THE ICE CREAM CLOUD PROJECT

The Ice Cream Cloud Project
Comments

THE ICE CREAM CLOUD PROJECT



Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Cathrine Kramer, Zoe Papadopoulou
20 Monday 20th June 2011
Wouldn't summer showers be great if, instead of rain, the clouds opened and sprayed the earth with ice cream? Designer Cathrine Kramer set out to turn this childlike fantasy into reality with actual, you know, science. Together with Zoe Papadopoulou she engineered a real ice cream van that would try its darndest to spray clouds of ice cream in the air, using nanotechnology and a whole lot of scientific detail that goes over most people's heads, according to Kramer. We caught up with her to get more of the inside story, and find out just what that van's going to be doing this summer.
 
 
Kramer at work in the van
 
We've noticed loads of really exciting and unexpected projects coming out of the Royal College of Art. How much do you feel RCA's approach to design has impacted your recent work?
 
I can't really speak for the RCA as an institution - the various departments are managed differently and are driven by very different motivations and ideals. I was in the Design Interactions department, which has a unique focus on the implications (rather than applications) of emerging technologies. This is what attracted me to the course. It was a great community of peers and mentors that encouraged experimentation and putting old skills to new uses, which has greatly influenced the kind of work I do and what kind of collaborations I seek out.
 
Where does The Cloud Project stand now? How have your goals and thoughts about it changed since you first conceptualised it?
 
The project was conceived of as a spectacle for public engagement and debate and I think the issues and questions the project raises around geo-engineering are still very relevant. I developed the project in collaboration with Zoe Papadopoulou. We have hosted a series of interesting talks in the van, and overall I think it was successful in achieving its aims. 
 
 
However, through exhibiting the van we experienced firsthand the challenges of engaging a general audience in a critical dialogue around a highly complex subject. One thing I have learnt through this process is that for conversations to move beyond basic explanations I have to be more conscious of what the person-on-the-street brings with them ahead of time.  
 
And where's the Ice-Cream Van got to now? Is it still touring and stopping when you give talks on nanotechnology and design, as it did in 2009?
 
Right now it's in a garage getting ready for a long journey to China. It will be exhibited at the National Museum of China in Beijing in September as part of the Beijing International Design Triennial.
 
All the media coverage about cloud seeding during the Beijing Olympics was one of the major inspirations for the Cloud Project, and so there's something poetic about the van ending up there for what might turn out to be its final show.
 
 
China is very enthusiastic and vocal about its national cloud seeding activities, so I'm interested to see what the reactions will be to the Cloud Project and what the attitude of our visitors are with regards to weather modification technologies. In some ways this will be our most challenging exhibit, but by being explicit and using humour to describe this technology, I hope the van creates a platform for cognitive disruption by presenting an appealing narrative that doesn't quite compute.
 
How much do you see yourself as a scientist, and how much as a visual designer?
 
I aspire to Buckminster Fuller's definition of a designer:
 
"A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist."
 
For me, it's not sufficient to work as a commercial designer, preoccupied with fleeting tastes and helping a company excel in a consumer landscape by profit-maximising through design. In my work I want to take into account the big picture and consider a wider range of stakeholders. We are slowly seeing a trend where more and more designers are interrogating and challenging their traditional role in society.
 
The Ice Cream Van as part of Science Gallery's Nano Week 2009
 
Talk us through your inspirations. How do ideas tend to come to you? And how do you then decide the ones that make the cut and are worth pursuing?
 
Most of my projects are research based, so are born out of a desire to visualize the research in a compelling way, often by telling a story. I think inspiration comes from diverse flows of information - reading books and other publications, listening to podcasts and talking to people. Just generally trying to stay informed about what's going on in the world.  
 
What have been some of your favourite reactions to the Cloud Project and ice-cream van? Perhaps from particular age groups?
 
