Gut-Machine Poetry (2017) proposes a biological computer system in which the chaotic activity of bacteria and other micro-organisms contributes to the creation of a new type of poetry. The system is based on interaction between fermenting kombucha tea and a text database.

The work portrays the evolution of a symbiotic kombucha colony, where yeast and bacteria together produce a stream of words that effectively constitutes a new language. The microscopic video footage was filmed in the artist’s studio.

The database contains texts fed in by the artist, dealing with the complexities of language and the world invasion of self-replicating machines and code laws, among other things. The algorithm programmed into the system randomly creates new combinations of text fragments on the basis of biochemical cues from the kombucha colony, thus creating computer poetry.


The artist is inspired by the notion of ‘wetware’, the idea of a machine with organic, living innards and the potential in biological computing. The work also draws inspiration from Jumbo, an anagram solver program written by the famed artificial intelligence expert Douglas Hofstadter. By taking its cues from cells and enzymes, Sutela’s work explores the limits and possibilities of language.

Working with a biological system

The piece can be described as a miniature laboratory. Working with organic materials such as a kombucha colony requires infrastructural consideration: the creation and maintenance of a suitable environment for fermentation to occur.

Many of Jenna Sutela’s projects reflect on the ways in which humans interface technology. In her latest works she has taken to using organic materials.

The work functions best in its desktop version using Google Chrome. Hover and click your mouse for an alternative view.

The work was commissioned by Kiasma for ARS17+. The work is made in collaboration with Vincent de Belleval and Johanna Lundberg.