WDE Spotlight: Diya Samit

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to several designers from the Embassies. This time, we talk to Technical University of Eindhoven student Diya Samit, part of the Embassy of Food in 2022. What is her background? What inspires her? What does she hope to achieve through her work? You can read about it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 29 November 2022
Part of Embassy of Food
WDE Spotlight: Diya Samit
Part of Embassy of Food

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

I am Diya Samit. I was born and raised in India and recently moved to the Netherlands to pursue a bachelor’s degree. I graduated with a bachelor’s in Industrial Design from the Eindhoven University of Technology and am currently following the master’s program at the same faculty.

I grew up seeing two realities; the land of plenty is also that of poverty. The contrast of the ancient and the modern is stark and dependent and interdependent societies coexist. I was exposed to failing infrastructure and poor implementation while witnessing innovative discoveries in small islands of excellence. This contrast has a strong influence on my identity.

As a designer, this background has steered me to lay focus on sustainable endeavours, accessibility and democratisation of both knowledge and design. I strive to design at the intersection of biology and technology; the grown and the made. I think of myself as an inquisitive person – curiosity drives me to make things, solve things, tinker with materials, explore possibilities and fiddle with something till I understand it.

Your project is part of the Embassy of Food during Dutch Design Week 2022. What can you tell us about this project and what stage it is now?

Over the last decade, the effects of climate change have been very widespread and very complex. This has adversely affected yield, safety, and quality of food. To cope with these drastic changes, the food production systems need to be revolutionised. 

Spices not only taste good but are also a source of great interest. Today, spices play an essential role in our food practices. The ecological footprint caused by their transportation and consumption in Europe is enormous. Historically, the spice trade redrew the map and came to define the global economy. It led to the development of massive infrastructure over land and sea and across continents. This was the start of globalisation and made an everlasting change to European diets. Growing up in a country burdened by institutional problems like poverty, communal tensions, and a corrupt government system, all of which are remnants of the colonial oppression of its past, makes this issue feel personal to me. Spices are interesting to focus on because of their high ecological footprint due to trade practices making hem unsustainable today. Further, there is an immense variety of spices present in the market today and are considered a ubiquitous commodity in supermarkets. As consumers we are blind towards their origin and have no control over how they are grown. Hence this calls for a cultural change. Spice trade needs to adapt and become resilient to the growing demand and climate change. This is no mean feat as their uses in food and wellness industries continue to evolve even today.  

Syntopia illustrates a speculative scenario where spices are produced sustainably, ubiquitously, and in a highly personalised fashion. Imagine getting all the health benefits of turmeric without having to taste it. Or enjoying a glowing cocktail made with bioluminescent compounds found in turmeric. It brings to the forefront niche technologies currently practised behind closed lab doors and makes it accessible to citizens. These technologies would enable us to isolate specific properties of spices and create combinations to form personalised spices. 

Syntopia proposes bioengineering fungus to impart these isolated properties of spices using biosynthesis and parametric chemistry. It grows personalised fruiting bodies as a novel spice. These can be grown in bioreactors in supermarkets in a controlled setting in a sustainable way thereby reducing carbon emissions and bringing us closer to the origin of the food we consume. Currently, the project takes an artistic approach and displays speculative prototypes showcasing what the future form of these spices could be like to stimulate the imagination.

Can you explain how your project relates to the story of this Embassy?

During DDW22, the Embassy of Food is showcasing the future of supermarkets. Even today, the supermarket is a place where people come together, a space to introduce new technologies and products, a space to understand trends, practices and cultures. As Chloé (Rutzerveld) says, we as consumers are shaping the future of the planet every day by deciding what we put in our shopping baskets, without even realising it.

Syntopia relates to this theme of the exhibition by proposing a transition that is more sustainable, fairer and healthier while providing a super-personalised way of producing food in the future, bringing us much closer to the origins of food. It shows how supermarkets in the future could play a role in citizen science and provide a hub for food production.

What kind of design/project would you like to realise in the future and why?

As a designer, I want to be able to reimagine an alternate non-dualistic future for humankind where we no longer perceive humans and nature as being separate. Humans co-habit earth with nature, and cultivating a symbiotic relationship at the smallest levels is essential to design in a sustainable manner. As a designer, my vision is to bridge humans and nature through material explorations to translate the message of sustainability and democratic designs. I want to mould my design process to be able to create designs unified with nature allowing me to make considerations outside of anthropocentric boundaries. I want to be able to create designs that integrate the digital and biological domains. I want to question the contrasting relationship between cultivating and making. I firmly believe in what Neri Oxman said: “Technology catches up with imagination, and therefore imagination has a responsibility”. I want to adapt my design process to unlock the social and environmental value in bio-design and approach nature from a collaborative rather than exploitive perspective, focusing on perhaps interspecies futures.

How do you think your design can make an impact?

Syntopia brings several discussions to the forefront, which could have an impact on the future of food production and consumption. Firstly, it raises awareness about the carbon footprint associated with the food we consume. Consumers today vastly underestimate the ecological impact of their food choices. Syntopia hopes to inform people to consider the origin of their food and the journey it has taken to reach their plates. 

Currently, biotechnology has associations with scholarly debates akin to medicine and microbiology. Understanding the process or debate from this perspective makes it difficult for non-bio-engineers to grasp its potential in modern science. Syntopia opens the minds of common citizens towards a wider application of this technology through a relatable context. Biotechnology has recently made leaps and bounds and is becoming increasingly relevant in our day-to-day lives. While processes such as the fermentation of products like milk and wine have remained intact for thousands of years, Syntopia tries to probe the discussion about the limits of this technology and the utopian and dystopian futures it might bring. 

Next, the project also tries to emphasise on the scope of citizen science in future supermarkets. Lastly, it raises a discourse about genetic modification of food and raises the question: is processed always a bad thing? Genetically modified and processed foods are looked down upon in society. Health enthusiasts campaign against the use of GMOs in the food industry and current policies support that. To cope with the unpredictable future that we face, in terms of climate variability, this perception needs to change. Syntopia calls out to policymakers and regulators and encourages them to reconsider their view on genetically modified and processed food. It asks them to shift perspectives and reevaluate the policies for such scientific advancements.

Can you name another interesting designer who works on the same topic, and what makes his/her projects so great?

Chloé Rutzerveld works on similar projects related to food which I find very interesting. Her projects are daring, and imagining an alternative food future will really provide a new perspective on what we eat, why we eat it, and we may or may not eat in the future. In terms of speculative design, Kuang-Yi Ku’s Tiger Penis Project served as a great source of inspiration for me during the development of Syntopia. The project successfully brings a very novel, non-western view on speculative design and balances ritualistic practices, biotechnology and medicine to make it accessible for everyone.

If you could choose one person to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist, organisation, anyone), who would you choose and why?

I do feel eager to collaborate with a diverse group of professionals outside of the design community – this can include ecologists, bio-medical engineers, chemists, and bio-artists to realise my vision as a designer. I feel interdisciplinary collaboration is key in designing more-than-human-centred futures. I would like to collaborate with Nonhuman Nonsense, a research-driven design and studio which works with the paradoxical and contradictory experiments between utopia and dystopia, which I find very interesting.

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