Interview: Ayshia Taskin

Edinburgh artist wants to reduce food waste and global hunger – one corn puff at a time.

Ayshia - Rachel

Artist Ayshia Taskin (Photo Credit: Rachel Lee)

Meet Ayshia Taskin. She’s a mother, an artist, a wife, a student – and now, thanks to her recent project, an engineer.

With her installation performance art piece, Paradise Corns, Ayshia hopes to prompt visitors into conversations about the impact food waste and modern day corporate consumerism has on world hunger. Paradise Corns – the name of the machine Ayshia built herself – churns out edible corn puffs which visitors of the exhibition are free to help themselves to.

When I first encounter Ayshia, she envelopes me in a friendly hug. In the interview below, Ayshia passionately discusses the personal connection Paradise Corns has to her and about her hopes of a world in the not-too distant future where food waste has drastically reduced and everyone is happy and healthy with a full belly.

I thought that was all my life was going to work in hospitality, I never thought I was going to be an artist. I’m the first in my family on both sides to go to university. I’m really lucky because my husband took the brunt financially, he told me to finish university and focus on my art. Luckily I got funding to go to Venice, there are some really supportive tutors at ECA. I always try and keep myself and my work down to earth. It gives me a good worth ethic.

I think what happens in your childhood really affects you when you grow up. When I was a kid in Cyprus, me, my brother and sister would see the British tourists with an abundance of food and enjoying their holiday. I think that sticks in my brain that I was born in Britain but only had a bit of couscous to eat. It is very surreal to look back on.

Ayshia - credit to Ayshia

“Paradise Corns” produces an abundance of corn puffs (Photo Credit: Ayshia Taskin)

When I look and see people still starving in 2018 when we shouldn’t be – we have all these factories and mechanisms to make things available to people – it’s very irritating in my mind the way the system works and they don’t necessarily want everyone to have an abundance of food or anything because it’s all about the capitalist system. I think we are at a point where we don’t need capitalism anymore. There’s enough food in the world but it’s not distributed properly.

I don’t like to see the waste. It’s unnecessary. In the West we are so disconnected from other countries who don’t have access to food at all. If everyone was just more aware of the rest of the world, and how people in the world are struggling to survive then things will change.

“Paradise Corns” is the amalgamation of performance, multi-sensory methods, i.e. olfactory senses, sight, smell, taste and auditory. Visual stimuli in the form of video and the literal production of food – auditory stimulation in the form of the sounds of the milling machine, extruder and videos. I created a set of films as part of the Paradise Corns project that are inspired by adverts from the 90s. They were very child-focused…bright colours…very appealing. ‘You can have this, when you want it’…but not really if you don’t have any money. It helped create a spoiled society and food waste.

I harbour a fascination of mass food production and consumerism. When I watch documentaries about starving people, food waste, countries unable to feed their people and my son asks, ‘well why don’t we just send food’. I always think ‘yeah we could, but that’s not going to sustain them’. People need to eat everyday so if I make a machine, you can make a machine too.

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Ayshia constructs her masterpiece (Photo Credit: Ayshia Taskin)

I didn’t study engineering but I built a machine. It shows that women can engineer things. I’m not an engineer – I’m not even good at basic mathematics – but when you have such a desire to make something or do something for a purpose you just have to go for it.

Women are held back from doing engineering jobs because they don’t have the belief they can do it because it’s so historically male dominated. I think we have to encourage girls from young age to be interested in engineering and building things. The logic brain is considered masculine and the creative side of the brain is considered the feminine, sensitive side. To this all starts at childhood, so I think it’s important for parents and teachers to give girls mechanical sets.

We should all try our best but it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of individuals. The Council should provide more outdoor space to grow your own things – fruits, vegetables, corn – whatever! It’s more sustainable. I would love for anyone to be able to walk into a supermarket and buy whatever they want and to have an abundance of food, but it’s just not possible.

I set up a free-for-all pantry in the studio. I wouldn’t say it was me, I would just do it. I set myself a budget of five pounds a week to get as much as I can and then everyone can help themselves. People in the studio can add to it they want but not forced to, or don’t have to spend as much as a fiver.

With Paradise Corns, I’m creating the food waste and I want it to look shocking. The project has so many layers. I don’t want to tell people what to take away from it – they may want to just take a corn puff! But I hope the work inspires people to question how food is made and consumed so we can create a future where people do not starve.

A Q&A with Scottish Slam Poetry Champion, Iona Lee

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Photo by Maddie Chalmers

With Burns night fast approaching, we prepare to celebrate one of the country’s most revered poets and historical figures. Burns’ influence continues to permeate the poetry scene, but today Scotland is home to a new array of wordsmiths and mavericks. Scottish slam champion, Iona Lee, is at the forefront of this new generation of artists.

Why do you write poetry?

I have always loved stories and the different ways that they can be told and I suppose I am trying to tell the story of “me”. I am a narcissist and also somewhat insecure, as I think most poets are, and if you turn a memory into a poem you can decide what happened. You get to frame it, you set the lighting and the tone. I am nostalgic and obsessed with reflecting and figuring things out. I often say that writing a poem is like a puzzle that you are trying to solve: When you put that line in what solves the puzzle, to me, is the most satisfying feeling.

What themes are present in your work? 

I’ve always tried to write about what I know, I would hate for anything to seem unauthentic. I like to work with the confessional and I love to tell stories. Being a 20-year-old woman that has been writing primarily since the age of 17 means that most of my writing focuses on the themes of being a 17 to 20-year-old woman-girl-child. Deceptions and self-deceptions and maturing and sex and confusion and trying on all the different youse that you might become.

How can we best support our local talent?

Pay for the art you consume! Caitlin Moran once said something very wise about how Topshop does not have to give away clothes for free just because they have a website. Artists, makers and thinkers have to give away so much of their work for free. It is work, and should be reimbursed so that we can make more of it. With regards to local talent, there is so much word being spoken out there at the moment. There really is something for everyone. Get involved in the movement. Go to gigs.

Who do you admire on the current scene?

A new voice that I am loving at the moment is Katherine MacFarlane. We both share a love of folklore and Scottish fairy tales and her work is gentle and painful.

You have done some great projects so far, even working with the BBC. How did you make a name for yourself?

As with all things there was a certain amount of luck involved in my early success. The Scottish poetry scene is a very supportive one, so that helped. I have had a lot of good contacts and friends and mentors over the past four years. Winning the Scottish Slam Championship last year certainly helped on the success front.

What can poetry achieve that other art forms cannot? 

Nothing is original. Everything has been said. What poetry does though is find new ways of saying what has been said and felt and thought before.

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Ruth Davidson talks to Cameron Ward about how she got into politics and her expectations ahead of the Scottish elections. Oh, and she says she’s not after David Cameron’s job.

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