Markus Wernli is a PhD candidate at the School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. A native of Switzerland, he earned a Bachelor in Jewelry Engraving and a Bachelor in Graphic Design from the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. He then completed a graduate degree in Multimedia Design & Technology from San Francisco State University. After an extended creative work practice in user interface, identity and communication design he explored his interest in performative and relational art practice during his Master of Fine Arts studies at Transart Institute based in Berlin and New York. Before joining the School of Design, he worked as as Research Design Manager at the Australian National University in Canberra where he investigated the aesthetic implications of returning human-derived nutrients back to the soil. Markus is researching the intrinsic human role in natural material and energy cycles and its socio-ecological potential in the urban context.
Fermenting the City: Closing Hong Kong’s Nutrient Cycle as a Cultural Model of Urban Resilience
Prof. Timothy Jachna (Chief Supervisor)
Dr. Po-Heng (Henry) Lee (Co-supervisor, PolyU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)
About the Research
Transitioning from the unsustainable dependencies of a consumer to a resilient way of life requires the active, bodily involvement of every person. Central to reconnecting with the natural foundation is home-based fermentation for both food preservation and agricultural reuse of organic waste. While most of Hong Kong’s biomass still winds up as environmental biohazard, a growing health consciousness is recently reinvigorating domestic fermentation practices. Smartphone connectivity and social networking sites have stimulated self-initiated communities of DIY fermenters for collaborative troubleshooting and sharing of starter cultures across virtual and physical spaces.
Building on the resurgence of grass-roots fermentation, this study explores performative agency – the active producing of human-nonhuman relationships – in citizen-led, socio-environmental innovation. By collectively adapting ecological methods of fermentation-powered composting and sanitation to the individual context, participants are invited to be both ‘fermenting actors’ and ‘citizen scientists’. The aim is to examine how this group-related presence and sociability within an ecological learning infrastructure can transpose everyday actions and bodily metabolism into a transmedial and corporeal-environmental connectivity. On the microbiological level, involved ‘fermentizens’ will sample their own nutrients and toxins to evaluate permeability between domestic and ecological health. Employing narrative inquiry, online contents analysis and empirical biological data, this is a structured quest to better understand the patterns and movements behind the sociable technologies of fermenting and online networking. Fermenting the City is a small-scale observatory for restoring the symbiotic human-microbial relationship and to evaluate emergent properties related to its transformational and coevolutionary potential.
The underlying motivation behind this study is the artificial divide between humans and nature, between the urban and the rural. Cities are crucial for a sustainable future not only because the harbor most of humanity but because they have become the represent the ultimate detachment between people and the environment. By bridging the sciences-community-policy gap this research is meant to test out more resilient futures of human-planet cohabitation and engage in a more structured quest for ecosystem protection. Markus’ research contribution is to open the one-solution-fits-all paradigm and to investigate alternatives by prototyping small-scale eco-sanitation models for shared learning from theory and praxis. It is about establishing social innovation infrastructures that bring all stakeholders from toilet users, farmers, to planners into all stages of development.