Crumbs and all: Prince Harry, Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard have cutlery swiped for exhibition

For 15 years activist Van T Rudd, nephew of the former PM, has been collecting used forks from the worlds most powerful

Collecting unwashed forks might seem like a strange artistic practice but, with friends in the right places (read: working at luxury catering companies), it takes on a whole new meaning.

For the past 15 years, the Melbourne artist and activist V-T-R, real name Van Thanh Rudd, has been overseeing the swiping of cutlery from high-class hotel restaurants and function rooms, where the worlds richest and most powerful have been wined and dined. And now a selection of these forks in all their greasy, grimy glory are ready to be ogled by the rest of us.

When the 1% eat in various luxury hotels around the world, theyre served by thousands of hotel workers who have access to the cutlery they use, Van, the nephew of the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, told Guardian Australia. I worked in that particular area of the hospitality industry in the late 1990s and, to some of us, swiping their dinner forks from under their noses didnt seem out of the question.

And so we find greenish goop rusted on to a silver fork once held by Prince Harry; a tiny strip of meaty fibre munched on by Clive Palmer, clinging to the lower two tines; Hillary Clintons pilfered prongs left almost bare but for a few yellowing crumbs.

Its voyeuristic, bizarre and more than a little grotesque but chances are youre going to expand these photos to examine each crumb regardless.

A fork used by Prince Harry (circa 2013). Photograph: Rich Forks

A fork used by the billionaire and politician Clive Palmer (circa 2014). Photograph: Rich Forks

A fork used by the former US secretary of state and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (circa 2010). Photograph: Rich Forks

A fork used by the media proprietor and billionaire Rupert Murdoch (circa 2013). Photograph: Rich Forks

He is the nephew of a former PM but Van T Rudds name may be familiar to you in its own right.

A political activist and visual artist, he has been at the centre of a number of recent political controversies: three months before Julia Gillard ousted his uncle from government in 2010, Van had announced he would be running against her in the Melbourne seat of Lalor, for the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Later that year, when the ABC program Australian Story featured him in an episode, Uncle Kevin declined an invitation to appear; and in 2011 Van was fined and removed from the Australian Open after staging an anti-racism protest dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

But The Rich Forks has been Vans most longstanding project and next week a small amount of them will be exhibited at a community arts centre in Melbourne before the collection travels the world. (Van would not confirm whether this collection includes a fork from his relative.)

Van says the idea behind the project is two-pronged: on the one hand it takes back a tiny bit of the wealth of the 1% and on the other it exposes and infiltrates exclusive corporate dinners where billionaires and conservative politicians decide the future of our world while devouring premium food and wine.

A fork used by the former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard (circa 2007). Photograph: Rich Forks

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