“Cum Panis: the Biopolitics of Self, Fermentation and Revulsion” presented by Bates


Session Title:

  • Germs - (Re)volting data

Presentation Title:

  • Cum Panis: the Biopolitics of Self, Fermentation and Revulsion




  • The human microbiome has received a lot of attention in the last ten years, with claims that human cells are outnumbered ten to one by bacteria, fungi, arachnid, and insect cells, and an explosion of scientific research into the importance of such microorganisms to human evolution and health. Monica Bakke claims that knowledge of our microbiome does not threaten our identity although “an awareness of it definitely alters the way we think of our bodies, as they no longer can be perceived as sealed vessels”. However, Bakke’s claim ignores a long lineage of scholarship that shows that the perception of the body as “sealed vessel,” a “unified self,” has always been a fantasy.

    This paper discusses a number of recent artworks that demonstrate the ability of the human microbiome to disrupt the fantasy of the unified “self” through the production of food using members of the human microbiome. The ancient fermentation processes that produce bread, cheese and beer are disturbingly and abruptly shifted into the realm of disgust and revulsion through the use of organisms harvested from the human body. This paper traces the biopolitics of fermentation, self and disgustactivated through these artworks.

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