We are generally met with questions and curiosity. I have two favourite interactions - one was with a group of inner city Dublin boys (about twelve years old) who were really fascinated and amazed. They started off saying they didn't like science, but after making them ice cream and inviting them in the van to have a chat, they skipped off with a new glimmer in their eyes.
 
My second favourite interaction was with a man who said the project was evil. He accused me of Disney-fying geo-engineering and making it palatable to the public. I felt like he was one of the few visitors critical enough to pick up on the underlying dystopian tone of the project. He believed that the visitors would be unable to apply a critical lens to this project as it uses a visual language that people inherently associate with consumerist tendencies and passive entertainment. 
 
 
The Cloud Project took the controversial topic of geo-engineering (trying to control the earth's climate to stop global warming) and candy wrapped it to sugarcoated absurdity. We hoped this would create a range of reactions, but to our surprise most reactions were whole-heartily positive.  
 
How would you explain then, in good old layman's terms, the way nano ice-cream works?
 
Nano ce cream is made by pouring liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196°C into an ice cream ingredient mixture/yoghurt, and stirring continuously causing it to freeze extremely quickly. Agitating the mixture while adding liquid nitrogen prevents the ice crystals that form from growing beyond the nano scale, resulting in a super fine–grained (nano) ice cream with a velvety soft texture.
 
 
During the process of making ice cream we explain what's happening and we also introduce and discuss the concept of making clouds snow ice cream, and ways that might be possible to achieve with the help of nanotechnology.
 
We're also fascinated by the Community Meat Lab concept on your site. How far has that project gone?
 
That idea was born from my ongoing interest in food systems. It remains a proposal and as a series of illustrations that describe how the Community Meat Lab would work. I think it’s a useful tool to start discussing alternate methods of food production and making science openly political.
 
Since then, I have focused on developing a collaborative project called the Center for Genomic Gastronomy (www.gemonicgastronomy.com)  
 
What is the Center for Genomic Gastronomy?
 
Genomic Gastronomy involves discovering, tasting, experiencing, researching, understanding and writing about the diverse genomes that constitute the human food systems on planet earth. In addition to preparing food and exploring the sensory qualities of foods, a Genomic Gastronomer examines the abundance, distribution, genetic provenance and cultural history of various genomes within our ever-evolving food systems.
 
The project started about a year ago and is driven by the notion of using our tastebuds to ask difficult questions. What do GMO’s taste like? How are our food habits shaped? How do our food habits shape the complex systems that we rely on for sustenance? The center is working with chefs, farmers and foodies and is continuously developing a series of projects and publications. 
We're also fascinated by the Community Meat Lab concept on your site. How far has that project gone?
 
That idea was born from my ongoing interest in food systems. It remains a proposal and as a series of illustrations that describe how the Community Meat Lab would work. I think it’s a useful tool to start discussing alternate methods of food production and making science openly political.
 
Since then, I have focused on developing a collaborative project called the Center for Genomic Gastronomy.
 
What's the Center for Genomic Gastronomy?
 
Genomic Gastronomy involves discovering, tasting, experiencing, researching, understanding and writing about the diverse genomes that constitute the human food systems on planet earth. In addition to preparing food and exploring the sensory qualities of foods, a Genomic Gastronomer examines the abundance, distribution, genetic provenance and cultural history of various genomes within our ever-evolving food systems.
 
The project started about a year ago and is driven by the notion of using our tastebuds to ask difficult questions. What do GMOs (genetically modified organisms) taste like? How are our food habits shaped? How do our food habits shape the complex systems that we rely on for sustenance? The center is working with chefs, farmers and foodies and is continuously developing a series of projects and publications. 
 
Finally, what's your favourite ice-cream flavour?
 
Mint Oreo Cookie.
 
 
Find out more about the Cloud Project here, and on Cathrine Kramer's own site. Keep up to date with her new work on the Center for Genomic Gastronomy as it plans to go to India this summer here.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.



Comments

MORE FROM DON'T PANIC