FABER FUTURES: THE RHIZOSPHERE PIGMENT LAB

Installation, 2013

Natsai Audrey Chieza (UK), in collaboration with Professor John Ward (UK)

The human race has entered the age of scientific mastery: Homo faber (Latin for “Man the Creator”) has begun to craft with ‘the living’, and scientific disciplines are now in an active state of exchange with the humanities, arts and design. Driven by an interest in ecological material, this piece sees a microbiology laboratory become a design studio. An intriguing library of materials suspended in time at -80°C wait to be reawakened, reimagined and redesigned.

Faber Futures is an on-going research project that aims to find design strategies that appropriate living bacteria in our material world. The project focuses on learning how to train Streptomyces, bacteria commonly found in soil, to produce pigment for the use in textiles. The bacteria have been found to yield a range of colours when controlled via the manipulation of their nutrient media and growing conditions. Faber Futures is the first collection of textiles produced by traditional screen printing methods but using dyes produced by bacteria.

The Rhizosphere Pigment Lab, a piece commissioned by Science Gallery, has been inspired by two things: the notion that practical scientific enquiry can be interpreted as a craft discipline; and the concept of rhizosphere microecology. The rhizosphere is the section of soil that is directly influenced by root secretions and associated soil microorganisms, and part of this piece’s inspiration comes from examining the microbial ecosystem of a plant’s root structure unique to that species.

This piece begins to articulate the unique protocol involved in determining what colour a tarragon plant might provide within its microecology that a rosemary or mint plant cannot, and vice versa. A threestage experimental set-up illustrates: the botanical provenance of the bacteria, the evaluation of pigment produced by the microbial colonies from each plant, and, the corresponding selected samples which actively dye silk scarves in vitro (Latin for ‘in glass’).

The Rhizosphere Pigment Lab invites the audience to witness the alchemy of the ‘unseen’ emerge through a unique collection of biologically coloured and patterned silk scarves. Whilst charting the progress of this live experiment, these fluid fabric forms illustrate how research, science and design are defining new craft processes with the living.

Artist's Statement

Faber Futures is relevant to GROW YOUR OWN... because it highlights how the future of designing with the living is here now. You don’t always have to splice genes to design with the living. It is a working example of a very practical application of crafted wetware. It sits comfortably in a threshold of extremes, but highlights a radical approach to manufacturing and how we conceptualise industrial endeavours. If we could grow our own pigment from bacteria, what protocol does the designer follow, how is their craft defined, and is it an ecologically robust endeavour? Faber Futures also highlights the immediate impact on design practice and aesthetic development that working with biology has on our material world.