Seemingly another lifetime ago, back in ’07-09, I focused on exploring the potential for using ‘living’ structures and ‘cultured’ environments in small architecture. I was working on an MFA at Vesper College, and for my thesis exhibition, made a series of miniature sculptures out of natural specimens from my private collection. These were presented along with a host of simple ‘cultured objects’, employing small fish, trilobites, snails, brine shrimp, yeast, bread mold, algae, duck weed, moss, Epsom salts, bluing solution and copper crystals to add a dynamic growth. Strategically placed N scale model figures appeared to be overwhelmed with the surrounding ecology at work.

A city seen through the process of decay; bones, algae, water fleas, snails.

I never quite achieved the level of command over the material that I had hoped for, but working with the potential of these ‘semi-living objects’ was inspiring. In years since, now with a house and kids, I’ve migrated away from the exploration of living systems in my work, as there are so many of them to manage in my home! My five year old son loves science though, so we share an excitement for growing things and tinkering. He is teaching me to see life processes again for the first time. My daughter, who has a speech delay called Childhood Apraxia of Speech, also teaches me about communication. How much we able-bodied people take it for granted, and how much those who are challenged have to adapt to get by.

What does the reconfiguration of nature look like? What do we do when we can’t put it all back together again? 

Revisiting these images reminds me of materials and methods I’ve been tap-dancing around for an age, encouraging me to keep farming them. Working with related cultures contained within glass  and metal bubbles, to be worn on the body, has crossed my mind and studio space. Results that prove sturdy enough to take the abuse of wear have not been found yet, but I’ll persist until they reveal themselves. In the mean time, I keep my eyes peeled for promising DIY-Bio recipes like this one for growing sheets of cellulose material Komboocha from BioCouture.

Images from my MFA installation in 2009, ‘This is an Experiment’.

A lot has happened in the field since my thesis exhibition, awareness of the medium has been raised, but it remains largely a fringe practice. Eduardo Kac came to Minneapolis for a residency at the University of Minnesota department of sciences around that same time frame, producing Eduina, a hybrid petunia crossed with his own DNA. Eduina had to be destroyed after her exhibition run, as trans-genetic organisms are a liability once created, but she was a ‘beut. It’s a whole new playing field now. Maybe I could score a residency to create jewelry spliced with the wearers’ genetic code, that’d be interesting.

 

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