Growing Materials to Make Sculpture

Since 2022 Jane Fox is growing cultures and mycelium and exploring their applications for Fine Art and sculpture. Such organic materials are ecological, bio-degradable and non-toxic to humans, other life-forms and the planet.

These living materials are fed, brewed and grown. This is a very different ethos and culture for making sculpture. Often conventional materials for making sculpture are expensive. Conversely probiotics and fungi are easy to grow, cost effective, light-weight and durable. They bio-degrade at the end of life without toxic implications; in fact they can decompose and nourish the soil.

Historically and until recently both the Scoby microbial cellulose and mycelium were regarded as waste products of brewing Kombucha and growing mushrooms.

Alongside the process of fermenting Kombucha – the popular probiotic tea; Scobys (symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast) grow a fibrous material called microbial cellulose. Here you can see a sheet of microbial cellulose filling the sides of the box. Underneath the cellulose sheet is the culture powerhouse – the Scoby. The Scoby just needs feeding with tea and sugar to grow the microbial cellulose.

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Scoby microbial cellulose outgrowing 2Ltr box
Mycelium growth at 21 days incubation – the white mycelium is firm and rubbery

Fox is exploring sustainability and the role of conventional materials within sculpture. This is for several reasons – including the available richness of waste-treasure from many production processes. In addition, this consideration has developed alongside our easy throw-away culture and a desire to use re-cycled, salvaged materials and found objects as much possible.

Also, the disposable of the conventional materials can be an issue. For example, currently plaster disposal is complex with few plaster re-cycling centres in the UK. Plaster waste must be isloated and not mixed with other materials for it to be cleanly re-cycled into new material. Also, disposing waste plaster into landfill is problematic and can produce toxic fumes if mixed with certain materials.

An institute in Manhattan, New York are making furniture and various domestic fittings with mycelium; and many building materials made from mycelium are set to replace traditional ones. A company called ‘Ecovative’ in upstate New York are growing building materials out of mycelium. Mycelium architecture building with ancient fungi is on the rise and an exciting way forward.

The Design Department at Central St Martins School, London are researching applications for the fashion industry; including vegan leather and how to make Scoby clothing water-proof and durable.

Please refer to Portfolio Section 2022 for further details on the projects