that which is already there
The intense smell of grated ginger, garlic, and gochugaru has passerby students slow their steps through the studio kitchen on their way to class. I massage the cabbage, breaking vacuoles to push water out of the cells. Tiny grains of salt stick under my fingernails. After transferring the chunky, red vegetable pieces and spices into glass jars, layer by layer, we seal them. Now it’s up to Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus plantarum, and the rest to do their work.
Peter Sloterdijk writes (2009) that the defining, original features of the 20th century are terrorism, product design and the concept of the environment. Through the concept of environment the domains of life and knowledge are intertwined tighter than ever before. Sloterdijk situates the “discovery of the environment” to the trenches of Verdun 22 April 1915 where the German army intentionally used chlorine gas as a weapon against the Franco-Canadian infantry. The move from targeting individual enemy soldiers’ bodies with bullets and bayonets to rendering the enemy’s environment unable to sustain life is a defining point for the 20th century, according to Sloterdijk.
Fermentation practices – such as the kimchi-making session with the Posthuman Design Interest Group at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design glimpsed above – predates the atrocities of World War One by thousands of years (Boethius 2016). Here we find a less violent history of the environment. Transforming the environment of bacteria to produce a desirable, lasting and delicious outcome is an ancient technique of preserving vegetables and other foodstuff. It is a practice that requires care and patience – as well as a readiness to wait and to let go of precise, instrumental control.
The practice of wild fermentation (Katz 2016) eschews the control of the biotechnology lab. That/those which/who are already there, in the cabbage and on our massaging hands, are put to work. We can only try to create suitable living conditions for those microorganism we favour. Then we wait. We have to wait. Control hates waiting. We surrender some control so we have to wait. What kind of design act is this? Action space design?
Boethius, A., 2016. Something rotten in Scandinavia: The world’s earliest evidence of fermentation. Journal of archaeological science, 66, pp.169–180.
Katz, S.E., 2016. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Sloterdijk, P., 2009. Airquakes. Environment and planning. D, Society & space, 27(1), pp.41–57.