The inability to swallow marks a turn away from humanist conceptions of sustenance. The dysphagiac no longer has access to the social apparatus of dining. She turns inward, finding dining companions in plasticities of the stomach, potentials of the gastric feeding tube, and the interior rumblings of the humanimal microbiome.
Dysphagiac is a sculpture, a research initiative, and a portable workshop centered around a countertop appliance designed with laminar flow cabinetry principles. In performance, the stomach appliance draws on tissue culture laboratory protocols to conceptualize the kitchen and the stomach as spaces of sterility, infection, fecundity, and medical intervention. Within a sterile working environment, liquid food may be prepared for ingestion by way of the gastric tube or through the mouth. Evoking surgical draping, safe rooms, and bodily cavities, Dysphagiac houses demonstrations, including hand washing techniques, recipe development and preparation, and tasting events that compare liquefied perishable foods with the prescription fare typically ingested by tube-fed patients.
Taking the gastric feeding tube as a fertile site for investigating ecologies of gut bacteria and corporeal morphism, Dysphagiac shows how multispecies symbiosis and domestic technoscience co-produce digestive tracts. The Human Microbiome Project describes our gut bacteria as multi-strain “communities.” Typical gastric tube eaters, often humanimals with dysphagia (the inability to swallow), undergo radical changes to their microbial communities when they begin ingesting liquid medical food, packaged in cans with expiration dates years in the future. These cans imagine a subsistence stomach, only able to take in that which is sufficient, sterile, and preserved. A brave subculture of caretaker cooks feed the tube with purees produced from perishable ingredients. Such practices resist empty larders stocked with simulations of sustenance.
March 2014: Democracy of Drawing exhibition, AirSpace Projects, Marrickville NSW.
March 12, 2013: workshop and dinner at the University of Toronto, sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute.