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AWRI Residency Week 12

My final blog post undoubtedly needs to include the images created from all this wine research and testing. Of the six red wines tested and included in this body of work, two are represented below – one wine was made in Canberra, the other in South Australia.

My previous posts have elaborated on why these artworks have been created, and their use in the scientific method at the AWRI. Now that my highly collaborative residency comes to a close I ask myself how these images might be further developed through the creative process.

Looking at art and drinking wine at the same time is a familiar experience to me, the art world pairs the two in an almost obligatory manner. Yet for the regular consumer, wine is served and consumed at home, probably while sitting at a table. So I am suspicious of turning these artworks into purely wall-based images, when it seems there is a perfectly good alternative surface in the mix – the table top. Beyond this notion my ideas are too unrefined to try and lay out here. Over the next 12 months I hope to develop the images into new forms which speak of not only the scientific context in which they were made, but the site of hospitality in which they could be used.

AWRI Residency Week 11

I was surprised at the reliance on the ‘poster’ format in this corner of the scientific industry. Posters using information design are a quick and accessible way to communicate often immense bodies of research to a viewer.  Posters are rolled up in suitcases and flown to conferences around the world, new fabric-like printing surfaces even allow for ironing in the hotel room.

A poster in one of the AWRI halls caught my eye, acting as a visual reminder of a piece of information shared with me at the beginning of my residency. In this poster (Wilkes and Wheal) I was reminded of the composition of wine, which the graphs reveal is 84% water, 14% alcohol, and the final 2% a mixture of metals, sugar, tannin, acid, and glycerol. The 2% will have some effect on taste (sweetness, acidity, bitterness, etc), but not necessarily the flavour of wine. The flavour (a combination of taste and aroma) requires interactions with air-borne volatiles, or aromas, an even smaller percentage of the wine, so small in fact that it was not even listed on this poster. *

How astonishing that wines, in all their variation, across all the grape varieties, wineries, and price points, are largely differentiated by compounds that make up around 0.1% of the product. ** It makes the connoisseurship within this vast international industry seem even more extraordinary. This vital 0.1% is formed on the vine, in the winery, through fermentation and storage; each facet carefully honed by industry experts in order to develop that fraction of the wine that carries the sensory attributes.

“ …a part-per-trillion of certain compounds may be enough to affect flavour.” (xxi, 2016, Waterhouse, Sacks, Jeffery)

This brings me back to one of my earlier posts in which I was trying to understand and articulate the diversity of influences on wine flavour. In the process I developed a wallpaper design which features drawings of some of these influences. Grape seeds for example if crushed too much release bitterness into the wine, beneficial bugs amongst the vines such as the Green Lacewing or Trichogramma Wasp naturally improve the health and therefore quality of the grapes without the addition of chemicals, and the yeasts and bacteria that are added to the winemaking process will process the sugars in their own subtle ways. This is just a limited snapshot of the complex interactions between natural and human interventions in the winemaking process which form the accumulation of flavours in wine… representing just 0.1%.

Below is an image of that wallpaper.

*The delineations of taste/aroma/flavour are too immense to delve into further here. For more information you can see the article Confusing Tastes and Flavours 2015, C Spence, B Smith, M Auvray.

**This is an oversimplification of the complexity of flavour

AWRI Residency Week 9-10

How can individual wines be represented through the visual? This is one way of framing the project I am working on, but perhaps more importantly a way of framing a gap in knowledge for the project.

There are various ways that winemakers use visual cues to convey information about the product inside the bottle. Some of the ones I can think of include the shape of the bottle, label aesthetics, the price point, or the complementary description on the wine label.

Further, the label might spark some contextual information of the wine such as knowledge of the grape variety, the style of the winemaker or the region. But this contextual information is reserved for connoisseurs, and will not necessarily affect the general consumer.

Beyond these visual cues, there is rarely much given away about the subtle sensory qualities of the wine from just looking at the bottle.

