The Xylinum Cones project presents a production line that uses living organisms to grow geometrical objects. The installation is part of a research project that uses bacterial cellulose to explore our perception of new biotechnological materials. Cellulose, an insoluble substance, is the main constituent of plant cell walls and vegetable fibers such as cotton, as well as being used to produce paper. Bacterial cellulose has different properties from plant cellulose and is characterised by high purity, strength, mouldability and increased water-holding ability.
Exhibiting both the growth process as well as its yield, the installation consists of a production rig and a sculpture. After a growth period of fourteen days, the cellulose cones are dried and added to a sculptural assembly. The shape of the single cones, as well as the way they are assembled, is inspired by natural patterns of regularity, such as reptile scales or flower seeds. Similar but not the same, each single part is following a defined system. At the same time, one can find related adoptions in architecture, such as roof tiles, clapboards or bricks.
The main motivation of Xylinum Cones is to prove the reproducibility of organically grown objects, but also to find a balanced level of geometric precision and organic diversity. There are standardisation systems or ‘norms’ for nuts and bolts, but does it make sense to apply such norms to potatoes or apples? How much freedom would grown artefacts need to thrive? In order to culturally implement new manufacturing routines into our daily lives, the aim of the project is to create a transparent production cycle along with tangible objects that allow us to build a relationship with a new and less culturally loaded material.
The fascination behind the Xylinum Cones project lies in the idea of making things by simply growing them. In our case, we found a microorganism that produces cellulose material from sugar. Taking this as the base for a new production culture, things started to get really interesting. Are these objects actually alive? What parameters need to be set to create an intentional shape? What would it mean for our daily lives if we were surrounded by such a material culture? Our experience during the hands-on process, along with people’s reactions, made us think differently about products, production, and the general perception of unfamiliar materials.