Wageningen goes arts & design – a recap from the curious evening

This evening, we discussed the cultural character of environmental issues, sustainability and innovation. We explored new relations between landscape, food, animals, people and design. The evening was led by Clemens Driessen from the Cultural Geography Group. Our guests: The Toasty Factory, Bartaku and Henriette de Waal from the Outdoor Brewery.

Our first guest was the Toastie Factory. Central thought of their project was: what if we produce all the ingredients for a ham and cheese toastie in one place? This means producing grains and keeping animals. This was done in an area in Amsterdam. Keeping animals in the city was not easy. One of the cows they kept for milk production turned out to scream really loud, the police even came to check if everything was under control. Moreover, the place was run by people with little farming experience. Every time someone milked the cow, they posted their bruises and blood on the WhatsApp group. With the help of experts and by persevering, they managed to build up a city farm. In a nine-months process, it was shown how food is produced, the growth and the process was all captured in one place. It was not only about production, but also about creating a social and educational place. The project opened up discussion about meat production. When the moment of slaughtering the pig came closer, reactions from the public became more intense. Some people even threatened to burn down the factory. At the end of the project, a toastie party was organized. At this moment, a book is being published about the project.

Participants listening attentively to the story of the Toastie Factory
Participants listening attentively to the story of the Toastie Factory

Our second guest, Bart vandePut (Bartaku) shared his thoughts about the essence of energy. In his projects, he uses biodynamic agriculture as an inspiration. He investigates how light is transformed into electric energy. He discovered that juices from berries help to transform light into energy. You can make your own solar cell, that you can use to generate electricity. Bartaku started making an edible solar cell, a kind of edible alchemy. They used spaghetti coated in edible silver, ‘electric spaghetti’ basically. Participants were asked to stick their tongue out towards the sun and the energy that was generated could be measured with a device. This artistic research created new formulas, new kinds of knowledge. Bartaku’s goal is to create resilient designs that are adaptive. He questions competition among scientists, it causes them to overlook possibilities. Science could be more intuitive and less man-centered, according to Bartaku.

Bartaku talking about his edible photovoltaic cells project!
Bartaku talking about his edible photovoltaic cells project!

Our third guest, Henriette de Waal, set up an outdoor beer brewery. This project takes a very different perspective on water quality compared to a scientific approach. The project looks at how people relate to place and cultural heritage.
The outdoor brewery came into being at a neglected water purification station in Tilburg. It had been neglected for a while and was overgrown with wild plants. The place was to be redeveloped, while keeping the connection to water. Henriette wanted to use rainwater, grass, plants from the landscape and local grains to produce beer. To set up the actual brewery, she used knowledge from home brewers. Henriette experiments with the yeast process, temperature and input of salt water and her outdoor brewery has been active at many different locations.

Different beers brewed from surface water by Henriette de Waal
Different beers brewed from surface water by Henriette de Waal


If you want to make people happy about water purification or if you want to improve neighbourhoods, beer is a great opening! Also, it opened up ideas of creating community breweries and ‘brew your own’ concepts. The project connects local water sources and stories about water through beer. It reconnects people to the landscape. All the beers taste different and can be tried at your own risk. By drinking the beer, you can experience the world in new ways. For the project, knowledge about water purification from Wageningen was used. But some knowledge, for instance about brewing alcohol-free beer is not shared by companies.

The evening was concluded by a short discussion about the relations between science-technology and art. Art means something for science, it shows the power of the mind. Science in turn, gives depth to art, by sharing knowledge about certain processes. Questions should be looked upon from the two sides. We can observe and combine different types of knowledge and creativity and learn from the interaction that emerges. There are many types of learning, not only from a technological perspective. The biggest inventions actually happened by accident. It is therefore important to explore side paths and to allow for curiosity and intuition in science.

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