While individual experiences of the whole Kneading Time A-lab varied, the twelve participants followed a similar process. We started out carefully with the first touch of the dry flour turning into focused movements with the ingredients sticking to the hands. Blending encourages us to blur the separation between ourselves and the ingredients, replacing the subject/object dichotomy with a conception of relations between self and other that focuses on their interconnections (Heldke in Curtin & Heldke 1992). Sebastien Boudet has named his way of blending ’La Fontaine’ since he starts with a pile of flour, which forms the walls of a circular pool; ’La Fontaine’. As soon as we stuck our hands in ’La Fontaine’ and started moving, the ingredients grasped us through the haptics of the sticky paste. 


Water, salt and starter were carefully poured into La Fontaine, and we let our hands sink into the pool. Our rhythmic circular movements made the ingredients come together and slowly dissolve the flour pool. By incorporating more and more flour, the sticky paste transformed into a firm dough. As soon as our hands started moving around, the chemical process began and the ingredients transformed, accompanied by soggy sounds.


Sebastien: We are not going to knead the bread, not work, we will only connect with the ingredients. It is important to make it [‘La Fontaine’] big enough and the borders even. Otherwise the water will break the flour wall and fall on your feet and on the floor. 


You-Le: I like the part where it feels a bit messy in the beginning, like, it grows and it’s texture is sticky and slimy and sludgy and you don’t know when this is gonna get ready. But when it starts to dry and it starts to smoothen up… and no one needs to really tell you that it is good, but you sort of feel that it’s the right texture. So when it starts to detach from your hand, starts to feel less disgusting, or less sticky or less slimy and when it starts to build. You feel that it’s the right thing.


Sebastien told Cheryl, who had blended a very firm and dry dough to add some water to loosen up the texture. After adding water, she moved her hands through the slimy paste. She squeezed and pressed it between her fingers, it hissed and splashed. Time, in the baking process, is a matter of how long the bread is baked in the oven. During all the proceeding phases of making sourdough bread, it is possible to reverse or pause the process of time as a feature of the overall property, by kneading, adding water or flour or removing water to dry the dough.


Sebastien: When you get to the right texture, a kind of body-texture, then you stop pulling flour into the doughand, to compare, you put your apron on it and when you put your hand on it, it should feel like (human) body.


Another participant’s (P7) reaction to blending related to the emotional sense of being interconnected through blending. He seemed to feel as if the dough became a part of his own body, guiding his attention to his own movements together with the dough — not as separate entities.


P 7: I connect this to my work where I talk a lot about focus. When we form the flour as a circle and pour the water into it and work it together, it means that I collect and focus my thoughts into one point. To focus oneself and not jump between tasks is very positive. Then we use our forces in a good way. It feels like a way of directing focus. It seems like we are more harmonic when we don’t get stuck in introversion. The dough works like an anchor outside of oneself. Not too far though. You need to be in contact with the dough.


The participant Maria, also reflected upon the blending as something that helped her focus herself. She felt how the rhythmic movements in the process made her feel as if coming together as a whole:


Maria: I have a deadline which means I am mentally stuck and, in a way, I think to do something out of… it is more rational to calm down, to move from frustration mode to flow mode. I don’t have to think… So that means it feels like your body and mind comes together by doing things [like baking] intuitively.



To sense time, we placed our hands on the dough to test the firmness. The firm dough told us the blending task was done and it was time for it to rest. Afterwards, we forcefully kneaded it, and enjoyed moments of delight, caressing the soft cool dough as it was formed into a loaf; touching and holding time. We squeezed, pressed, held on to, stretched, pushed fingers into the dough and heard the sounds of thumping. We lived a timeframe dictated by the interconnectedness between person and dough, baker and ingredients, user and artifact. This kind of interconnectedness can also be found in music performers that transform with their instruments and sense their instrument as an extension of themselves (Kosmack Vaara 2017, Nijs 2017, Serres in Pallasmaa 2009). Accordingly, Yvonne Förster-Beuthan (2012) suggests that time is an interpretation based on interaction or entanglement between a subject and an object. Therefore, experience of time within the digitalized world can vary with our relationship to technology.

Sebastien stretches dough



When the dough had rested enough, it was time to knead. Kneading is a rhythmic whole-body movement gesture. It is important in order to make all ingredients blend properly but also to smash the proteins so that the gluten can develop. The gluten structure makes the dough plastic and elastic so that it keeps the dough stuck together throughout the baking process.


Sheets Johnstone (1999) writes of ‘making the familiar strange,’ in relation to the moving body, describing the way we unsettle our habitual perceptions of the world in order to re-acquaint ourselves with familiar or accustomed movements. For example, performing an unfamiliar rhythm of movement or re-imagining time through sourdough baking can help us break out of habitual ways of prototyping time in interaction.


