SYNTHETIC ECOLOGIES COMPENDIUM
SEASON 1: MICROBIAL LORE
Serpentine Synthetic Ecologies Lab presents Compendium, a growing collective archive of resources, reflections, sketches, conversations, and content that support artistic and critical inquiry into ecology and life sciences. The inaugural season is on fermentation and deep dives into broad histories of knowledge and the invisible scales of life that govern not only our kitchens, but also our contemporary science, culture and technology.
The Synthetic Ecologies Compendium brings artistic and scientific communities into experimental exchanges through iterative narrative building, and contributes to the emergence of Synthetic Ecologies: an intersectional field investigating the interconnectedness of cultural inquiry and living systems in relation to adapting biological developments. Alongside an appointed Guest Curator, the Compendium’s transdisciplinary team of leading scientists, cultural producers, writers, chefs, artists, and researchers, collectively known as a Guild, work around a seasonal topic that propels this field’s construction.
Compendium Season 1: Microbial Lores offers four sub-themes that frame the Guild’s investigations: Cellular Trompe-l’œil, Non-linear Temporalities, Sensory Intimacy, and Stewards of Knowledge. These areas of investigation allow fermentation to be explored not only in the context of food, but also in relation to material innovation, interaction with microbial life, computation, biotechnological advancements in manufacturing, and in centering diasporic, indigenous and diverse forms of knowledge and cultural ritual.
The Synthetic Ecologies Compendium starts out as an online web tool supported by the platform Are.na, providing the infrastructure for research and on-going conversations. Echoing the topic’s intersectional positioning and the Guild’s diversity of expertise, the Compendium coalesces a variety of formats stemming from different knowledge cultures: journals, papers, diagrams, artwork, articles, aural songs, memes and paintings.
As the Compendium continues to grow, it will act as a ‘notebook of conversations’ and gradually aggregate into an expanding archive towards the end of the season in October 2022. From July to October, the Synthetic Ecologies Lab will present the work through a suite of editorial pieces and events with project partners, Guild members and special guests.
You may explore the Synthetic Ecologies Compendium, integrate it into your own research and connect to the wider communities in the emerging Synthetic Ecologies space.
Fermentation has reached fetish status within chef communities. Fermentation as ideology has reached the mainstream via civilian scientists and cultural arbiters. We see this in the Goopfication of our gut microbiome, trompe-l’œils like fake meats, and a generally marketable pro-probiotic lifestyle. Considered during our capitalistic, COVID-era of bacteriophobia and concurrent xenophobia, we as Synthetic Ecologies’ Fermentation Guild look to become students to the untold stories of fermentation, our curiosities develop in imagining the folding of time. Fermentation is for everyone and has always been.
Indigenous and interdisciplinary teachings have appointed stewards of knowledge: teachers, grandmothers, and the metaphorical mother, sometimes with gratitude to deities who have protected and passed on the techniques and bacteria through time. Bread is leavened, juice turns to wine, milk into cheese, and products and proteins are preserved to feed and sustain life.
In the contemporary, Western imperial and empirical teachings of science and fine-dining, invariably regulations, we arrive at the microbial via the microscope. Since fermentation has always been here (including with multi species organisms!) we’ve always relied on the senses to measure the magic of turning something indelible to flavorful and delicious. The 손맛할머니 sonmat, hand taste is sacred indicator. This opening via flavor, new tastes (like umami the 5th taste, and texture the a new 6th?) and today’s work of cellular agriculture, new leathers and antibiotics, the power of fermentation shows the expansiveness of its power via technology and time.
The porousness of our ancient vessels and soils, earth’s elemental materials like clay and earth, a Filipino coconut, holding water that turns to vinegar carry material memory. Vessels and containers to avoid contamination are considered against the modern impermeable vessels of plastics and borosilicate glass like the Petri dish. Wands and spoons transfer bacteria to the next batch, spawning another generation with a gusto of societal impact through persevering transformation. Fermentation unequivocally has and always must be an open science, an embodied muscle memory, an alchemy inviting the emergence of change, from one product to the next with a deepened, more nourished cultural landscape through the nurturing of communities of care.
Yasaman Sheri is the Principal Investigator and leads the Synthetic Ecologies Lab at Serpentine. She is an Artist and Designer investigating the creative and critical inquiry in life sciences. Her work explores the plurality of senses and the invisible scales at which humans frame and reframe ecology through culture, society and technology. She is an educator and design leader with more than a decade of experience building novel interfaces for immersive computing and curricula on sensory & experimental design. She writes frequently, mentors artists exploring emerging technologies and creative science and is an advocate for women identifying communities of color and folks less represented.
Angela Dimayuga is a New York City based chef, cultural producer and transdisciplinary artist. She is the co-author of Filipinx: Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora, an anthropologic, memoire-manifesto and design driven cookbook. As a humanities degree graduate, Angela’s practice is ephemeral and impermanent. She works towards emergent social praxis through engaging and producing experiences— sometimes with food, other artists, advocating for community care, and via organizing nightlife to celebrate queer and trans BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Colour).
Nadia Berenstein is a James Beard award-winning journalist, flavour historian, and part-time faculty at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Nadia holds a PhD in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation told the story of the growth of the flavour industry and the science and technology of flavour design; her ongoing research investigates how society, culture, and technology inform the experience of sensory pleasures and the shape of consumer desires, from food to fashion. Nadia’s writing has appeared in Epicurious, The Counter, MUNCHIES, Food & Wine, and Serious Eats, among other places.
