Bright young silversmith Kathleen Reilly gives an insight into what happens when some of the most creative minds in food and design come together to celebrate the experience of dining. Handpicked alongside twenty-four other artists to collaborate with Dutch creative collective Steinbeisser in their most recent series of Experimental Gastronomy events, Reilly builds upon well-trodden themes within her own practice: the relationship between form and function, and how ambiguity can encourage a reawakening of the instinct for play and exploration at the dinner table. Her resulting collection is an elegant display of craftsmanship and innovation, further elevated by the stunning organic, plant-based cuisine it was made specifically to showcase.
We’ve spoken to Kathleen Reilly before: on the cusp of studying for an MA at London’s Royal College of Art, she was building upon her already extensive experience in design. Since then, an intriguing collaboration with Amsterdam-based Steinbeisser – those behind the Experimental Gastronomy initiative, which celebrated its 5th anniversary in 2017 – has allowed Reilly to create a selection of visually stunning work which complements the harmonious beauty of culinary creations from renowned chefs.

Bringing artists and chefs together to create experiential dining experiences, Steinbeisser encourages creatives to push the limits of form and function: to explore how art can overturn tradition and encourage diners and chefs alike to approach food from a new perspective. Diners at Steinbeisser’s events partake of carefully constructed culinary gems which are housed in, perched on and draped across sculptural vessels, platforms and boards: using equally fantastical utensils which transform every bite into a considered act. Eating becomes akin to performance art, enabling time for reflection on every aspect of the experience.
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Reilly was asked by the collective’s co-founder, Martin Kullik, to produce a series of twenty works which celebrate culinary and artistic experimentation of the highest calibre. She deconstructs her creative process: “This series maintains my vision for curiosity and play when eating, with many items holding ambiguous functions. Looking at common anecdotes centred around table manners, I hope to switch up and alter habits – plates that balance on bottles and glass not only change entrenched ideas of where food should be situated, but encourage new order and provoke movement.”

As a collection, the works exude a zen-like element of poise, balance and calm. Of her origami-like steel dishes, suspended by ribbons and seemingly light as paper, Reilly says: “This series was very much about pushing the simplest ideas. I used a lot of snipping and folding of basic shapes – rectangles, circles and cones – to create new and interesting forms. I’ve really got to thank the steel for achieving the folded paper effect. Steel’s strength means that very thin sheets can be folded and cut with the vice and guillotine; they can appear as thin and light as paper while remaining durable.”
“I try to let a piece of metal or glassware speak to me before I start making. I then try to encompass what I am feeling and seeing, which should hopefully result in a sense of visual and proportional harmony.” Kathleen Reilly
Some of the silversmith’s most remarkable creations appear completely weightless, hovering halfway up a champagne flute or perched atop glass bottles. Containers are tipped, balanced and arranged in such a way as to emulate a moving or floating object caught in a split-second moment of absolute stillness. She explains: “I had been wanting to explore this idea for a while – using the space around a vessel to create a new structure for serving. We place everything on the table’s surface. I wanted to explore a new level – the area around a vessel, above the table –, how it could be utilised and how eating at this level would feel or perform.”

The delicacy of Reilly’s pieces stems from a desire to enhance, but not overpower, the purity of the plant-based food produced by Daniel Burns of New York’s one Michelin starred restaurant Luksus: “When using materials like aluminium, copper or brass I was very aware of how food’s acidity can react with metals, and the potential for this to alter the taste. I used silverplating and powdercoating to ensure this reaction wasn't possible. Many of the ingredients were foraged and I didn't want the materials of my work to compromise the flavours the chefs were producing.”
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The artist harbours the same innate respect for her materials as talented chefs have for their ingredients, sourcing inspiration from the objects and materials themselves: “I try to let a piece of metal or glassware speak to me before I start making. I then try to encompass what I am feeling and seeing, which should hopefully result in a sense of visual and proportional harmony.” This craftsmanship combines with the trademark lightheartedness that is fast becoming a signature element of her work: “I compliment humour with sleek lines, simple shapes and soothing colours, thus retaining a visual elegance.”

Scrolling through Steinbeisser’s online store Jouw provides a veritable feast for the eyes: each piece of cutlery and dishware is an objet d’art reflecting the organic splendour of the cuisine they were made to showcase. Reilly attended the immersive dining experience in Amsterdam to celebrate Experimental Gastronomy initiative’s 5th anniversary along with five of the other artists. “It was really interesting to get to know them: we came together from many different locations and experienced the food together. Seeing the dishware and cutlery in action was a truly unique experience.”
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