Mother's Hand Taste (son-mat), 2017 - 

Living hand yeast and bacteria, Nuruk fermentation starter, synthetic biology, social research, video. Dimensions variables

*Honors: Ars Electronica  Prix Ars Winner  |  2019

               Victoria and Albert Museum  ⎟ 2019

               Ars Electronica  Exhibition |  2018

               London Design Festival - Open Cell | 2018

               Bio Art and Design Award  Final Winner ⎟ 2017

Mother's Hand Taste (Son-mat) project is the development of Woo's previous Hand Taste (Son-mat) project. With the awarded funding from Bio Art and Design Award 2017 (, Woo collaborates with H.A.B. Wösten from the Microbiology department of Utrecht University. 

Mother’s Hand Taste (Son-mat) was titled after the Korean word son-mat, (which translates as ‘hand taste’). The project explores how a person’s individual hand microflora impacts the development of flavor in fermented foods led to trace, record and eventually biofabricate the hand microbiome of different generations in the same families, living in a variety of countries. If the knowledge and experience of cooking represent intangible cultural inheritance, son-mat is even more so. Woo's research, the resulting mechanical machine designed to capture and reproduce a person’s son-mat is a poetic but tangible way of crystallizing that elusive essence of ethnic and genealogical food culture. By Investigating “hand taste” through artistic, scientific, and technological means, it reflects critically on the origins, authenticity, and preservation of cultural heritage. Its main outcome is the creation of a conceptual and mechanical machine aimed at capturing, storing, and growing one’s own son-mat.



The Mother’s Hand Taste (Son-mat) project is composed of genealogical research on hand microbiome and its influence on food taste, a visualized replication of son-mat, and a ritualistic hand-infecting machine aimed at preserving son-mat. By handling and observing these objects, viewers will be encouraged to think critically about the significance of cultural identity, heritage, and the passing down of invisible experiences in artistic, scientific, and sociological perspectives.

Contact of food with the hands of the cook is an essential part of Korean cuisine. The Korean word son-mat, meaning “hand taste,” relates to a compliment in response to excellent culinary abilities. If someone is a good cook, the compliment would express that that person possesses good “hand taste.” Significantly, the word also connotes associations to family history, particularly the wisdom of ancestors, and gratitude toward nature. Son-mat is a mechanism for triggering special memories and a deep sense of belonging through the act of eating, as the knowledge of producing a particular Son-mat is a quality passed down generationally.



The project started by selecting four 3-generation Korean households (grandmother, mother, daughter) from 4 historically relevant countries (Korea, Japan, the United States, and the Netherlands) with different eating habits. Understanding each family’s history, dynamics, eating habits, and learning them in the specific country setting for artistic documentation were necessary.


At the same time the first set of hand fungi of the three generations was collected according to a protocol provided by Han Wösten. The subjects all individually cooked the same traditional fermented drink, Makgeolli. After cooking, the second set of hand fungi was collected from the subjects together with their dishes. Along with the cooking process, the emotions between the generations within the households were recorded. Towards the end of my interactions with the subjects, environmental portraitures and photographs of hands for each subjects were taken.   



Professor Han Wösten from Utrecht University is an expert in fungal growth and development. <*He was awarded several research prizes among which the Simon Stevin Meester award 2008 (500.000 €). His work is also part of the Future Food program of Utrecht University>. With Professor Wosten at Microbiology department of Utrecht University, the hand yeasts of 12 participants were being cultured, purified, identified, and compared between the households, the generations, and time of sampling. We were also investigating the different influences that the various hand yeasts have on the taste of traditional fermented food. Colonies of the hand yeasts in different dimensions and shapes were grown in order to physicalize and visualize the invisible organisms inhabiting in the subjects’ hands.

We work together in order to research the genealogical relationships between yeast, the yeasts' influence on the fermentation of foods, the appropriation of these yeasts as artistic material, and the appropriate of these yeasts as new material. This collaboration enabled to expand the genealogically oriented formulation of Son-mat into a cross-cultural understanding.

Hand Yeast Visualization

Example of the 3rd generation of US family participant's hand microbiome transformation 

Participant's hand yeast swab collection BEFORE cooking

Participant's hand yeast swab collection AFTER cooking Makgeolli

Participant's  Makgeolli

Hand microbiomes were cultured in medium:

250ml 2 x SCMM

250ml 2 x Water Agar

1.25ml Phosphate

0.5ml chloramphenicol Stoc

0.5ml Ampicillin Stock

***All processes were done for 12 participants

Once the purified yeast cultures of all participants were ready, they were identified using Remel RAPID yeast panel test. The yeast cultures were then compared among family generations, countries of origin, and time of sampling. Three unique innocuous yeasts of the families were chosen for the use of sculpture: Tri. Beigelli, Rhod. Rubra, and Rhod. Minuta.  The chosen yeast cultures were centrifuged for the concentration.  


FOOD OF TRADITION - Makgeolli and Nuruk

With its long history in relation to politics, economy, social class, and colonialism, Makgeolli has been chosen by Woo to be incorporated in the Mother's Hand Taste (Son-mat) project. Both commercial and family inherited Nuruk, fermentation starter (that is over 60 years old), were examined and used both artistically and scientifically. 

Makgeolli is a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage, with a history of more than 1700 years, made by combining cooked sticky rice, water and a starter culture called Nuruk. It is milky-white, fizzy and refreshing. It is also called “Nongju” which means “farmer’s liquor” because it is made mostly of rice and was traditionally often drank by farmers as part of their midmorning snack or with lunch, consoling their physical labors. Nuruk is a dry cake of wheat, barley, and rice that hosts a variety of wild yeasts, bacteria, and Aspergillus Oryzae, Aspergillus Nigar and Aspergillus Kawachii mold spores. 

Making family’s special Nuruk and home-brewing of Makgeolli  first faded under Japanese colonization, when they forbade any alcohol making activity at Korean households in part of Korean culture obliteration. Then there was another government prohibition, after the national liberation from Japan, under president Park because of economic slump and lack of food after the Korean War. This was the time period when some variation in Makgeolli happens by making with wheat, corn, and other grains. 

The Machine

* Please click the image below twice for more specific about the Mother's Hand Taste Machine