Landlords in London are among the worst people on the planet. I’m just about to sign a contract on a flat, so I hope my landlord doesn’t Google my name and read that sentence. But look, Sam, even you have to admit that it’s true. Renters paying more than half of their monthly income to someone who owns an actual yacht. This is the reality of being alive in London in 2019.
It’s easy to slip into an existential malaise at the thought of a lifetime spent footing the bill for a rich person’s perpetual holiday, especially if water is leaking through your ceiling or there are black mould spores in the bathroom. But that’s just one way of dealing with London's rental market. An alternative is to turn your situation into something constructive – or fermented.
That’s exactly what Avril Corroon, an art student at Goldsmiths, has done for her final project. Taking samples from the most cursed fungal growths she could find in rented accommodation around London, Avril made a selection of artisanal cheeses that look good enough to eat. Except, they’re not; they’re stinky reminders of just how terrible rented accommodation can be in one of the richest cities in the world.
I met up with Avril at the university to talk about her abominable creations.
VICE: Avril, hi. Talk me through what you’ve done here
Avril Corroon: I have been collecting samples of mould from rental accommodation and using it as bacteria starter culture to make cheese.
So, using it in the milk. The resulting cheeses are large, artisanal-looking products. They look edible, but they are in fact poisonous.
Yeah, they're toxic.
How toxic are we talking?
I don't know officially because I couldn't afford to get the cheese tested in a food lab, but I’ve given myself some food poisoning in the past just from touching it and not washing my hands properly. Maybe I touched it and had a drink of water, I think.
And that was enough?
Yup. And my housemate’s boyfriend got a bit of it as well. At the beginning, I didn't really know how powerful it was.
Like the Soviets and Chernobyl
Yeah, I mean it's quite a complicated process. When you make the cheese, you have to turn it out of its mould. It takes like a lot time and close contact but eventually, they come out looking like high-end commodities.
Yeah, they do they look really tasty, and it smells really good. You’ve really got the cheese shop ‘feet smell’ nailed
Thank you. So, I've been making this high-end commodity out of the mould from my housing as well as people that I've found on the internet, colleagues, studio pals, and you know, people who advertise free things on Facebook.
People are trying to ship mould on Facebook?
There's a group called ‘Free Stuff South East.’ I posted on there to see if anyone had any free mould going.
What did you ask for?
I think it was simply, “Does anybody have some mould?” and I got some results! People were curious and into the idea. It was quite a lot for people to have a stranger into their home, and to ask them about how much rent they pay and stuff.
What was your extraction process? Did you just scrape it off the walls?
I looked up that when people send off to labs for what type of mould they have, they often ask that you do a Sellotape print. That became quite handy for being able to wash it out of the Sellotape and into the milk.
Okay, so does each toxic cheese block come from a specific place?
This one's from Camberwell; the people who live there are called Rousa and Jasbo, both friends of somebody I worked with. They've been living there for seven years and have been having mould problems for a lot of it. It was growing underneath their bed, so I swabbed it from there.
Delicious. It looks like a fishcake. You definitely can't eat this though, right?
You would hurt yourself. You could have serious diarrhoea, cramps and vomiting. The malt has poisoned the milk, and dairy food poisoning is really, extremely bad. Have you ever had food poisoning? It feels like you might die.
What about being around the cheese and inhaling its must?
Black mould is more of an airborne thing.
So, it is airborne and you’re going to kill everyone who comes to look at your work?
Well, I've made it wet, so it's actually fine.
What do you hope to achieve with the dangerous cheese?
The idea is to juxtapose precarious living standards with that of wealth, gentrification and thinking about where money is invested and where it is disinvested, and how often products are all made from a type of exploitation.
Out of these odious, milky discs, which do you think is the most heinous?
I think the one from Camberwell was actually quite sad, it had been an ongoing problem, and nothing they could do would work. And sleeping with it under this person's bed, there are lots of damaging health effects.
These guys here [the New Cross Caerphilly and Brockley Blue cheeses] look particularly abhorrent
Yeah, they are melting throughout the day. I don't have this fridge plugged in, so I'm letting them fester. The finished cheeses are quite abject; ill bodies representing the house that they've come from, as if the house is ill. I wanted that one to go in the corner because it looks exhausted with itself: dilapidated and falling apart.
Why cheese and not something like bread?
Because I think that there's an interesting thing with disgust and desire, specifically with cheese. Cheese has the same cell structure as ammonia. It's the smelly feet smell, you know? When someone's shaving Parmesan in front of you in an Italian restaurant, it's fantastic. If you go outside and somebody's puking in the street, the smell is actually the same, but your reaction to it changes.
I like how you've taken something inherently destructive – house mould – and created something from it: death cheese
I want the whole installation to have sort of a sinister vibe to it. I think of the cheeses as if they were bait or a little trap for the landlord. I'm thinking that when this is finished, I am planning to gift them to the real estate agents where they came from.
Thanks for chatting, Avril.