Sweet Addiction is the inaugural exhibition of the new Calyx venue in the Royal Botanic Gardens. For a small fee, you can step inside one of the most beautifully curated exhibition spaces to learn the history and art of chocolate. It is a truly aesthetically pleasing and informative space that once you enter, you’ll find difficult to leave. There were four main aspects of the exhibition that are worth mentioning.
1. Layout of the Exhibition
The exhibition was easy to navigate. This was mainly due to the fact that it was effectively separated into distinct areas through the placement of large exhibition panels. These panels displayed both photographs and text. Whilst there was a didactic way to follow the exhibition, it also allowed for a more free-form wander. You could select which path to follow depending on whether you were interested in the panels or more interested in seeing the plants.
There have been a few times when I have walked into an exhibition space and was immediately amazed by how it appeared. The audio guide said it best – this is a living art gallery. The plants add such natural beauty to the exhibition space. They are not simply there because it is the Royal Botanic Gardens, but, they have been curated very thoughtfully. For example, my favourite part of the exhibition was the green wall that was filled with hidden messages and surprises. Right at the end of the exhibition space, the wall has an arrangement of flowers that mimic chocolates in a chocolate box. It is not until you read the panel (or this blog sorry for spoilers) that you realize their significance. You can see from the photograph below what it looks like!
Another exhibition design element that was wonderful to see were jars filled with various ingredients displayed on shelves. These represented the different additives that can go into chocolate. Something so simple worked so well. My favourite was the jars of citrus fruit that looked so colourful and fresh.
3. Integration of Content
As my friend Emma stated, the exhibition successfully integrates messages of sustainability, history, mechanical processes and botanical elements. All of these themes were well interwoven and supported each other in creating a larger story of chocolate.
This was achieved particularly well in the final stages of the exhibition. Shelving units with the ingredient jars, thematic panels on some relevant historical topics, an outline of the mechanical processes involved in manufacturing chocolate, and fun fact cacao pods you could lift to find interesting snippets of information were all included in the same space. I loved the pod titled Bad Medicine? Underneath was the fact that “chocolate was once prescribed for dysentery, flatulence, gout and even smallpox.” If you listen to the audio guide whilst weaving through the different areas you can also hear about issues of sustainability surrounding the farming of cacao.
Even the information on the other exhibition panels was well organized. Each panel was divided into different segments so you could focus on one or two quotes, or on paragraphs of information. The use of visuals was fantastic with my favourite being the timeline of the chocolate bar. Of course, the section on Aztecs was also a highlight. I felt the panels had just the right amount of text and, combined with the audio guide, provided a great overview.
4. Audio Guide
Whoever narrated the audio guide, well done. Nothing is worse in a museum than listening to an annoying voice on an audio guide. Anyway, this audio guide was great. Each section was about 2 minutes max meaning you weren’t lingering in the same place for too long. There were options to hear further information or continue with the tour. I thought the information complemented what was on the panels and did not just simply repeat the same stories etc.
Overall, the exhibition was an absolute delight. It was curated to be a calming environment that honestly makes you want to stay and read/listen more. The only advice I would give is to try and avoid it on a really hot, humid day. The sun was beaming down on us for the majority of our time inside and this paired with the humid conditions inside the room meant it was a little uncomfortable. There are, however, plenty of spots to sit in the shade.
Just when you think it can’t get better, you can help yourself to some quality Lindt chocolate at the end. It is truly an exhibition that you will leave content.