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Exhibition offers food for thought

* 29 April 2004 *

Exhibition offers food for thought

Chicken: Sandra Cross and William English, Spitalfields, 1997 - an image from the exhibition

'Chicken': Sandra Cross and William English, Spitalfields, 1997 - an image from the exhibition

A feast of photographs, text, recordings and film forms the basis of a fascinating exhibition about what people eat at the University of Sussex library during the Brighton Festival.

What Did You Eat Today?, produced in collaboration with the University's Mass-Observation Archive, is the work of William English and Sandra Cross, and is a multimedia exploration of how the choices people make about what to eat may reveal buried aspects of identity.

The exhibition also features written observations by Sandra Cross of what people eat on train journeys, photographs, menus and records of overheard conversations from the Mass-Observation Archive. There is also a questionnaire for visitors asking them to record what they ate that day, which may be used for further work.

Sandra Cross was once a features editor for magazine publishers IPC, and ran an organic restaurant with collaborator William English in London's Borough Market, and this project is an extension of a continuing love of and pleasure in food. She says: "The exhibition is a culmination of several interests, the large part of which is the role that food plays in our culture; how the choices we make, together with the language of food, seems to describe how we feel about ourselves. When I came across the work of the archive I realised that what I had begun with my written observations had echoes in its pioneering work. The early observers recorded scenes of so-called 'ordinary life'. The written, photographed and filmed aspects of this project all take the seemingly commonplace to reveal other meanings."

William English studied art and film and has had his films screened on BBC television and at the ICA, London Film Festival, the Danielle Arnaud gallery in London and at Tate Britain.

Archive director Dorothy Sheridan and development officer Sandra Koa Wing, say: "We are always interested in finding new ways of using the Mass-Observation collection, so when Sandra and William approached us about an exhibition it seemed a good way of linking Mass-Observation's interest in food and eating and also collecting new material for the archive."

Revived in 1981, the Mass-Observation Archive is a special collection at the University library that contains observations and diaries of 'ordinary' British people, forming an 'anthropology of ourselves'. It was founded in 1937 by anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet and sociologist Charles Madge and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings and now serves as a valuable research source for writers, journalists, historians and social scientists the world over. Questionnaires are sent out three times a year to volunteers nationwide who provide responses to add to the bank of personal experiences and observations arising from everyday or topical issues.

What Did You Eat Today? opens at the University of Sussex library, Falmer, on Wednesday May 5 and runs to Sunday May 23. Library opening hours are 9am-10pm Mon-Thurs; 9am-7.30pm Fri; 9am-6.30pm Sat and Sun. Entrance is free.

* Notes for editors *

Part of the Brighton Festival Fringe 2004:
Mass- Observation Archive website:

University of Sussex Press Office contacts: Jacqui Bealing or Maggie Clune, Tel. 01273 678888, or

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