To become embodied with the ingredients it was important to find a comfortable rhythm of work with dough. For one participant the loud smashing sounds, sweating and occasional loud laughing of participants was experienced as very aggressive. Another participant allowed himself to indulge in the kneading, trusting the materials to develop with his activity:


Jakob: This was lovely. In the beginning I was nervous. Will this work? But then when I noticed that it kept together [the dough] it was allowable. Like; I will just go on until this will work so I can just continue. It will keep together.


While kneading, this participant didn't feel that he was conducting the work, while noting that the dough was also not leading the process. This was important because it suggested that the material and the baker had to make the process develop together. Sourdough Baking as a kind of “thoughtful practice” (Heldke in Curtin & Heldke 1992), places the baker and the dough in a relation with each other, which creates neither a total separateness from the ingredients, nor complete control over them.

Dough ready to rest


In the following  section we guide the reader through the Kneading Time A-lab with particular attention to how Sourdough Baking offers a space where the separation between the participants and the ingredients is blurred, and how the participants, through their embodiment with dough, lose or let go of control and engage with the emerging felt-time transformations.


Finally, we formed the dough to give it a desired shape, moving in a 'forming rhythm': wait and form and wait and form and wait, to allow the dough to become tense and strong. The tension in the dough helps it keep its shape during the last long fermentation and the final step of baking in the oven. When we had formed the dough, we could sense the tension by pressing a finger into it and feeling the re-bound; the surface returning to its original shape.


Many of the participants engaged playfully to interact with the temporal in themselves such as rhythms of moving, heartbeats, and senses of duration and stress. They also put their thoughts and considerations into the haptic sensations with dough, creating a mirror of themselves and their relations with, for example, a child or a client. The dough became an extension of the person that altered the person’s natural powers and capacities in time sensing. They allowed themselves to transform with dough to create a new entity, a new sense of time that was not about meeting half way, but a property developed by both.


When interaction designers re-shape temporalities such as heartbeats, schedules, music players, rhythms of work and leisure, travel, waiting, togetherness, stress and aging through their designs, the designed objects provide a changed sense of the original experience. This not only helps to translate users’ own rhythms, but also filters them through new forms and expressions which unfold unexpected sensual properties such as thickness and elasticity of time.  


Maria experienced the rhythm of work and rhythms of movements helping her to tune in with the others:


Maria: That’s what I felt. It has to do with the guidance, too. Because he [Sebastien] guides you but you do it yourself. If I just had got instructions, I would have had to think rationally. Now I could go with it naturally. It is interesting that after some time you feel that you are part of a bigger context. Because all [of us] are into it.


In the ways described above, the dough turned into an extension of ourselves and we were embodied in the dough and the task, but this did not happen at once. There was a process to follow, and a ritual, in which Sebastien played an important role, through sharing his expertise.


The rest, or the autolysis, is an important chemical process, firming up the corpus of the dough. It refers to the destruction of a cell by its own enzymes, or ‘self-splitting’. This means that enzymes in flour (amylase and protease) begin to break down the starch and protein in the flour. The starch gets converted into sugar, and the protein gets reformed as gluten. When the dough is resting, every little flour particle is given time to absorb moisture, which helps develop a gluten structure.


When kneading later on, we try to do the same thing as when we let the dough rest, but we also oxidize it (expose it to oxygen) and over-oxidized (or over-kneaded) dough results in bread that is pale and tasteless. By giving the blended dough time to go through autolysis on its own, we achieve the same result, but without any of the unpleasant effects of oxidation. 


While letting the dough rest, the group of participants rest as well. At first everyone lay down in a quiet room to relax and think/feel alone (see notes to the right). The exterior shape of rest is characterized by silence and stillness but inside the dough, activity and turbulence rule. To feel how the inner texture had developed during the rest, we stretched the dough. Sebastien demonstrated the increasing elasticity by stretching it into a semitransparent film.


Through our activities with dough, a space for imagining felt time became tangible. We became involved in the experience of touching and holding felt time, expressed as a firm, elastic, inner and outer property. The inherent life in the dough — the microorganisms — is manifold: it is about osmosis, autolysis, and splitting proteins. It is about the gluten structure and gas production for fermentation. It is a responsive system, which adapts its performance to fit the baker’s activities and the changes in the environment.


Maya Hey (Hey 2017 2018) uses fermentation as a way to theorize about how we are living together: “in the making of sourdough bread, fermentation raises questions about control: who or what exactly is leavening a loaf of sourdough bread?” It matters whose hands are kneading, in what environment, her emotional state, expertise, family situation; because each of these parameters carry both the chemical and human factors that affect the final outcome in both taste and meaning.


At the end of the process we gathered for a discussion and sharing session. The lab was an intense experience in which we were embraced by the rhythm of the process and living material. Sebastien guided us through Sourdough Baking tasks and, in this way, we gained access to a baker’s bodily dialogue with time through the dough.