Kombucha as Metaphor for Parenthood

Far removed from the wellness-obsessed culture with which it is now commonly associated, Anna Ting Möller’s practice revolves around cultivating raw, slimy kombucha from Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY), akin to feeding a bread starter. In their first New York show, grafting, for that which grows and that which bars at Tutu Gallery, the artist surgically transforms this substance to visceral and mesmerizing effect. In contrast to their grotesque appearance, Möller’s objects are cultivated as a metaphor for parents nurturing their children.

“Whip and Tongue” (2024), installed at the center of the one-room show, consists of a large green tarp with two bins of glistening, fleshy kombucha connected by a network of clear tubes. Bottles, gloves, scissors, buckets, and burning incense also populate the tarp. Taken together, the work looks like part science experiment and part spiritual ceremony. Orbiting the bizarre configuration are various sculptures of dried-out kombucha with a similar texture and color to the vellum on the wall. These thin skins are contorted, crinkled, misshapen, and carefully sewn together using clear nylon thread. “Untitled” (2023), propped upon the mantle of a fireplace, is particularly skin-crawling, yet eerily beautiful: Bits of dry kombucha that recall glass are delicately grafted in the shape of a dismembered leg. 

Möller acquired their mother SCOBY on a journey to Hunan, China, that they undertook in search of their birth mother. Although they did not find their mother, a woman whom they stayed with gifted them the SCOBY, inspiring them to confront ambivalent feelings towards parenthood by raising something living. No matter how carefully a SCOBY is nourished, the resulting organic matter will never reciprocate its caretaker’s labor or affection.

But Möller asks if we need to love the things we tend to, and if that care needs to be reciprocated. While navigating filial bonds through kombucha provides fertile ground — possible examinations include the symbolic qualities of tea and sugar as migratory goods — the exhibition lacks more overt investigations into its historical context and commodification in Western culture. Still, Ting Möller’s work skillfully implements revulsion and attraction to challenge normative and constricting notions of kinship. 

grafting, for that which grows and that which bars, continues at Tutu Gallery (Willoughby and Stuyvesant Avenues, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, contact gallery for exact address and to schedule a visit) through March 16. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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