Napkins of the Future

Walmer Yard, 27th April 2019

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Guests to Walmer Yard were invited to cast their gaze to the future to rethink the modest napkin. Over the past millennia there has been relatively little innovation in napkin technology, with paper napkins being used by the Chinese as early as the 2nd Century BC. This workshop explored potential napery innovations for centuries to come with a view to provoking a paradigm shift in the napkin use of future generations.

Napkins of the Future saw the design, creation and presentation of innovative napkins. Think napkins able to detect poison, alerting drinkers that their vodka may contain methanol. Others hold shape memory alloys that enable self-folding. Thermochomatic fabrics change colour with temperature if people overheat. Japanese diners today are concerned about the radioactivity levels of their produce following the Fukushima accident. Perhaps the napkin of the future will be able to protect wary eaters from such hazards.

The project further sought to rehabilitate the technically folded napery used by culinary greats such as Bartolomeo Scappi and François Pierre de la Varenne. During the 'Golden Age' of napkin folding there was an entire school in Nuremberg devoted to the art. The European tradition of figurative and complex napkin folding has long been abandoned by cutting edge chefs and left to languish
in provincial eateries. With the restaurant scene ever more competitive, canny maître d’hôtels are looking for ways to differentiate their front-of-house service - the future may shortly see the rehabilitation of the art of napery.

The napkins developed and research provocations will be the subject of a future exhibition, providing the world with insight into the future of dining. The project serves to re-ignite an interest in the art of napery and rescue it from the doldrums of dodgy restaurants. There is joy and wonder in the humble napkin.

We also asked guests to reflect on their relationship with napkins by asking the following questions. The answers were remarkably revealing:

  1. Did napkins play a major role in your childhood?
  2. How important are napkins in your life, do you own any now?
  3. What are your personal table etiquette do and dont’s?
  4. Has anything interesting ever happened to you involving napkins?
  5. Do you have a favourite napkin?
  6. If you found a used napkin, who’s would it have to have been for you to treasure it forever?
  7. What is your vision for napkins of the future?
  8. If you had to write a last sentence on a napkin what would it be?