Analysis out of the box

Biotechnologies through the prism of creation

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | Today, artists, architects and designers collaborate with biology laboratories to develop furniture and living spaces made of biotechnological materials. These materials are evolving and biodegradable. They shatter the boundaries between organic and inorganic. A new type of economy and a new way of life are emerging around new product concepts. The exhibition Mutations/Créations III - La fabrique du vivant at the Centre Pompidou presents an overview of these creations and research.

Vue d’exposition ‘‘Mutations/créations III - La fabrique du vivant‘‘ au Centre Pompidou © Philippe Migeat
Vue d’exposition "Mutations/créations III - La fabrique du vivant" au Centre Pompidou
© Philippe Migeat

Living materials

Biotechnology is defined as “the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful usually commercial products (such as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or novel pharmaceuticals) ” as found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Among the oldest are beer and cheese.

Imagine yourself in a future that is not so far away.
You live in a glass building that looks at first glance quite classic. The glasses of some facades are filled with a moving green liquid : in the water, microalgae are cultivated. The algae grow with photosynthesis and by the absorption of CO2. The water is partly recovered from rainwater and the algae are intended to be transformed for medical and cosmetic uses. The heat captured by the bio-façade is used for heating and producing hot water. Your building is alive and productive. It is the work of XTU Architects.

IN VIVO, Paris, vue jour © XTU
IN VIVO, Paris, vue jour
© XTU

In front of your home, there is a small pavilion built of « living bricks » , which are made of an alloy of mycelium, mushrooms and agricultural waste. These bricks were thermo-dried, their growth was interrupted in order to enable the construction. This process is the result of research by David Benjamin (1974), architect and professor at Columbia University, founder of The Living.

Hy-Fi, David Benjamin, The Living, 2014, Queens NYC © David Benjamins, The Living, 2014
Hy-Fi, David Benjamin, The Living, 2014, Queens NYC
© David Benjamins, The Living, 2014

In your home, a large part of the furniture is made of living materials composed of algae or mycelium alloys. It is printed in 3D. Your Terroir chair (2014) is made from dried and crushed seaweed, recycled paper and ash wood (by Jonas Edvard in collaboration with Nikolaj Steenfatt). It has the softness of cork and the lightness of paper. Your MYX lamp (2013) from the same designer is made of mushroom mycelium and natural vegetable fiber scraps. You can pick mushrooms to feed yourself, it is both a food resource and a functional object.

Jonas Edvard, MYX hanging lamp growing © Jonas Edvard
Jonas Edvard, MYX hanging lamp growing
© Jonas Edvard

Your Alga chair (2016), designed by Samuel Tomatis (1992) in collaboration with a research chemist, is entirely made of algae. Your tea set from the same designer is made with the same technique. By developing a whole series of algae objects, he wanted to use the plant that grows abnormally on Brittany’s beaches and whose accumulation creates a polluting and toxic organic matter.

Samuel Tomatis, chaise série Alga, 2016 © Samuel Tomatis 2019
Samuel Tomatis, chaise série Alga, 2016
© Samuel Tomatis 2019

Some of your glasses and vases are also made of seaweed. They are made by Studio Klarenbeek & Dros, that has set up an open research group, the Algae Lab (Labo Algues), in partnership with Atelier LUMA in Arles. Your vases are copies of historical glass vases from the Musée Départemental d’Arles. They are made from the scans of the originals.
In addition to its research on algae, Studio Klarenbeek & Dros is also exploring the capacities of mycelium. The Studio was first to develop 3D printing of objects with this material. You love to contemplate how the Mycelium chair (2012) changes over the days. You admit that you do not use it much, partly because you’re afraid that one of its mushroom tops will stick to your sweater. The chair continues to produce oxygen during its life cycle, it can be composted when you consider it too used.

