Notes from the MEANTIME residency in Cheltenham

meantime 10

The MEANTIME project space installation grew from an idea about trying to find methods of representation - as it turned out, a form of materialization - for the flow of natural or unprocessed food-stuffs from their places of origin/country on to supermarket shelves or farm stand. To find out what food comes from the land around us. In this case, looking at one geographical area, Cheltenham, to see what the local agriculture looked like: in an area surrounded by many farms, what was actually grown or raised on this land. It seems to make sense that the less distance a product had to travel then the costs could be reduced and the product would probably be fresher.
Limitations of time.
Admittedly there were aspects of this I was unable to look at, for example: the MIdlands certainly contains lots of farm land; But how much is actually used to grow crops or raise animals? and, if so where do those products go? This was an important element but was put aside. Therefore, the only way to get raw data was to visit farm shops and talk directly with local farmers. Still, in two weeks, not nearly enough time.
Another route.
With the “country of origin” label on produce and packaged meats and poultry I could determine (in theory) where a retailer’s products were coming from. I could also see if some retailers (big or little) had more local produce than others. Some of the big grocers, like Waitrose or Sainsbury’s make big claims about the amount of local produce on their shelves. How true would that be? would there be differences?
The shopping space, the shopping experience.
With variations at the lower end (Aldi or Lidl) and upper tier supermarkets (Waitrose or Mark’s and Spencer) the social space of the supermarket is a variation on a common theme. Endless aisles to accommodate infinite trollies. Increase of travel distance in order to get to high demand items and necessities. Create opaque systems of product arrangement in which the consumer acquiesces to the logic of a particular form of retailing. The objective here is to fill the shopping trolley. Meandering through shopping aisles and the supermarket’s vast display of abundance, the food shopper’s itinerary evaporates or morphs into another entity.
Social space of the supermarket, again.
The social space of the supermarket is not just defined by its interior space but rather encompasses the exterior as well. With the exception of Tesco Metro, all the supermarkets I visited in Cheltenham were accessible primarily by auto. Without the inclusion of consumers, the social space of the supermarket is one dimensional. The consumer is an integral element in the supermarket social space.
The bare-bones nature of Lidl, Adli or Tesco Metro defines them as rapid transit spaces built around expediency. Whereas market complexes such as Waitrose are the opposite; they proliferate and build upon memes of sites of social interaction for the middle class.
A Cheltenham overview, finally.
In the core of the city, its central business hub, which includes pedestrian thoroughfares encased in a traffic ring, there are food shops like Lidl and Tesco Metro. There are also a number of green grocers and smaller specialty shops like an Asian supermarket. On Thursdays there is small farmer’s market. On alternating Friday’s there is a larger farmer’s market on the Promenade. The large supermarkets and hypermarkets are located on the town periphery.