Tasting bubbling naturecultures and touching m/other‘s hands – Aesthesias of ficrobial touch points
My project explores co-being and interdependencies with the more-than-human, the microbes. It does this through the medium of fermentation and the (human and non-human) communities embodied in its practices. Thereby the following designs try to resist our commodification of and alienation from food. Yet, considering that our human cells are outnumbered by microbial ones, the designs also bring us to face our very own identity and the construct of human exceptionalism and detachment of nature and culture.
The sprawling outcomes engage our bodily senses, using design to bridge, making the insensible sensible, the intangible tangible, and the inaudible audible. While there have been many more explorations, workshops and experiments conducted in this project, for showcasing matters, I will focus on raising three projects to the surface: a meditative companion poster, two bubbling vessels, and eleven intervention-sourdough-letters.
What is this being
crawling out of my pot?
Knocking and scratching
against the surface for days
Soon it will become me
Or is it me already?
It has been me before
Before I introduced it
into its old new place
Who is who?
How to hear our silent comrades? By giving a medium to bridge, a water-sealed lid on a pot, a crock used for fermentation, where noises become hearable for our human ears. The gases developing by the microbes feeding, like in our guts, are raising to the top and escape through the water, creating audible ‘blubbs’.
To remind us that we are not alone.
“Companion species, cum panis, breaking bread, eating and being eaten, the end of human exceptionalism.” – Donna Haraway
Microbes in sourdough can be linked to the baker‘s hand microbes. But also the baker‘s microbes are effected by the interaction with sourdough, Herman‘s culture, exposing that we influence each other.
What happens when we share culture (human and microbes)? Through our hands, eating and digesting parts of others and becoming with. To share culture means to see that humans and ‘non-humans’, more- than-humans, are one. To taste that our culture is shared. And to feel that nature and culture are not two but one. Can you taste it?
In my multitudinous and sprawling explorations, applying different types, scales, and levels of design, I am working in collaboration with. With other people, crafting workshops, as well as the ones in the workshops, generating new insights on both sides, and Herman‘s Companion Letters, where everyone equally becomes a host and part of Herman, spreading him again to others. Most importantly however my project would not be possible without the collaboration with microbes, both in this project and my very own existence as a human being. As part of my research, I discovered many inspiring practices of all disciplines, artists, designers, cooks, writers, researchers, museums, projects as sourdough hotels and libraries. My research stretched from microbiology to history, from identity to nurture, care and food and back, influencing me before and while conducting my own work.
My story and journey of these transdisciplinary design explorations, touch points with microbes and human sense, was building on to the values already existing in fermentation practices around the world. In my process, I did many explorations and gatherings with other people to get a more wholesome, more ’multitudinous‘ picture from various angles. They challenged peoples’ conception of fermentation, microbes, and themselves, through making tangible and sensible, and generated sharing of stories, ferments, and microbes. By exploring these practices, we built on our communities around food but also felt the more-than-human communities inside of us. Language and guidings already existing in fermentation cultures express this notion of care and liveliness in the microbes. Like the naming step in my companion letters, the ferment is presented as something alive, something to be cared for. Yet we humans have to embrace the “unruliness, uncertainty, and comparative slowness of biology”* that comes with such old practices as fermentation. Therefore we must trust more in our senses and dependencies with others (be it human or not), challenging the linear movement towards time efficiency in our food culture. We have to ferment our fear and disgust and dare to explore. To ferment: to stirr up and produce exciting change.
Overall, on the one hand I hope to encourage to this hands-on fermentation, practices which not only benefit our and our more-than-human side, but re-evoke old and embodied knowledge, build up communities (of sharing food, starters, and knowledge), value local, seasonal food, and utilize produced surplus. All these elements counteract our alienation from food. On the other hand, my design explorations have a metaphorical and theoretical side to reflect upon, questions of what it means to be dependent on more-than-humans, to be human, cultural and natural. This insight of us as natural and dependent, contrary to human exceptionalism, hopefully leads to an extension of our care towards non-humans and our planet.
We are no individual. We are multitudes. Both in our own identity, and the collaborative chore that underlies our food. We should cherish these collaborations and interdependencies that food can re-evoke outside (like a shared sourdough starter or passed on advice and recipes) and inside of us (like the microbial side of us that has to be nourished too). There is a need for more designs to ask for these collaborative food practices and create narratives of co-habitation with the more-than-human.
In our modern world, many things are invisible to us, be it things happening outside of our bubble, or inside of our own bodies. Design can help exposing these stories, through the form of the design that ‘reveals’ the inside or behind which is not sensible by our bare human senses alone, or with the action the design provokes in the recipient, challenging to see and understand more than the surface. We all (humans and more-than-humans) share nature and culture together. And the way in which we shape our world, the way in which we design our world, should not hide this fact, but bridge to make sensible and perceptible.