Overview – Growing Materials to Make Sculpture

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

These living materials are fed, fermented and grown. This is a different ethos for making sculpture. Often many conventional materials used for making sculpture are purchased and are expensive. Conversely, fungi are easy to grow, cost effective, light-weight and durable. The also bio-degrade at the end of life without harmful implications; in fact they can naturally decompose and nourish the soil.

BACTERIAL CELLULOSE

In a single process of making the popular probiotic tea Kombucha, the ‘mother’ Scoby (symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast) simultaneously generate bacterial cellulose. For many years, the cellulose was viewed as a bi-product of commercial brewing of Kombucha. Today, it is recognised as valuable material with applications within various fields such as art, fashion, design, medicine and surgery.

MYCELIUM

Processing the mycelium will be done once it has finished fruiting the mushrooms and harvested. In a similar manner to bacterial cellulose, mycelium was also regarded simply as part of the necessary process of growing mushrooms. Today though, mycelium is increasing valued as material with many applications.

QUESTIONS

Fox has questioned the use of conventional materials to make sculpture for some time. This is for a number of reasons; and includes the availability and richness of ‘waste-treasure’ from many varied production processes. In addition, this concern has developed alongside our throw-away culture and a desire to use re-cycled materials and found objects as much possible.

The disposing of conventional sculptural materials is a concern. For example, at this time plaster disposal is problematic and there are few plaster re-cycling centres in the UK. Plaster waste must be kept clean and not mixed with other materials for it to be genuinely re-cycled into new material. Disposing waste plaster into landfill is complex and can produce toxic fumes if mixed with certain materials.

An institute in Manhattan, New York are making furniture and domestic fittings with mycelium. A company called ‘Ecovative’ in upstate New York are growing packaging, building materials and furniture 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 bacterial cellulose clothing water-proof and durable.