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Materials Research Kitchen: Making Food Together as Method and Metaphor

This art practice PhD project developed the method of the ‘cooking workshop’ as a way of using food and everyday kitchen tools and technologies to investigate human-material relationships. This research demonstrated that cooking together and engaging closely with food can allow us to access an expanded view of selfhood that includes our material and microbial ecologies, revealing likenesses between our material selves and our environment, and encouraging self and environmental care.

Strings of sausage made from fabric hanging from the ceiling

Further Information

Food is something we all have in common: it is a way for people to understand what materials are, intimately, in our bodies. In this PhD project, artist and researcher Ellie Doney looked closely at the relationship between bodies and materials: our temper and terroir. Drawing on methodologies spanning historical and contemporary science, art and psychology, Ellie developed her own research methodology called the Materials Research Kitchen (MRK). This involved experimental and cross-disciplinary edible materials workshops that brought a wide range of people to the table to collaboratively cook and eat together, whilst closely engaging with the properties, qualities, cultural, and emotional meanings, and uses of edible materials. Through this practice, Ellie aimed to bring transdisciplinary groups together to think through food about the ethics of human-material relationships, and to stimulate curiosity and care for edible materials, ourselves and our environment.

This research took place in three contexts: with groups at University College London, with home appliance manufacturer BEKO PLC’s research and development team, and with various urban community growing projects in London.

This PhD produced a number of conceptual and physical tools including the Materials Research Kitchen methodology, a series of generative sculptures entitled Activated Works and the
Sensicle, a prototype tool for tracking transformations in foods, soils, and bodies, further expanding our cognitive biomes. These tools exemplify the project’s thesis: that close examination of materials can reveal likenesses in human-material ecologies and stimulate curiosity and care for ourselves and the environment.

Further Information

This PhD was supervised by Prof. Kieren Reed, Prof. Sharon Morris, and Lilah Fowler (Slade School of Fine Art) and Prof. Mark Miodownik (Institute of Making, UCL Engineering). It was a collaboration with home appliances manufacturer Beko PLC’s UK research and development team.


Ellie Doney is an artist and a technician at the Institute of Making.


This project was funded by a studentship with Beko PLC.


Knowles, J. Doney, EKF. Laessing, N. Spriggs, H. Depta Garapich, K. (2023). Three Sisters: Practices of Usership. Slade Small Press.

Doney, E. Mansfield, L. Devery, C. (2019). FEAST: Sugar Issue. 2 Jul 2019, FEAST Journal (Sugar Issue).

Doney, E. (2024). Forthcoming Doctoral Thesis: Materials Research Kitchen: Making Food Together as Method and Metaphor. Slade School of Fine Art, UCL.