The significance of microbes in relation to a queer perspective on being is central to my thought process around this work. They/Them/Their was titled in reference to my gender pronouns and also to the multitude of microbes we coexist with. When framing the human in relation to prokaryotes (bacteria), we learn that they outnumber us in our own bodies as well as in the population on Earth, not just in numbers of individuals, but in total biomass as well. Microbes reproduce in myriad ways and cannot be defined by gender. If microbes are without gender and they make up at least half of our human selves, then are we are all pluralities? Are we are all they, them, and their?
L’importance des microbes en relation avec une vision nonhétéronormative de la vie est au centre des réflexions qui ont inspiré mon travail. Ils, eux, leur (sans connotation genrée), c’est ainsi que s’intitule mon article qui fait référence aux pronoms qui identifient mon sexe, et aussi à la multitude de microbes avec lesquels nous coexistons. Lorsqu’on positionne l’être humain par rapport aux cellules procaryotes (des bactéries), on se rend compte que les procaryotes sont plus nombreux que toutes les autres cellules de notre corps, et même que toute la population de la planète, non seulement en termes d’habitants, mais aussi en termes de biomasse totale. Les microbes se reproduisent de multiples façons et ne peuvent être définis de manière genrée. Par conséquent, puisque les microbes sont asexués et qu’ils comptent pour au moins la moitié de notre corps, sommes-nous dès lors des êtres pluralistes? Sommes-nous tous ils, eux, et leur?
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My work engages with microbial life through the inclusion of edible fermented foods in sculptural installations. In this work, the microorganisms present in fermented foods become sculptural actants. Seeing a floating SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) on top of tea or the bubbles and smelling kimchi is visceral, bodily, and can be revelatory. My own revelation with fermented foods has happened through extensive experimentation, research, and microscopy. The kitchen-lab leads to the studio, where each sculpture is created for a specific ferment. Formally, the sculptures elucidate my desire to create an artistic essence of, and environment for, the fermented food and its microbial profile.
Practically, the sculptures are constructed around vessels that contain the ferments. The vessels become a body for the viscous substrates, a way to rethink the binary of interior/exterior, and a way to make digestion transparent. Through this looking glass, microbial activity sheds light on anthropocentrism. The sculptures create space to reflect on our symbiotic relationship with microbes and the ancient ingenuity they bring to the table.
The significance of microbes in relation to a queer perspective on being is central to my thought process around this work. My 2016 solo show, They/Them/Their, at Black Ball Projects in Brooklyn, NY, was titled in reference to my gender pronouns and also to the multitude of microbes we coexist with. When framing the human in relation to prokaryotes (bacteria), we learn that they outnumber us in our own bodies as well as in the population on Earth, not just in numbers of individuals, but in total biomass as well. Microbes reproduce in myriad ways and cannot be defined by gender. If microbes are without gender and they make up at least half of our human selves, then are we are all pluralities? Are we are all they, them, and their?
They/Them/Their featured four fermentation sculptures, a large-scale wall sculpture, and a collaborative shelf of ferments. To inaugurate the show, I held a kimchi demonstration and packed the kimchi into its sculpture, Leuconostoc Mesenteroides (the title references the primary bacteria found in the beginning stages of kimchi fermentation). For the collaborative shelf, I invited people from the New York City fermentation community to bring jars of fermented food to share. The ferments were observed throughout the show, and they were festively eaten at the closing “harvesting” of the sculptures.
Before that show, in 2014, I was introduced to fermentation through a three-week residency at the Foundation for Fermentation Fervor, Sandor Katz’s Tennessee residency program for aspiring fermentation practitioners. Located within a network of queer intentional communities, the residency experience foregrounded the queer, trans-feminist, punk, and DIY connections to food fermentation. Post-residency, I wanted to bring the spirit of community, inclusiveness, and radical alchemical flavor to my work. The result has been to create programming for pieces that necessarily involves others with an interest in making fermented foods. Knowledge-sharing among community members, artists, gardeners, scientists, chefs, and bakers, has had the effect of decentralizing expert knowledge in favor of collective knowledge.
My 2017 solo show, Lactobacillus Amongus, at PLUG projects in Kansas City, MO, was premised on collecting all of the sourdough starters in the area. By doing so, I brought together a community of sourdough bakers that had not previously met. Elaborate narratives often accompany heirloom sourdough starters, so I collected sourdough stories from each participant. At the end of the show, participants brought homemade sourdough baked goods to a community potluck and shared sourdough stories along with their leavened contributions.
Conjured by the act of fermentation, a serendipitous collision between Food Studies and artistic enquiry is now the primary focus of my work and scholarship. Combined, art and food become a medium for dialogue around pressing contemporary questions: those surrounding the body and identity, cultural history and food narratives, food and social justice, and so many more. By celebrating fermented food through art, I aim to create experiences that elicit discovery and honour what we know and do not yet know about our symbiotic world.
S.E. Nash is a visual artist whose work engages with microbial life through the inclusion of edible fermented foods in sculptural installations. Nash received an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University in 2005. In 2017, Nash was awarded ArtsKC Inspiration grant for Lactobacillus Amongus. The Charlotte Street Foundation awarded Nash with a Rocket Grant for Garden Variety Soda Fountain, a community garden fermented beverage project commencing in 2018. Nash is the William T. Kemper Visiting Assistant Professor in Painting at the Kansas City Art Institute.
S.E. Nash est artiste de métier et ses oeuvres illustrent la vie microbienne par l’intégration d’aliments fermentés comestibles sur des installations sculpturales. Nash a obtenu une maîtrise en peinture et en gravure de l’Université Yale en 2005. Nash est récipiendaire d’une bourse d’inspiration (Inspiration Grant, concours 2017) ArtsKC [du Conseil régional des arts de la ville de Kansas City] pour leur projet sculptural Lactobacillus Amongus (Les lactobacilles parmi nous, traduction de l’équipe éditoriale) ainsi que d’une bourse Rocket (Rocket Grant) de la fondation Charlotte Street (Charlotte Street Foundation) pour leur projet Garden Variety Soda Fountain (Une fontaine de soda potager, traduction de l’équipe éditoriale), un projet communautaire de distribution de boissons fermentées qui devrait débuter en 2018. Nash enseigne au sein du département de la Fondation de l’Institut des arts de Kansas City (Foundation Department Kansas City Art Institute).