Once the wine is poured there is a range of visual properties that carry information (most of which I am personally blind to). Held in a clear glass, a taster could gather information on the wine based on its brilliance, intensity, hue and depth of colour, the transparency, viscosity, and legs of the wine. These visual characteristics are still not really concrete indicators of a wine’s flavour.

Translating one sensory experience (taste) into another (sight) is clumsy, and fraught with challenges and impossibilities, because everyone tastes differently. And this is only the beginning of why this goal is so unachievable. But if some component of it can be achieved it could create more complete, complementary, congruent, harmonious experiences, possibly amplifying the taster’s ability to experience more fully. Just like when the perfect song comes onto the radio and completely matches a specific moment, both the song and the moment are expanded and improved by the match.

If a visual image can be developed to match a wine, perhaps some of those subtleties within wine that I have been hearing about can come alive to the non-connoisseur. And then also we could have an image that represents what is in the bottle, a visual embodiment of flavour, not just what the winemaker wants us to feel through their style of branding.

Image: data showing the recurrence of colour associations in six wines

AWRI Residency Week 6-7

I have broken my residency up into three parts, my first 6-week visit was back in May/June/July, and this current visit is September-October for a month. Undertaking the residency in this way is logistically a way to still follow through on my other exhibition commitments, but importantly also to give myself some thinking space away from the AWRI mid-way through. So coming back in week 7 I should, in theory, have a fresh new perspective. I learnt this from my experience on previous short-term residencies in which clarity came after my visit. It takes time to process the experience.

So during this visit we are delving headfirst into the study that I have been planning in collaboration with the Sensory team. In an ironic blog conundrum, I cannot talk about the study in detail in case those involved are influenced or skewed by reading about it.

What I have found interesting in preparing the study has been the conflation of scientific and creative approaches. I do not believe these two investigative approaches to be completely opposed, so much as having different processes. I have been fortunate, no privileged, to work in a team who continues to remind me that they are happy for the project to err on the creative side, putting aside the need for watertight scientific rigour. These restrictions could, I am sure you can imagine, really shut down some of my more absurd notions. There are various studies that have been held in less-than-ideal testing contexts, such as restaurants. Chef Heston Blumenthal for example has facilitated various ‘experiments’ in his restaurants in collaboration with sensory scientists. These studies held outside of laboratory conditions can provide experimental data, which may or may not be followed up in labs by more rigorous studies. But either way they are not restricted by laboratory environments, i.e room temperature, minimum participant numbers, random presentation order, and neutral atmosphere.

I hope the project strikes a balance. The primary creative variation in the study we are developing is that it requests the participant to perform different cognitive tasks than they would usually be asked to do. In a regular wine study, if 11 people use the term red fruit for a particular wine, and one person says dark fruit, the minority could be argued to be ‘incorrect’. When you start asking participants for responses that are related only to their personal concepts, they could get frustrated or just plain confused. A huge benefit of this study is that we have quite large taster numbers, the AWRI has access to professional wine judges, trained tasters, and just regular wine drinkers, and we should after our first round of tests have around 60 people tested. So something that seems like it could create quite arbitrary or subjective responses will hopefully return some kind of pattern, the data from which I can use to create artworks with a synesthetic harmony to specific wines


AWRI Residency Week 5

Since arriving at the AWRI I have been intrigued by this term MOG, or Matter Other than Grapes. As I understand it, MOG is the extra matter that enters the winemaking process, primarily as a result of mechanical harvesting. Depending on what the MOG is, it can have a noticeable effect on the flavour of wine. My favourite so far is millipede taint – an unpleasant aroma caused by millipedes amongst the fruit.

Some of the anecdotal stories of documented MOG are quite absurd, and let’s face it, the name is funny too, but there is of course filtering processes that get this stuff out. And yet I was reminded of the ‘openness’ of the winemaking process after a very interesting tour through a McLaren Vale winery (thanks Simon). I was struck by how vulnerable the barrels full of ageing wine were to the outside. This does not mean that the barrels are open to things flying in, but that the only thing separating inside and outside of barrel is timber, and a timber plug or ‘bung’. The idea of storing things in timber all of a sudden seemed absurd when considered in the context of the food industry where control and sanitation is a high priority.

