Fermenting Futures: A recap on “Yeast technology meets art”

An object by the artist collective Fermenting Futures in an exhibition.

The art exhibition “Fermenting Futures” at Künstlerhaus Wien came to an end and it’s time to recap and draw conclusions on the impressions left with the audience. After all, the goal of the event was to emphasize on the importance of yeast in modern biotechnology and highlight on how tightly entangled the history of humankind and this unicellular organism used to be, but most importantly how it continues to be. By the means of “BioArt”, the British artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May showed the aesthetics behind biotechnology and revealed if and how BioArt can play a role for knowledge transfer to the general public.

In the end, the question on how the visitors perceived the intersection between art and biology remains and what impression was left behind by the exhibition.

Art and biology – how visitors perceived this intersection

The majority of people visiting the exhibition was familiar with the term “yeast”, mainly with regard to its usage in baking, brewing and wine making. That the bakers yeast belongs to the group of unicellular fungi, however, and within this only represents one member next to many more interesting species, was equally new and fascinating for most of them.
Especially the topic of biodegradable plastic production raised many questions, and people seemed very intrigued by potential solutions using synthetic CO2 fixing yeast.
Contrary to other exhibitions, “Fermenting Futures” reached out for the direct dialogue with visitors. Discussion panels, interviews with the artists, scientific talks and workshops were offered and enabled visitors to directly dive into the yeast universe – and people loved it. Workshops were fully booked, and additional dates were demanded.

Lab in a museum

Next to the art pieces, bubbling bioreactors, shaking yeast cultures and steady microscopes turned half of the art exhibition into a laboratory, covering every topic from both areas of expertise.
In the end, visitors left personal notes on huge panels that described different yeast species designated as the “Wall of Yeast” with words like “Climate savior!”, “Make Pichia pastoris great again!” or “Great Exhibition!”.

All in all, communicating science by pointing at art sculptures turned out to be remarkably easy and excited the people as much as it created space for novel perspectives.

Authors: Marina Jecmenica & Simone Bachleitner