Pleasant Vices: Sugar

In the final episode of the Pleasant Vices series (*sobs*) I demonstrate how to make a sugar sculpture to adorn your table. Want to add some punch to your dinner parties? Or make a political statement at Sunday lunch? The history of sugar sculpture is one of status, power and storytelling, so what forms you choose to make and what tales you choose to tell are up to you - but it takes just three ingredients to create a decoration that could last for centuries. 

Assyrian Lion Sugar Sculpture by AVM Curiosities | Photo: Tasha Marks

Assyrian Lion Sugar Sculpture by AVM Curiosities | Photo: Tasha Marks

If you'd like to know more about the history of sugar, you can watch Part 1 of Episode 4 of Pleasant Vices here, or pop over to the British Museum blog to read my article, the story of sugar in 5 objects

And it's on this sweet note that Series 1 of Pleasant Vices comes to an end. I hope it's given you much food for thought, and that you enjoyed watching it as much as I loved making it. Thank you for watching, it's been a pleasure!

Pleasant Vices: Sugar
Part four of a four-part YouTube series
Commissioned and produced by the British Museum
In collaboration with, and hosted by, Tasha Marks

Click here to view more videos
and subscribe to the British Museum YouTube channel.

Pleasant Vices: Beer

In episode 3 of the Pleasant Vices series I'm joined by brewer Michaela Charles and beverage consultant Susan Boyle as we make an ancient Egyptian beer. 

Using traditional methods and ingredients, we aimed to get as close as possible to a beer the ancient Egyptians would have drunk. Our research started in the British Museum collection, with further input from curators and physical anthropologists to focus our findings. Combined with archaeological reports and chemical analysis of pots we refined our method, which was guided by an ancient Sumerian poem, the Hymn to Ninkasi (the goddess of beer).

When I began this project, I believed (like many of my contemporaries) that ancient Egyptian beer would be revolting. I expected a thick, tasteless, gruel-like mixture that was mildly alcoholic. But the brewers on the team thought otherwise – quite rightly they argued there was no way the Egyptians would be making beer in such quantities if it was not good. But to all of our surprise, it didn’t just work, but it was absolutely delicious!

If you like what you've seen and would like to know more, pop over to the British Museum blog for my latest post about the project. Or if you'd like to have a go at make an ancient Egyptian style drink, check out recipe three in the Pleasant Vices series, my version of a Henket... for all those who don't have a large terracotta pot on hand to brew your own ancient Egyptian beer.

Pleasant Vices: Beer
Part three of a four-part YouTube series
Commissioned and produced by the British Museum
In collaboration with, and hosted by, Tasha Marks
(Episode 4: Sugar out 31 May 2018)

Click here to view more videos
and subscribe to the British Museum YouTube channel.

See art differently: 5 Steps to Creating a Bespoke Aroma Tour

Who says you can't smell an old master painting?! Ahead of Feast, the Dulwich Picture Gallery's next alternative Friday Late, we reveal how you can create your own aromatic interpretation of the collection.


1. The Gallery Visit

An Aroma-Tour should always start and end with the gallery space. What paintings capture your attention when you first walk in? Is there anything in the background of a painting that catches your eye? What stories are being told? What would that painting smell like? Start to think aromatically, not just visually. Smells that describe what is in the painting are interesting, for instance a feast scene with a lobster might be matched to the scent of boiled lobster, but it is also about storytelling. What smell could you match with that image to make you think about that scene in a different way? Explore the gallery, investigate the collection, and pick a shortlist of 5-10 to go home a research in depth.

2. The Research

Buy books, go on the internet, use the gallery archive and research each painting you picked. What’s the story? Who’s the artist? Where was it painted? Start to think about the details of the painting, the interaction between the figures, the décor in the rooms, the time and space in which it was set. Research the stories within, and see if any tangents or ideas begin to emerge.

Princess Victoria aged Four - Stephen Poyntz Denning - 1823 .jpg

3. The Final Menu

From your shortlist, choose 3-4 paintings that you have come up with an aroma pairing for. If you think The Nurture of Bacchus (Gallery 12) would go great with the smell of red wine, choose that one. Perhaps you liked the painting of Princess Victoria aged Four by Stephen Poyntz Denning (Gallery 1), that used to be reproduced on biscuit tins, so I’d pair it with the smell of biscuits! Once you have your final list, make a little menu with the details of the paintings, the smell and why you think it matches.

4. The Smelly Bit

This is the point where you try to source your aromas. There are a huge amount of perfumes and essences available online so you should be able to find or blend most things. If you can’t find what you need, you can try and make your own by creating an infused tincture with alcohol, or making a natural extract using a flavourless oil as a base. Once you have all your smells, infuse them onto a perfume tab (or a thick strip of paper) by dipping it in and allowing it to dry for 30mins before packing it into an airtight container or polythene bag. Atomisers would also work, but most galleries do not allow liquids in the gallery space or near the paintings so these would not be advised for an Aroma-Tour.

