Dialogue - Issue #3
Fermentation can be a metaphor for creation in a world of constant change. As makers, we should embrace the vitality that can be found in any transformative process, including those we perceive as decay.
Is it possible to simultaneously try to shape the world while also surrendering to its uncontrollable forces? As a researcher working with food in the fields of art and design I spent a long time feeling bewildered by this question. I was certain that all things were entwined in an infinite ballet of materials, but I couldn’t immediately articulate this conviction. To question materiality, I had to interact with matter.Through practicing fermentation, I came to make sense of this ongoing intuition. Matter is not inert: it is alive, unfixed, set in motion. It shapes makers as much as they shape it, in a never-ending dance of intertwined forces, of merging, interdependentlives.
This is especially noticeable when making food. Then, creators must give primacy to the materials and, through them, to the processes of transformation. This focus gives rise to a constant back-and-forth, a reciprocating movement, involving much more than one-sided human will. Fermentation, the transformation of food by microrganisms, is a striking example of this phenomenon. Within a favourable environment created to enhance their development, microorganisms produce enzymes that alter the food available to them. Fermented products may be seen as rotten and it can be hard to imagine decay as a lively development, particularly because its power isn’t always obvious to the naked eye.
But beyond what’s immediately perceptible, fermentation appears to be an intrinsically creative act, which engages with vigorous materials. You need only encounter a mature, unrefrigerated cheese to realise how much it is there, tickling each and every Fermentation can be a metaphor for creation in a world of constant change. As makers, we should embrace the vitality that can be found in any transformative process, including those we perceive as decay. sense. Fermented matter has a powerful presence. It is moving. A closer look with the help of a microscope could dispel remaining doubts: rot is swarming with manifold vitalities.
The act of fermenting, with its transitory results, triggers the same feelings one might have when spending time with a work of art. Both experiences are engaging, interrogating. They expand. Their outcomes turn into things, instead of settling as objects. They speak about and cultivate growth, evolution, change. Fermented foods are artful.They remind us that we are simple,living entities,sharing the world with an infinity of other, equally potent, life energies. Through this lens, fermentation becomes a precious asset to question the way that we, as humans, create. Fermentation posits creativity as remote from any omniscient standpoint.
It invites us to set our feet on a sinuous path. The flexible posture it suggests calls for mobility and loss of control over what may emerge. The artist Paul Klee claimed that “form-giving is life”. And, since all materials are immersed in cycles of constant mutation, I think creators should consider themselves as an inherent part of that process. Designers, artists - anyone, really - should consider themselves humble forces, overlapping, collaborating with others. In a shifting environment, let’s shift too. Let’s mimic microbes, responsive, playful and observant. Instead of manipulations, let’s engage in constant interactions. Let’s dive in and even ingest some of what’s around. That way we can create inside and along with the world, which, like us and with us, is constantly becoming.