The 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 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.
Compendium Season 1 will be launched on 7 July 2022. Sign up to the R&D newsletter to receive a notification.
The Synthetic Ecologies team, project partner Are.na, the Compendium‘s Art, Design and Development team, and the Guild, will continue to prototype, iterate and build on the Compendium throughout the summer.
- Curatorial Statement: Angela Dimayuga
Fermentation has reached fetish status within chef communities and Fermentation as ideology is increasingly entering the zeitgeist via civilian scientists and cultural arbiters. We see this in the “Goopification” of our gut microbiome, trompe-l’œils, such as fake meats, and a widely marketable pro-probiotic lifestyle. Considered during our capitalistic, COVID-era of bacteriophobia and concurrent xenophobia, we as the Synthetic Ecologies Fermentation Guild look to become students of the untold stories of fermentation, our curiosities developing through 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 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 filled with regulations, we arrive at the microbial via the microscope. Since fermentation has always been here (including with multi species organisms!) and we’ve always relied on our senses to measure the magic of turning something indelible into something flavourful and delicious. The 손맛할머니 sonmat or ‘hand taste’ is sacred indicator. There is an opening via flavour: through the recognition of new tastes (like umami the 5th taste, and texture the new 6th?) and developments in cellular agriculture, new leathers and antibiotics, the expansive power of fermentation is shown.
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 to carry material memory… 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 and the nurturing of communities of care.
- Yasaman Sheri (Project Direction)
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 (Curation)
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 (Contribution)
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 (Contribution)
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 (Contribution)
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 (Contribution)
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 (Contribution)
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 Evans (Writing)
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 (Lead Research)
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 Boyes (Production)
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.
Compendium is created and developed as part of Synthetic Ecologies Lab
Charles Broskoski, Platform
Mindy Seu, Design
Somnath Bhatt, Art
Brian Huddleston, Typeface
James Wreford, Development
Special thanks to
The Francis Crick Institute
Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann
The Synthetic Ecologies Advisory Board:
Holly Jean Buck
Aslak Aamot Kjærulff
About Synthetic Ecologies Lab
As part of Serpentine’s R&D Platform and led by Yasaman Sheri, the Synthetic Ecology Lab aims to support artists in working with emerging biological technologies and ecology by strengthening the foundations for art’s critical inquiry and intervention into these spaces. This is done by integrating insights derived from existing art-science collaborations as well as exploring the tools and models for collaboration in new artistic engagements with the sciences and ecology.
About Arts Technologies
The programme supports artists in nurturing ambitious ideas and developing artworks that work with advanced technologies as a medium, tool or topic, often evolving iteratively and operating beyond gallery walls.
The foundation of the Arts Technologies programme is located in an evolving R&D Platform that supports the development of infrastructures for ongoing artistic exploration and interrogation of wider technological conditions within society.