5. The Aroma-Tour

With perfume tabs in hand go back to the gallery and sniff as you see! You’ll start thinking about the paintings in a different way and get your friends and family to experience it differently too. Smell is the sense most closely linked to memory so it’s an acquaintance with an artwork that you’ll never forget. Alternatively, if this sounds like a lot of hard work, fear not! AVM Curiosities have devised their own Aroma-Tour at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, as part of the Feast Late on October 6th. Alongside the host of other exciting activities, you can see and smell what we chose as our pairings… without the need to make your own lobster essence.

Aroma-Tour by AVM Curiosities - Ham House - Photo Paul Singer (2).JPG

The Aroma-Tour | Feast Late | Dulwich Picture Gallery | Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD | Friday 6 October 2017 | 6-10pm | Tickets £12/10 | Click here for more information.


We're delighted to announce that AVM Curiosities have been long-listed for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2017. Alongside the final one hundred artists, AVM Curiosities' installation, Obsidian Air, has also recently been published in Future Now, the Aesthetica Art Prize Anthology 2017.

Recognising both innovation and creativity, the Aesthetica Art Prize anthology showcases captivating projects from some of today’s leading artists, both established and emerging, across four categories: Photographic & Digital Art; Painting, Drawing & Mixed Media; Three-Dimensional Design & Sculpture; and Video, Installation & Performance.

From individual narratives to global concerns, the artworks comment on contemporary culture and explore themes such as alienation in the digital age, the intersection between public and private spaces, sensory experiences and the transient nature of life in the 21st century. As the boundaries between the public and the private begin to merge into blurred depictions of reality, contemporary art is a mechanism that enables us to respond to a renewed understanding of living.

The 2017 collection unites 100 artists from countries worldwide, including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Germany, Canada, the UK and the USA, providing an outstanding selection from over 3,500 submissions and a glimpse into the shifting landscape of creative expression. Through data maps, re-purposed sculptures, large-scale installations and conceptual negotiations of colour, this year’s Prize provides a diverse and emotionally responsive selection that looks to the future and reassesses the very notion of existence in an unprecedented time.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Future Now, please visit the Aesthetica website.

Obsidian Air , 2015, AVM Curiosities - Photo: Paul Singer

Obsidian Air, 2015, AVM Curiosities - Photo: Paul Singer

MENU: Waiting for Alma-Tadema

The menu below lists the three sensory pairings produced by AVM Curiosities for Leighton Late: Waiting for Alma-Tadema. The event at Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, London, took place on Friday 2 June 2017.

The Finding of Moses, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1904

While Frederic Leighton’s studio marks him as an ardent Orientalist, the Pre-Raphaelite’s love affair with the East was an inspirational wildfire that encouraged many artistic endeavors. The Finding of Moses had been a popular subject for paintings since the Renaissance, however the version by Lawrence Alma-Tadema is arguably one of the most revered on the subject. Interest in Egypt surged during the late 1800’s due to new archeological finds, with artists such as Alma-Tadema creating new and improved ‘authentic’ décor in their depictions. In celebration of the nineteenth-century's obsession with Egypt, AVM Curiosities have created a spiced honey and fennel bread with candied figs and zabadi; reflecting on both the content of the painting and recipes from 3000BC.


The Triumph of Titus, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1885

Commissioned by AVM Curiosities, composer and sound designer Troy Hewson has created an exclusive soundscape in response to Alma-Tadema’s The Triumph Of Titus. The aural interpretation draws upon several influences, but none more so than the impact that Alma-Tadema’s paintings have had amongst filmmakers, from the silent films of the 1920’s to the more contemporary work of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

The cinematic visual interpretation of Alma-Tadema’s work in films runs parallel to the cinematic aspects of my soundscape, as music has always heightened the dramatic feeling of a film, as it does with many visual stimuli. The elements and stories behind the painting exude images of not just patriotism and triumph but also family, intimacy and loyalty, which I believe are the quieter elements that keep a kingdom successful. So the key for me was to make the soundscape soft and reflective as well as dramatic and powerful.

– Troy Hewson

Edible Embroidery Workshop to accompany  Sweet Industry

Edible Embroidery Workshop to accompany Sweet Industry

Sweet Industry, Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, 1904

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema was Lawrence’s second wife, an accomplished painter, she specialised in domestic and genre scenes of women and children, often in Dutch 17th-century settings and style. Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a firm supporter of his wife’s work, and by today’s standards he would certainly be considered a feminist; he encouraged his wife and daughters to pursue careers in the arts and to become proficient artists in their own right (an independence that was reflected in his youngest daughter Anna’s commitment to the Women's Suffrage Movement). Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema’s work has been described as ‘highly sentimental’, often reflecting homely and feminine activities such as the embroidery in Sweet Industry. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why she was never as widely noted as her husband. To discuss this point, and the relationship between art and craft, creativity and gender, AVM Curiosities have created an Edible Embroidery Class during which these topics can be debated. 

Sweet Industry , Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, 1904

Sweet Industry, Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, 1904

Leighton Late: Waiting for Alma-Tadema
Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, London
Friday 2 June 2017