All Things Microbial: Edible Invisible Exhibition

All Things Microbial: Edible Invisible Exhibition

At this years' Dutch Design Week 2018, The DIFD was present with an exhibition about a very important - invisible - part of food: microbes. Around 6000 visitors visited the contributions of designers working with food and eating: Anthroponix, Hannerie Visser (Studio H), Olivia Ioannou, Roza Janusz, Ina Turinsky en Andreas Wagner, Julia Schwarz, The Eatelier, students of Design Academy Eindhoven's Food Non Food department together with Tom Loois and Maria Apud Bell. Here is an overview of all the projects exhibited and their microbial concepts as well as an interview with the curator of the exhibition: Marije Vogelzang.

“What was Edible Invisible about?”

M: The focus of the exhibition Edible Invisible was food and design in relation to micro-organisms. It investigates what designers can do with all the knowledge about micro-organisms in our digestive tract, in the soil and in agriculture. We increasingly realising, for instance, the importance of bacteria and fungi in the soil. Especially while many of us don’t grow their own food and hardly ever touch soil. Edible Invisible offered visitors to the Embassy of Food a wide range of ways to experience the role micro-organisms play in our lives. 

“Reflecting on the week-long exhibition at the Embassy of Food, do you feel that the topic of micro-organisms came to life?”

M: We showed a wide range of possibilities of design projects focussing on microbes and we created a tunnel with invisible questions (to be revealed by blacklight and to add your own questions about microbes). To read all the text made me see there are endless questions and therefore also endless inspiration for designers to start working with the subject.

 “Asking the question that The DIFD asked at several events at the Embassy of Food: What do you think design can do for food, specifically in relation to micro-organisms?” 

M: What fascinates me about microbes is that their influence is on a very high and important level but as we cannot see them, we tend not to think about them in a nuanced way. Designers have a long tradition in making visible and tangible objects but what happens if they start to interfere with the invisible? First of all because microbes are essential and under explored, second because of the interesting creative value of having to deal with the non visible.

The Projects of the exhibition:


Eva van Strien – Anne van Strien – Thieu Custers – The Netherlands

Every day we flush away 1.4 liters of our own urine with 33 liters of clean drinking water. We are using a lot of energy to flush away our bodily waste. But what if we could make this resource useful again? Urine has a lot of untapped energy we are now discarding, it contains the three main elements used in traditional fertiliser: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. If we would harvest these nutrients from our own body instead of sourcing them from limited resources, we can use them to grow new life sustainably.

Anthroponix is a system to convert your urine into fertiliser for your own plants at home. By fermenting the urine with lactic acid bacteria, you eliminate the potential pathogens and reduce the smell, as well as making the nutrients available for the plants to use. With a years worth of urine one can grow 250 kilos of wheat, that’s about 3000 meals. Pick up a bottle with bacteria starter and add your own urine today to get started with your homemade fermented fertiliser.



The Smellerie

Studio H – Hannerie Visser – South Africa

Residue waters from traditional fermented dishes, that are deemed worthless, are packaged as a range of high-end perfumes. They highlight how valuable the microbes in foods are to the human body. This range of anti-perfumes, representing countries from around the world, is accompanied by a food insults* printer to draw attention to the fact that often, horribly, cultures are ridiculed for their most precious and proudest national dishes. This interactive installation, where visitors are encouraged to smell and taste the anti-perfumes, serves as a reminder that we all eat the same.

*All the insults were gathered from actual Youtube footage.



Microbial Symphony

Olivia Ioannou – Cyprus

Fermentation transforms raw ingredients into more flavourful, nutritious and durable culinary goods. A sourdough starter is a culture of wild yeasts and bacteria, traditionally used to make bread. These microorganisms are responsible for giving sourdough bread its distinct sour taste and chewy, yet airy texture. When keeping a sourdough starter, feeding it to keep it alive and healthy, one grows to care for it not just as any other material, but as something that is breathing, excreting, replicating and responding. Allowing the senses to become sensitive to the process of fermentation leads to a deeper understanding of the culture’s life cycle, as each sense provides a different perspective into the activity and state of these invisible microorganisms. In an effort to give microbes in sourdough a voice, Olivia Ioannou has created a new fermenting environment, which allows to record data from its environment, such as carbon dioxide levels, a by-product of fermentation. This information is translated into sound, constructing a microbial symphony. Ioannou asks: could a conscious interaction with a microbial culture help re-establish our relationship with the natural world?