Studio Klarenbeek & Dros, Mycelium chair, 2012-2018
Impression 3D de mycélium de champignons (reishi)
Centre Pompidou, Paris © Photo: Mike Roelofs
Studio Klarenbeek & Dros, Mycelium chair, 2012-2018 Impression 3D de mycélium de champignons (reishi) Centre Pompidou, Paris
© Photo: Mike Roelofs

Your curtains are made of Mycellium textiles (2015-2018) by designer Carole Collet. With their expansion over months, different patterns get drawn.

Rather than throwing away all your organic waste, now you keep part of it to put in your Growduce machine, a device at the crossroads of a bio-composer and a 3D printer (by Guillian Graves / Big Bang Project, 2019). The machine allows them to ferment after the addition of natural yeasts and bacteria, giving them a rubbery material that can be shaped to make objects. Who knows, maybe with it, you will be able to make a plate service for your next picnic. The machine can be used to make soft objects : healing plasters, fabrics or gloves for example, from a mold.

Guillian Graves, Big Bang Project, Growduce, 2019 © Guillian Graves
Guillian Graves, Big Bang Project, Growduce, 2019
© Guillian Graves

The works of art that surround you are also the result of collaborations between artists and biochemists. In particular, on one of your walls, you have an algaegraphie by artist Lia Giraud (1985). In collaboration with Claude Yéméprian in 2010, she adapted the classical mechanisms of photography with photosensitive microalgae. The resulting image is alive and constantly changing. In the age of digital photography, she gets back to an organic process.

Lia Giraud, Algae Graphie, Série Cultures, chercheur (à gauche) / Série Cultures, paysage naturel (à droite), 2011 © Lia Giraud
Lia Giraud, Algae Graphie, Série Cultures, chercheur (à gauche) / Série Cultures, paysage naturel (à droite), 2011
© Lia Giraud

The circular economy

Do you remember Mon Oncle (1958), Jacques Tati’s film describing the futuristic home of a bourgeois family with all its technological plastic gadgets of improbable utility? It seems that today, we could make a Mon Oncle in Reverse : creators are looking to develop materials that respect the planet and are recyclable. They show how to get away from the plastic society, whose golden age corresponds to what Jacques Tati describes.
In our new age, the circular economy is becoming the watchword of creators. Materials have several uses during their life cycle : for example, the microalgae that walk along the façade of the XTU Architects building may be chlorella and spirulina transformed for food.
These designers are looking to develop materials that replace plastic, focusing on natural polymer materials. This is also the case of Studio Formafantasma and Officina Corpuscoli. The latter has originated the MOGU technology platform for the research and production of bio-materials from mycelia.
All favor local materials : for his Terroir series, Danish designer Jonas Edvard makes his objects in seaweed alloy using seaweed from the Danish coast, while the French Samuel Tomatis uses Brittany seaweed. For their vases made in Arles, Klarenbeek & Dros use seaweed from the Camargue area. By working in other regions of the world, they will be able to adapt their production with local algae. The same goes for the mycelium that is found everywhere.

The Terroir Project, par Jonas Edvard en collaboration avec Nikolaj Steenfatt © Photos Emil Thomsen Schmidt
The Terroir Project, par Jonas Edvard en collaboration avec Nikolaj Steenfatt
© Photos Emil Thomsen Schmidt

The art de vivre of the degradable

Creating a furniture object printed in 3D and compostable meets the characteristics of the digital economy and encourages a local economy.
First of all, the object tends to be printed on the very place where its materials are grown.
When the object becomes too used, it will be reprinted from its digital file. One could imagine that each person who buys such an object could receive a property right on the object that would allow the reprinting at a cost lower than the purchase price. Transactions related to the object could be stored in the blockchain. This principle would apply to any work - design work or work of art - that requires reprinting.

Maud Maffei
Publié le 15/04/2019
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Version française

Vue d’exposition “Mutations/créations III - La fabrique du vivant“ au Centre Pompidou © Philippe Migeat

Vue d’exposition "Mutations/créations III - La fabrique du vivant" au Centre Pompidou
© Philippe Migeat

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