Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings

Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings

By Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin

Volume 23, number 3, Bio-Politics

Photo Credit Mary Kang

“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. This multimedia installation illuminates the vibrant materiality of immigrant bodies by transforming the space into an immersive DIY indoor garden and microbrewery.

The project 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?

In the space, I harvest various greens and homebrew lactic acid (LAB) as a plant and human probiotic drink. When consumed, LAB can fortify the gastric lining, improving metabolization and immunity. LAB also inputs microbes into the soil, cultivating complex, indigenous microbial communities. I consider these ferments as a vital material that suggests possibilities for common survival, interspecies symbiosis, and care.

“Microbial Speculation of Our Gut Feelings” provides an opportunity to reimagine the ecological composition of the human body as a speculative and animated site for microbial transformation.