SCOBY packaging

Roza Janusz – Poland

Growing packaging is a project inspired by vegetable farming. Plants are subjected to standardisation tests just like objects. A farmer is more and more an engineer and the farm becomes a factory. So, is it possible that mass-produced things will grow?

The SCOBY material is “weaved” through bacterial fermentation.The material is a membrane that prolongs the durability of a product and can be eaten together with its content or serve as compost. SCOBY is grown by a farmer not only for the production of packaging, but also because of the valuable by-product, which is good for soil microbiome. So, maybe packaging production will no longer litter the environment but instead even enrich it.



Nutrient Solution

Ina Turinsky and Andreas Wagner – Germany

Stocks of various micro-algae are available in your pantry, differing in species, metabolic by-products, growth rate and appearance. Choose the right algae culture for your personal requirements. Three different plates provide three different growing conditions that result in three different dishes. Take the appropriate plate and inject your algae culture. Put the cultivation chamber on top to create the ideal growth environment. Spit and breathe: feed your culture with a daily dose of bodily nutrient and air supply. Over a span of ten to fourteen days of your care the seedlings grow in to a lush population. Take off the chamber and consume your dish. By-products of the human body often have a negative connotation but yet contain a range of usable substances. Simple organisms, like green micro-algae, are able to thrive on them. In combination with light, spit and breath all conditions for microbial growth are available. A symbiotic relationship emerges.



Unseen Edible

Julia Schwarz – Austria

Population is growing, harvests are failing, the climate’s becoming more extreme. What alternatives remain for preventing the predicted food shortage? Next to algae and insects, which are receiving a great deal of attention, lichens possess a great deal of potential as a source of nutrition in the future. Extremely hardy, and frequently confused with moss, lichen are a superfood. Lichen are effective when used as medication – and they even grow on Mars! Common orange lichen, a composite organism of algae and fungi, is already widely spread in cities and in agriculture. UNSEEN EDIBLE imagines a society in which lichens are prevalent and commonly used in our daily food.


Chef versus Watson – The impact of artificial intelligence on the culinary world

The EATELIER  – Katinka Versendaal – the Netherlands

In 2011 IBM launched its famous supercomputer Watson, an innovative, cognitive computing system. Watson is a system with access to huge amounts of data and with the capability to learn from a myriad of relevant experiences.

In this innovative human-machine culinary collaboration, Watson would create a list of ingredients with rare ingredient combinations. The selected foods often seemed random at first glance, but would be anything but. Watson would find combinations of ingredients which, it predicted, would taste good when combined. The role of the chef would be adding their culinary skills to create a dish out of this list of ingredients.

Additionally, the upcoming advances in nano-cuisine, microbiology and personalised health will mean that each dish, regardless of its preparation, can be customised and personalised according to one’s health and taste preferences. In the near future, food has literally the potential to become medicine, designed and enhanced with nutrients, ingredients and cooking techniques that support one’s health goals, nutritional needs and gastronomical preferences.



Microbial Gastronomy – experience in progress

Students Food Non Food – Design Academy Eindhoven

Leon Barre, Jasper Bloem, Sterre ter Beek, Gerard Lukken, Eungyun Kim, Hee Chee, Josef Zappe, Sarah Fitterer, Sarah Roseman, Ben van Kemenade, Maya Colombier, Laurianne Da Rocha, Floor van der Wal, Jiheon Chae, Mabel Dapling

Teachers: Tom Loois and Mara Skujeniece

Take off your shoes and become one with a barely seen form of life. You’ll work and move each other, symbiotically functioning as if you are the microbial society that sheets the human body. Experience a whole new dimension, a different scale, be as close as never before. We invite you to transcend your physicality and experience with us an immersive, meta-physical, microbial voyage. Travel through space and taste and encounter the mysterious adventures of a microbe.




Maria Apud Bell UK

Mela is a speculative service company which supplies chocolates with bacterial cocktails, specifically designed for your health. It monitors your bacterial needs by using a disposable Gutbot: an electronic pill which measures your microbiota from inside your body.

By adjusting our gut microbiota we can reduce the impact of stress, improve our sleeping cycle, control sugar and lipid metabolism, improve our mood state and reduce the excruciating symptoms of digestive problems.

EDIBLE INVISIBLE was supported by Dutch Design Foundation, Design Academy Eindhoven and