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Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings

Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin

A photo of microbes
A photo of microbes

Due to the process-based nature of the Session program, this project will undergo constant modifications; the features of this page provide accruing information on the project’s developments.

January 9–February 22, 2020

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Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings uses the gut’s microbes as a way of looking deeply into immigrant health and resisting processes of colonization. Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin’s Session at Recess illuminates the vibrant materiality of immigrant bodies by transforming the gallery space into an immersive DIY indoor garden and micro-brewery. Shin will home-brew lactic acid and use it to facilitate plant growth and seed germination, a tradition used in a Korean natural farming called JADAM. In the spirit of JADAM, which translates to “people that resemble nature,” Shin will harvest plants, herbs, and fungi, all of which will be foraged for a final, microbial dinner feast.

The gut’s microbial composition governs many of our bodily systems: the skin, neurotransmitters, immunity, metabolism, mental health, and digestion. Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings responds to research published in 2018 in the scientific journal Cell that shows that immigrants lose their native gastrointestinal microbes within six to nine months after arriving in the United States. These native microbes are then replaced with microbes more common in European-American people, a process that makes immigrants more vulnerable to metabolic diseases. Given this, how might immigrants resist the literal and material Westernization of their bodies?

Taking ecology as subject and methodology, Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings dives into Shin’s research on lactic acid bacteria (LAB). When consumed, LAB can fortify the gastric lining, improving metabolization and immunity. LAB is also a natural probiotic that inputs microbes into the soil, cultivating complex, indigenous microbial communities. Shin considers these ferments as a vital material that suggests possibilities for common survival, inter-species symbiosis, and care.

Shin’s home-brewed lactic acid and indoor garden provide an opportunity to reimagine the ecological composition of the human body as a speculative and animated site for microbial transformation.

Session invites artists to use Recess’s public platform to combine productive studio space with dynamic exhibition opportunities. Sessions remain open to the public from the first day of the artist’s project through the last, encouraging sustained dialogue between artists and audiences. Due to the process-based nature of Session, projects undergo constant revision and the above proposal is subject to change.

About the artist

Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin

Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin explores the porousness of bodily boundaries and the ceaseless movement of living processes, like fermentation, echoing the history of colonialism. Shin is interested in entangling the history of conquest and the literal digestion of material – smells, microbes, and food – into a new system of relations that emerge from a complicated history of entanglement. Shin has shown internationally at Lewis Center for the Arts; Cuchifritos Gallery; Cody Dock; Knockdown Center; AC Institute; Abrons Arts Center; Tiger Strikes Asteroid, among others. Select commissions and fellowships include 2019 Visiting Artist Fellow at UrbanGlass and 2019 Visiting Artist for Col(LAB), Program in American Studies at Princeton University. Shin lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

artist website


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