Find the sweet art

unduhan-3For me, it’s marshmallows. The moment I catch the scent of powdered sugar I remember lying with my head in my grandmother’s lap as a child. For Benjamin Loyauté, it’s apple-flavoured sticks from Rouen that exert the Proustian pull, transporting him back to his Normandy childhood and squabbles with his twin sister over the sugary treats.

Sweets may be universal, but the nostalgia they hold is intense and intimate, which is why – says Loyauté – they are the perfect vehicle for his long-term project to highlight the “immaterial heritage” of Syria. With a man-bun and a curator’s love of critical theory, the Brussels based artist and designer makes an unexpected confectioner. Yet when we meet in the foyer of his London hotel, on the table in front of us are little packets of pink candies created to his exacting specifications.

At first glance they could be the cheap sweets sold by Syrian street vendors, except that each is shaped to resemble an “eye idol” – those ancient Syrian figurines whose use and meaning archaeologists are still debating. Loyauté describes his sweets as “transmitter objects” – everyday things with “a real value and symbolic value linked to emotion, history, heritage”. In other words, as it says on one of his text paintings: “candy keeps the past alive.”

“One woman said she never ate these candies because they are sold on dusty trolleys – they are not for rich people,” he explains. “It was only when they started disappearing from the streets thanks to the war, that she realised: ‘I miss them’.”

I can’t wait any longer and break off our chat to open the simple plastic packet and pop one in my mouth. The soft texture yields an intense burst of sugar and rose. For an artwork, they are pretty delicious. And at this month’s London DesignBiennale, visitors will get their own chance to scoff. Loyauté’s exhibit includes “a practical sculpture”, otherwise known as a vending machine. For £5, it will dispense a packet of the sweets and design buffs will be invited “to do their bit”.

The money put into the machine will directly transfer to the Mosaic initiative, a small London-based charity which distributes aid, both within Syria and to educational projects for Syrian refugees elsewhere. If Loyauté has his way, it will be only the first step in a Willy Wonka-ish ambition to bring people together through sweets.

Despite Baťa’s original vision, his Essex outpost only reached a third of its planned size after Bata was nationalised by the communists in the wake of the second world war. Decline set in during the late 1970s and, by the new millennium, there were only 200 employees left in East Tilbury. Bata closed the factory in 2005, moving most of its manufacturing to Malaysia.

Rippingale and her siblings resisted following their parents into the footwear business. She became a secretary and moved to London, only later buying the family home. Once teeming with workers who clocked in to music piped out of speakers at the company gates each morning, the listed factory buildings are now owned by a storage company, and the estate is looking a little rundown.

Despite this, East Tilbury has generated a steady and growing interest among architects. The Bauhaus foundation has paid a visit, says Pinion, and the last piece of Bata Trust land was sold recently to a developer, Cogent Land, which has built a portion of new housing faithful to the original modernist designs. The whole Bata estate is a conservation area and there is talk of the houses being listed in line with the factory buildings.

Radical Essex’s talk of the county as “the cradle of modernism” is an attempt to to get a grip on its sprawl. As Nikolaus Pevsner wrote in his 1954 book The Buildings of England: “The county is too big and varied to be taken in as one.” Characterised by rivers, creeks, marshland and an abundance of overpopulated A-roads, rather than by any particular architectural style, the Essex look has flitted with the political wind: from weatherboarded houses to Barratt estates, early 20th century “plotland” bungalows to mid-century new towns later sold off under Thatcher’s right to buy.