“Orange Mandala” Exhibition as Preparation for a Post-Growth Period

Kazuhiko Ota
Associate Professor, Nanzan University 

(1) On How to Consider Eating “Oranges” in a Post-Growth Period
 The United Nations reported that the world population surpassed 8 billion in mid-November 2022; it is expected to reach around 10 billion in the 2080s. However, the population growth rate is slowing down and the world population is projected to decline after peaking at around the 10 billion mark [United Nation 2022].1 Today, the period of rapid prosperity and growth-driven population explosion since the 1950s, known as the “great acceleration” [Steffen et al. 2015],2 is coming to an end, and the next few decades will contain a transition to a “post-growth” period in which most parts of the world will face declining birth rates and aging populations [Christensen et al. 2009; Kawai et al. 2021].3

人類史、迫る初の人口減少 繁栄の方程式問い直す: 日本経済新聞
<The world population will shift to a long-term decline after the 2080s> Figure: Kawai et al. 20215

 In this “post-growth period,” not only will formal food systems standardized by governments become more important, informal food systems that provide alternative channels for food procurement will also prove crucial. Activities such as home-growing, collecting, or picking, will become valued tools for maintaining local self-preservation and autonomy [Wald & Hill 2016].4 However, informal food systems cannot survive without the technology and a rich ecosystem of services to maintain them. This cannot be achieved overnight. We should consider the food system itself as an individual organism, it being necessary to take a holistic view of the various metabolisms (material metabolism) that are effectively at work during self-sustaining, developing and shrinking. The system should then be shifted into a mosaic of those metabolisms suitable for a post-growth period.


<Metabolism of the food system in growing and post-growth periods> Figure: McGreevy et al. 2022

 In discussing food in the era of 10 billion people, we often discuss it in terms of yield,  nutritional value, price, quality and other related matters [Savini wt al. 2022].6 This makes sense because food security is usually measured in relation to those categories. Indeed, food is often treated as a symbol with abstractions that are dealt with at each stage of its production, distribution, processing, retailing, consumption and disposal. However, our food – for example, the act of eating oranges – is about more than simple nutritional supplementation.

 One might ask, “what then, would be the point in thinking about food in a post-growth period in terms of factors such as yield, nutritional value, price and quality?” This would be absolutely correct. Let’s now speculate here on how well-understood aspects of “growth” in the food system we know are likely to change in a “post-growth” period.

 First, we will focus on the hurdles towards retaining large-scale distribution systems for a wide variety of food products in a post-growth period. Although distribution volumes do not necessarily decrease during periods of low growth, it is likely that food supplies will converge towards ever more uniform production, distribution and consumption in order to reduce transport costs as food distribution becomes less efficient [FAO 2017].7 The limiting of the range of food options (whether people want it or not), will also encourage local food production and consumption [Martinez 2010].8 On the other hand, companies would rather keep production costs down, as they will not be able to sell a high volume at too low a profit margin.Therefore, food companies will be eager to add value to the minute ingredient differences. For example, having famous chefs supervise and market a series of retort pouch foods with slight variations makes sense.

 In these circumstances, it will become essential to develop cooking methods to extract nutrition and achieve dietary variety with limited ingredients [Fabbri & Crosby 2016].9 However, it is a somewhat unlikely future in which all consumers will have access to a full range of cooking equipment (including 3D food printers) and be able to learn how to cook. Rather, there will likely be semi-public facilities, such as food courts, where people will be able to use multiple cooking utensils, and skilled cooks will gather. In urban areas where there are many elderly people living alone, it is conceivable that public cafeterias will provide everyday home-cooked meals like school lunches where meal passes and food stamps will be available [Fujiwara 2014; FEAST 2021].10 11 Additionally, in a post-growth period, it will be harder to obtain luxury items. In other words, it will become difficult to have the enjoyment of eating unusual, varied or unknown foreign foods you may never have tasted. So, the key point would then become not so much what one eats, but how to enrich the meaning of eating.