Namita Patel is the Fermentation Manager at The Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research organisation making discoveries on how life works based in London, UK. Namita has over 15 years experience in pilot scale microbial fermentation for the production of material for early stage research projects, and holds a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering, with Biochemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham and Masters in Science in Biochemical Engineering from University College London.
Joshua Evans is senior researcher at the Danish Technical University’s Center for Biosustainability, where he leads the Sustainable Food Innovation Group. Josh’s work links flavour, ecology & evolution, biocultural diversity, and their politics in the Anthropocene—particularly through fermentation and microbes. He holds degrees in Geography and the Environment, History and Philosophy of Science, and Humanities, and has worked in culinary research and development.
Lucy Chinen is an artist, writer, and Co-Founder of Nonfood, an algae-based food company. She has previously written about food systems and food tech in relation to climate change. Most recently she has worked on Half-Earth Socialism, a game based on the book by Troy Vettese, developed by Francis Tseng and TRUST Support.
Seetal Solanki is a translator of materials. The Founder and Director of Ma-tt-er, a relational practice focused on providing access to materials through education, consultancy and design. Her work at Ma-tt-er reorients mindsets, behaviours and mechanisms towards alternative futures that are caring and respectful by providing ecological and nuanced strategies. Previous practice-based collaborations include the likes of Potato Head Bali, Molonglo Group, NIKE, Google, Serpentine, Venice Biennale, Dezeen, The Architectural Association, World Water Day, IKEA/SPACE10, British Council, The Design Museum, Hyundai and her work has been widely featured internationally.
Claire L. Evans is a writer and musician. She is coauthor of the Grammy-nominated group YACHT, author of Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, and co-editor of the upcoming speculative fiction anthology Terraform. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is an advisor to graduate design students at Art Center College of Design.
Chiara Di Leone is a writer and researcher currently focussing on anticipatory governance and the epistemologies of climate change. Her essays are published in several outlets, including NOEMA, Real Review, and TANK magazines as well as edited collections by Sternberg Press. She holds a Master of Arts from Goldsmiths University in London and a Bachelor of Science in Econometrics from LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome.
Alexander is cross-functional and integrated Producer within Serpentine Arts Technologies. Alex augments with creators and researchers across art, gaming, science and performance to best achieve their outputs and processes that have included Art Gallery of NSW, Design Museum, The Francis Crick Institute, and Royal Opera House outside of Serpentine Arts Technologies.
Charles Broskoski is one of the many co-founders of Are.na, a platform for connecting ideas and building knowledge. He has been building things on the Internet since his first website, 25 years ago, called "Welcome to Hell".
SYNTHETIC ECOLOGIES COMPENDIUM
SEASON 1: MICROBIAL LORE
Serpentine Synthetic Ecologies Lab presents Compendium, a growing collective archive of resources, reflections, sketches, conversations, and content that support artistic and critical inquiry into ecology and life sciences. The inaugural season is on fermentation and deep dives into broad histories of knowledge and the invisible scales of life that govern not only our kitchens, but also our contemporary science, culture and technology... Read more
Today synthetic biology uses fermentation in scientific laboratories granting the scaling of foods, materials and products that are animal-free and molecularly the same or simulated in wet labs. However, in eastern and middle asia, many derivatives of animal products have existed using fermentation with completely different outlook and profile. Trompe l’œil, translating to “trick of the eye” means optical illusion, and has been used within visual art for centuries to create the feeling of artificial or forced perspectives. What does it mean for us as we progress in technology and science to simulate what we don’t have, might not have, or will not be able to soon?
As we look beyond the eye we discover that living beings, be it humans, flora, fauna or microbes can sense in many forms. Through molecular intimacy, smell, taste, and touch empower some of the most fundamental ways in which biology, fermentation, food and materials are explored. Here we deep dive into the sensory intimacies, proximities of bodies, materials and living processes that emit and inspire sensing. Our relationship to culture, practice and ritual can embody methodologies and languages for engaging with living beings & microbes through the sensory.
Time is often seen as linear yet we know that we are also subject to trick of perception. Syncing to different timescales of various life forms breaks this linearity and pushes us to reconsider binaries of time. The same practice echoes in indigenous knowledge — traditions and rituals are both linear and non linear in our aural histories. Time can be seen as relational in cultures, communities, histories, life & death cycles, and intergenerational passing. Time is important in biology as it operates on many different paths and synchronicities. When it comes to fermentation, what do we learn from and how can we imagine a plurality of time, to reorient ourselves?
Vessels and carriers for fermentation can be petri dishes, clay pots, ceramic vases, embroidered fabrics, animal hyde, glass, wooden spoons, pipettes, labs. We explore themes of control practiced within sciences around materials that support hyper sanitization’s strict materiality. We juxtapose this exploration against historical and ancient materials that support the memories of microbes via porous boundaries and permeable materials for many living interactions and molecular documentation. In the abstract we also explore what it means to have vessels of containment for knowledge, care, and memory. What forms do social vessels take? What are our vessels for lasting? What does porous mean in the cultural and ritualistic sense?