supply chain, protecting citizens, consumers and workers, was successful?

What does the supermarket represent today?

«A lot, in fact. And we've been thinking about it for a long time. On the one hand it has an aesthetic value. We no longer realize it, but the supermarket responds to a precise aesthetic canon, which now seems normal to us.

It is normal that an industrial system like the supermarket has become the only place to buy food, in a Europe where large cities are home to an enormous number of different ethnic groups.

But we know nothing about this diversity, except when we go to the ethnic restaurant, once a year, and deep down we don't really accept it. So the supermarket seems normal and reassuring to us."

And also safe, perhaps?

"Certain. Then you have to make a certain effort to understand what is safe in the plastic...".

How important is packaging and what role does design have?

«These are all interesting things, thinking about how to make that logo or that packaging better, how to do it in a more sustainable way, but perhaps we need to ask ourselves deeper questions that concern the fact that art and design are important levers , they can really affect change. The step to take is to try to think about how to imagine the future as human beings and not as machines."

Can you explain better?

«I saw a conference recently on agriculture in which a particularly funny situation arose. On stage there were two young people talking about the near future of the sector. One of the two represented an important company that explained how the machines of the future, through satellites, would simplify and make cultivation more efficient, even eliminating the cultivator. However, at a certain moment the other interrupted him: I want to be a farmer, he said, I want to keep my feet in the ground and follow my animals, I want to grow with them. Extraordinary!".

So do design and art have anything to do with our vision of the future?

"Certainly. We create narratives and man needs them continuously, just look at the success of TikTok. And if in narrating there is an explicit and an implicit plan, what art does well is to use the implicit one. So he comes into contact with people on an emotional level, without being afraid of anything. This is why it exercises manipulative power over people. We need to be aware of this, indeed the artist who is also a bit of a clown must be responsible for this aspect."

What can an artist do then?

«A lot, because it activates complex narratives. Even through performances. When I do one, I activate things with the public, and when it works I connect people, I connect them to each other, which the supermarket system doesn't do."

It was once said that the supermarket would connect people, do you think this is true?

«I think exactly the opposite. And this is the second important aspect when considering the supermarket. What it represents today is also total disconnection. We are unable to imagine what to do with the food on display, we are unable to think about the connection with our history and that of the people who frequent it.

Conversely, as soon as you put people at the table and give them food, they forget who they are and how they should behave and in a moment they end up talking about recipes and family traditions. In an instant they will be telling each other stories." Those that cannot circulate if they are wrapped in plastic, like a pack of courgettes.

Honey&Bunny Best before/mindestens haltbar bis, Museum Brot und Kunst in Ulm, until October 6