 If we look for the significance of eating in terms of the “result and effects after eating,” one might focus on food’s value as a nutritional supplement. However, in this paper we will instead examine “the moment of eating.” The enjoyment of everyday food is not limited to taste. Eating something memorable, eating with someone, with “you,” eating with someone who produced or supplied the food, or even eating with a non-human (or the divine, perhaps) through Shinto rituals such as Naorai – makes us feel content through embracing togetherness in society. It gives us a sense of inclusive satisfaction [Desmet & Schifferstein 2008; Mol 2021].12 13 For this to be possible, a stage is needed to set up and prepare the dining environment. As preparation, we can think about what we eat, for instance, oranges.

 In considering the process of eating oranges (citrus fruits), we can classify the act into three categories for descriptive purposes: (1) The “uneaten orange in front of you,” (2) “oranges that are being eaten right at this very moment,” and (3) “oranges that are generalized as a nutritional commodity and circulated through the market.” To this point in the essay, oranges have been discussed in relation to (3).

 (1) The “uneaten orange in front of you” can be easily accessed, picked up, the skin peeled, the carpels pinched, then eaten; squeezed to make juice; or even made into a confection by boiling down the peel with sugar. Or they could be used as weights to keep paper bundles from blowing away in the wind, as demonstrated at the exhibition, or as decorations on the front door imparting their fresh fragrance and vivid color. It could also be used as a weapon to throw at someone you don’t like. The oranges that are right in front of us as individual objects are like the glue that holds together the many possibilities of control we have.

 On the other hand, (2) “oranges that are being eaten right at this very moment” cannot be treated as individual objects. The taste and aroma of oranges flow in the mouth and nostrils like a cloud, instantly stirring our previous knowledge and experiences. By paying attention to the impressions that are lost in the blink of an eye, “Why did I remember this?” “What is hidden behind it?” (2) “oranges that are being eaten right at this very moment” make us imagine different aspects of (1) “the uneaten oranges that are in front of us.” The very orange being eaten is a medium that traverses the myriad entanglements of potentialities that underpin the orange’s phenomenology.

 We taste the actual orange and it descends into the levels of our subconsciousness (①→②). It could also affect us through the reverse process: evoke other memories through its taste and aroma (②→①). Kinan Art Week’s “Orange Mandala” exhibition held in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, in October 2022 was an event full of opportunities to connect images that are usually difficult to connect, by elucidating the many ways we come into contact with oranges, in which physical perception, knowledge, and experience are intricately mixed. 

(2) Exploring the “Orange Mandala”: Four Exhibition Sites

A. 《Orange Mythology VR》by Kosuke Tanabe at Tanabe en+, Tanabe City

 At tanabe en+, a local community hub in front of Kii-Tanabe Station, visitors could experience the virtual reality (VR) work “Orange Mythology” created by Kosuke Tanabe. When visitors put on the headset, the roots of the mandarin orange spread and Tanabe’s VR world fusing the underground and the universe would be drawn in real time in your vision. It was fascinating to be able to feel as if you had become a non-human creature living in the roots of our familiar fruit. 

人, 屋内, 子供, 座る が含まれている画像

Photo 1 Kosuke Tanabe《Orange Mythology VR》 Photo: Manabu Shimoda


 Yet, one might ask how the experience of virtual reality can transform our imaginations, especially with regards to food? The British philosopher, Karl Raimund Popper proposed dividing reality into three “worlds” (sets of things) as a way of better understanding the things we take to be real [Popper 1979].14 According to his three worlds theory, reality (or landscape) can be classified into the following three categories: the arrangement of physical space and things is “landscape 1,” the landscape inherent in individual consciousness is “landscape 2” and lastly the landscape shared by people, consisting of social and cultural understandings, is “landscape 3.” These three landscapes create a synergistic effect allowing us to interpret and grasp the landscape in space. Kühne points to the effect of virtual reality as not only demonstrating the contingency of landscape 3, but also extending the personal construction of landscape 2 [Kühne 2020].15 As a parallel to the three aforementioned categories of tasting oranges, we can imagine visitors would experience the “complex series of tasting processes in physical perception, knowledge and experience intricately mixed.” This experience, in ordinary life, might be simplified by social stereotypes and their reproduction without a person even realizing it. “Orange Mythology VR” depicted this tripartite reality by taking visitors into a landscape different from one’s everyday life experience.