When I brought this up with the winemaker he explained that the wine’s high alcohol content creates an environment that is inhospitable to 98% of bacteria. Essentially the wine creates an environment that is hostile, killing the guests who dared to cross its threshold. This contradicts my view of wine as a symbol of hospitality, but explains winemakers ability to continue using traditional techniques such as timber barrels in winemaking.

The wine is hosted inside the body of the charred oak barrel, but the wine in turn hosts the flavour of the barrel in its own body. I am always intrigued when one material leaves a trace on another, when impressions occur through interactions*. This oak/wine relationship is so important that it is common practice to hang a stave (fragment of an oak barrel) inside industrial wine tanks to impart the flavour without the expense.

Oak characters, millipede taint, mousiness, smoke taint, or eucalyptus character, are host environment characteristics sublimated into wine adding un/desirable complexity.


* This is why the yeasts and their birth scars were so intriguing (week 2 and 3).

AWRI Residency week 4

The grape vines are at their least romantic at this time of year, they go into a sort of dormancy, their trunk remains but their leaves fall off and the stems are cut off. The vines will not start flowering or fruiting until the warmer part of the year. But I was reading about the processes that take place for the plant during this time which are arguably just as important as those processes that take place during fruiting. I was specifically reading some of the AWRI literature about the breadth of concerns that apply to the plants all year round. The health and ‘experience’ of the vines (temperature, disease, soil quality) have a major impact on the flavour characteristics of the wines that are discussed in the sensory lab. This is by no means an original idea, and is in fact a very fashionable way of discussing points of differentiation in food products in an industry flooded by choice. I have been trying to explore this idea further by studying the structures and organisms that support the vines, another way of formalising the intangible nature of flavour.

There are some very beautiful old books at the AWRI library that include botanical drawings of grape varieties and their various plant parts; fruit, trunk, seed, leaves etc. It was the seeds that seduced me, when magnified they are considerably different between species, and quite fascinating forms. The seed is a part of the plant that is rarely considered in the wine-making process, neither are the tiny delicate flowers, or the predator insects protecting the plant. These often-unseen elements might be ambiguous or entirely unrecognisable to anyone outside the industry, yet they are exquisite forms.

I am bringing together my own drawings of these small, almost invisible parts of the system, and turning them into a wallpaper. The process of designing digital wallpapers is familiar to me, having produced many different versions for gallery installations (link). For me, wallpapers work as an immersive framework or background, using the decorative as a catalyst to introduce a new set of ideas into the space. Wallpaper will literally and conceptually frame and cross-pollinate other things that exist in the space, which seems like the appropriate medium for this research topic. I often use William Morris designs as a foundation, and bring my own content in, copying his repetitive arrangements. By using this iconic English designer’s work as a foundation I hope to connect the works I make to an English heritage. This is significant for the work as a substantial portion of Australian food culture is derived from English roots (for better or worse), but Morris’s highly popular designs also connect to the idea of ‘good taste’, a phrase with meaning in both food and design industries.

This research and design is still under production, but I thought I would share some of my drawings of seeds and flowers that will likely make up the final artwork.

AWRI Residency Week 3

Week 3 at the AWRI has only increased my interests in the yeasts – I found out about the fascinating ‘Shipwreck yeast’ as it is casually called. As I understand it there is a shipwreck in the Bass Strait out of which some old beer bottles were unearthed. The staff at the AWRI were able to isolate 220 year old yeasts from one of these bottles and then partnered with James Squire to produce a beer.  The story is told much better by many more people, here are a few links.

I have also been doing some more detailed reading about the birth and bud scars of yeasts. The drawing above is my impression of the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (the variety that produces bread, beer, and wine). I drew it because I am unsure if I am allowed to reproduce other images I found.

I also found this quite delightful description of the separation of the budding yeast cells, it is an older publication but it is the most poetic description I have found. I find it easy to anthropomorphize this.

“Before separation the rims of the two scars of both cells are believed to lie in contact, strengthening the bond between cells. When, however, the cytoplasmic connection is lost, the independent increase in volume of the daughter cell results in a stretching of its birth scar; the shearing action between the two scars then causes the mechanical connection to break.”

