Critical Cooking Show - Ben Goldner and Emma Leigh Macdonald - Softening Cultures
Critical Cooking Show
December 20, 2020
Critical Cooking Show

Softening Cultures

Ben Goldner and Emma Leigh Macdonald, Softening Cultures, 2020.

Consider the space of your kitchen. Who do you share it with? Are they human? Non-human? Could others be let in?

Softening Cultures takes its time to engage with the process of fermentation. Yeast and other microbes exist on the surfaces of almost everything we eat, yet they only thrive in certain environments. In the process of fermenting, we do not create them so much as we create environments for their futures. These microbes bump up against the walls of human empathy, but design can create supporting structures—scaffolds—to soften the barriers against our interdependence. By reintroducing bacteria in the modernist Western kitchen—where ripening foods were once demonized in an attempt to banish the presence of bacteria—the process of fermentation defies historical assumptions and encourages an expanded understanding of empathy in the kitchen.

These processes cannot be limited to the bounds of a digestible episode; rather, they are revealed in footage compiled over time. While the project communicates through instructional formats, the multiple authors create unknowns that do not allow for tidy conclusions, but instead suggest a collaborative way forward, carrying on long after the episode ends.

Microscopic photography of edible substances—fruits, vegetables, grain—forms a metaphor for the macro, creating a timeless, scaleless world.


Critical Cooking Show is a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and the Istanbul Design Biennial within the context of its fifth edition, Empathy Revisited: Designs for more than one.

Ben Goldner and Emma Leigh Macdonald are architectural researchers and writers based in New York, focused on food products and their respective infrastructures, educational uses, and communal spaces. They began their shared research as students of the Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture program at Columbia GSAPP.

Critical Cooking Show
Critical Cooking Show
Ben Goldner
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