B. Satoshi Hirose, Orange Collective, at Akizuno Yui Warehouse

 Satoshi Hirose’s installation, “Orange Collective: A Journey to Harvest/Fruit” invites us to view the great material circulation in three major aspects–life, industry and the natural environment by exploiting several elements of citrus fruits.

 The first is “oranges as edible food.” At the Akizuno Yui Warehouse, a processing site for citrus fruits, edible mandarin oranges are placed here and there, and I actually ate some of them given to me at the reception desk (not the ones on display), while asking how the warehouse was used on a daily basis. You could also buy and drink oranges at Kitera, the Akizuno local farmer’s market, which was jointly established by local farmers and is located next to the exhibition site. This aspect exposes the concept of “eating orange,” and the direct interaction we have with it, recognizing it as an edible thing. 

 The second aspect is that of “orange as inedible food.” At the venue, a huge piece of paper using the outer skin of mandarin oranges made from the surplus of the thinning process was hung, dividing a space into multiple sections, including the one where a video featuring interviews with local citrus farmers was shown on the screen. In addition, the reception area was also lined with picture books and books to explore more inedible oranges. That section focused on the linguistic and symbolic properties of oranges, attending to the viewer’s own framework and the contextual conditions in which they perceived mandarin oranges as an edible object. In doing so, it illustrated the second aspect of the imaginative process.

 The final aspect is “oranges as a perishable food.” The oranges on display were of course undamaged when I visited the exhibition. However, I could see that they would become decomposable if left unattended for half a month under the soft October sunshine. The passage of time and the change in the material due to the dynamics of the food itself are the third aspect activating the imagination.

屋内, 建物, テーブル, 座る が含まれている画像

Installation view of Satoshi Hirose, Orange Collective.

 These aspects are combined and expressed in the dialogue of “A Journey of Citrus Sapling” project between Hirose and Takuo Hara of Kishu Hara Farm, which aims to grow citrus saplings with participants (foster parents) living in Tanabe City or the Kinan region, and share them with a new farmland that will function as a commons farms.

C. “Soil and Roots / Exploring the Invisible Roots” at Aiwaso

 At Aiwaso, a ryokan in an old house on the ruins of Uenoyama Castle overlooking Tanabe City and Tanabe Bay, the works of Satoshi Hirose, bacilli, and the Cambodian contemporary artist Khvay Samnang direct one’s imagination to the soil in which oranges grow. Hirose’s photographic work depicted a motif of tree roots along the Kumano Kodo, bacilli’s work featured scented local soil, and Samnang’s video performance had him covering himself with sand on a lake that had been reclaimed for land development. All of these works focus on the soil that lies beneath our feet, with only its surface visible to our naked eyes. In the talk session featuring Samnang and Japanese anthropologist Toshiaki Ishikura, “Memories of Soil and Roots: from Cambodia and Kinan/Kumano,” soil was mentioned as something that does not move from its location compared to water and air, and is therefore strongly tied with a sense of placeness and regionality.


Installation view of bacilli’s “bacilli x Caravansarai – scented soil.”

 Neither the works nor the dialogue associated soil with an emotional image as the source of life or Mother Earth. Rather, after defining the non-human as properly non-human (non-human things that can not be understood on the basis of human time, space, and cognitive scales), the focus is on how to capture an imagination that sees the soil, rocks, air, rivers, biota and even human activities. In this mode of thinking, the exercise is then to ‘think with” the non-human rather than “thinking for” it [Tironi, 2020].16 Soil is an ideal non-human subject as it is very close to us, but not easy to understand. On the other hand, in most of the human and social sciences of the 19th and 20th centuries, soil was measured as an invisible infrastructure that supported urban cities, agriculture and markets, and was treated exclusively as a raw material or resource, detached from society. This imaginative attempt to capture the non-human perspective of soil and go beyond thinking of it as a “convenient product or tool for humans” will become increasingly important. Particularly so as half of the world’s population comes to live in urban areas and the concentration of people it supports continuously increases [Buchholz 2020].17