From “Some Aspects of Cell Division in Saccharomyces cerevisiae”. A. A. Barton 1949

AWRI Residency Week 2

Through some casual conversations with the staff at AWRI, and also through mining the library on site, I have found some new tangents to pursue outside the core sensory project. I was completely seduced by a book (the cover of a book) that categorises hundreds of yeast with images, descriptions, colours, and lists of the places they have been found. It turns out yeasts are hosted in the oddest places… and so I began documenting the yeasts that had some of the more poetic and absurd assortment of hosts. Here are just a few

Lodderomyces elongisporus has been found in:

Brewery in Denmark, soil in South Africa, fruit syrup in Germany, orange-syrup base for soft drink, concentrated orange juice and baby cream in the Netherlands, finger nail in Finland, concentrated orange juice in USA.

 Dipodacus ingens which has been found in:

Wine cellars, industrial waste.

Or the Debaryomyces etchellsii, found in:

Fermenting cucumbers and fruit fly in USA, tinned butter in India, faeces of human being in Brazil.


I am struck by how these yeasts are hosted by such varied sites of living and non-living, natural and processed bodies.

Yeasts don’t all reproduce the same, but there is a group of them (including the ones that assist in the creation of bread, wine, and beer) that produce a daughter cell as a bulbous bud growing off the side of its body – like a pregnant belly. When the daughter cell breaks off it retains a ‘birth scar’ (just as we have a belly-button). ‘bud scars’ on the other hand are present on the parent every time they then produce a daughter. I thought this was fascinating, and potentially quite unique, because I couldn’t think of an insect, animal or human that showed on it’s skin how many children it had given birth to.

“Bud scars, when viewed from the outside of the wall, show a circular brim, slightly raised above the cell surface. The brim surrounds a slightly sunken area, which shows a concentric pattern around a small central depression.”   

Pg 26, The Life of Yeasts. H.J. Phaff, M.W.Miller, E.M.Mrak 1966.

Thank you to Simon for sharing his knowledge on yeasts.


A picture in one of Simons books of yeast colonies


A work I made a few years ago printing with kipfler potatoes which reminded me so much of the images of yeast

AWRI Residency Week 1

My project proposal for working with the Australian Wine Research Institute stemmed from ten years of working with food as art material, but more specifically, my last five years of dabbling in cross-modal processing research. In my own very casual terms, cross-modal research addresses how the different senses cross-pollinate one another to affect perception and experience. For example, how does seeing the colour green affect the perceived flavour of beer?

My investigations into this field began during a short placement in the experimental psychology lab of Professor Charles Spence at Oxford in 2012, and have been maintained through consistent personal research and reading. I have formalised these ideas within my own practice primarily through my concept meals (link) in which I design new plates, cups, cutlery etc to reimagine the choreography of dining. The logic of cross-modal research is built into the designs I create; colour, shape, texture, and weight are manipulated in order to achieve a specific experience (often on a subconscious level).

Beyond the seed of research and development my practice-based experiments have so far been entirely unscientific. Having the opportunity to work with the sensory team at AWRI offers expansive collaborative opportunities towards the production of a new body of work, and hopefully new insights into the field. I am creating artwork on site at the AWRI that seeks to find a synesthetic harmony between the flavour of wines and 2D still or moving images. The goal is to consider how the intangible multi-sensory language of taste might be translated into visual forms. This creative output will have its foundation in scientific methods but will be translated through the creative process.

My first week at AWRI has been exciting, and has included a healthy dose of wine-tasting. Mostly though I have been overwhelmed by support and enthusiasm from the institute. My heartfelt thanks to all the staff at the institute for their generous welcome, and especially to the sensory team who will be hosting me for three months in 2019 (and who cleared me a desk space), Leigh Francis, Wes Pearson, Elanor Bilogevic, Damian Epinase Nandorfy, and Desiree Likos.

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This residency is funded through the Australian Network of Art and Technology. This project was also supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.