The Transformative Art of Fermentation

Read about Kansas City-based artist S.E. Nash as he explores the wide world of microbes in his interactive, thought-provoking exhibitions.

| Fall 2019

Graphic from Adobe Stock/dikobrazik

For visual artist and food fermentation experimentalist S.E. Nash, the art of fermentation is just that: art. Nash’s concepts, creations, installations, and mediums all engage microbiota in intellectual, political, and personal ways. His installations are places of learning that are full of play, change, growth, and transformation. The question is, who’s performing? Is it the created works, the artist, or both? And considering that about 50 percent of the human body is composed of microorganisms (living, unicellular commandos in a perpetual network of information exchange), it’s not unreasonable to wonder if microbes are also co-creating and performing his works — a thought that I think Nash would like.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nash in his home studio before venturing into Kansas City, Missouri, together for a lunch featuring a bit of microbe-infused fare. I learned a lot about this inquisitive transgender artist, his work, and his muse: the human biome.

“Lactobacillus Amongus” photo by Logan Acton

Generative Energy and Communication

As it turns out, both microbes and artist are performing in Nash’s works, right along with the viewers. Nash creates sculptures that house transparent fermentation vessels filled with fermenting grains or vegetables. These vessels are visible to viewers, who are encouraged to engage with them by opening them, smelling them, and, in some cases, feeding them. “The sculptures create a space to reflect on our symbiotic relationship with microbes and the ancient ingenuity they bring to the table,” Nash says. This reflection is brought to fruition in his installations, which often culminate in community food preparation and shared meals.

“Turnip Costumes” photo by Kenny Johnson for the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art



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