D. “Symbiosis with Fungi/Mycorrhizal Network” at SOUZOU (Former Iwahashi Residence)

 In SOUZOU (Former Iwahashi Residence), an old private house with a luxuriantly grown garden holding various plants and trees, the works of AWAYA (Japan), Tuan Mami (Vietnam), Quynh Dong (Vietnam), Tetsuro Kano (Japan), Pirayat Piyapongviwat (Thailand), Be Takerng Pattanopas (Thailand), Satoshi Hirose (Japan/Italy) and were exhibited in the house’s compartment room, storehouse, corridor, and garden. Almost all land plants, including oranges, have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi – it is estimated that around 50,000 species of it live in symbiosis with around 250,000 plant species. Likewise, our society forms a kind of symbiotic relationship with countless plant species, mycorrhizal fungi and certain groups of microorganisms that affect the multifunctionality of the soil structure and ecosystem, and control the circulation of nutrients and carbon. In many ways, the exhibitions at the venue offered a glimpse into the complex interactions between humans, plants and fungi.

 For example, Tuan Mami’s video work 《 Vietnamese Immigrants’ Garden (No. 2) 》, explored how Vietnamese immigrants recreate their hometown flavors and aromas in Taiwan through home cooking and traditional medicine. They do so by using Vietnamese herbs that they grow in often unusual places, such as on the rooftop of their houses, behind factories, or even in vacant lots. Mami learned about this from several months of research on and with Vietnamese immigrant communities in Taiwan. Nonetheless, controversially, it is illegal to bring in those seeds, plants and fruits into Taiwan.

屋内, テーブル, モニター, 画面 が含まれている画像

Tuan Mami 《Vietnamese Immigrants Garden (No. 2)》Photo: Mamabu Shimoda

 Mami’s work finds resonance in the perspectives of multispecies ethnography [Kirksey & Helmreich 2010; Kondo & Yoshida 2021]18 19 and multispecies anthropological [Swanson 2017; Swanson Okuno et al. 2019],20 21 which attempt to grasp events occurring before our eyes within the intertwining of many species and social institutions. The perspective from this discipline suggests that the oranges we usually eat are also the product of a nested structure of many peculiar interspecific networks. In a post-growth period, we may also envisage multiple new types of democracy, inclusive of non-human existence, like that of oranges [Yabumoto 2022].22

(3) Re-Tasting Oranges After the Orange Mandala Exhibition

 In this paper, I have raised the question of how to enrich the significance of eating and ‘the moment of eating’ in the transition to a post-growth period. Then, I interpreted Orange Mandala as an opportunity to extend the complex series of tasting processes that mix perception, knowledge and experience in multiple ways, and to connect images that are difficult to connect. The virtual reality (VR) landscape, installations that engage with multiple aspects of food, the dialogue between contemporary artists and anthropologists on soil, and the complex interactions between humans, plants and fungi are all motifs that can act as catalysts to change our current perceptions and the taste of our oranges for a long time to come. 


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Kazuhiko Ota
Kazuhiko Ota is an associate professor in the Department of Policy Studies at Nanzan University, Japan. His areas of specialization include food ethics, environmental ethics, milieu theory, and serious game. He organized the Asia Pacific Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics (APSAFE) 4th conference (2020) and the 5th conference (2023).

He was an Assistant Professor at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN), where he contributed to the “Lifeworlds of Sustainable Food Consumption and Production: Agrifood Systems in Transition” (FEAST Project; 2016-2020). In particular, he analyses case studies and policies in Kyoto, Akita, and Nagano to develop learning programs for sustainability transitions of food systems and establish a food policy council. In addition, he promotes transdisciplinary research with companies, non-profit organizations, and government through foodscape-themed summer schools and governance-themed serious game workshops.

Ota’s career has been marked by contributions to developing environmental ethics and policy in Japan. For example, drafting the Soil Conservation Basic Act (Toyota Foundation grant), translating the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (2015=2017) and Paul B Thompson’s The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics (1995=2017) and From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone (2015=2021).

Editor/Translation: YABUMOTO, Yuto
Translation: YAMAMOTO, Reiko
Localization: STRUCK-MARCELL, Andrew