Living Lace: before incubation
The unique patterned and spreading growth of the bacterium Bacillus mycoides
This cotton lace (please see image above) has been impregnated with spores of a bacterium called Bacillus mycoides (please see image above), that I isolated from the soil of my own garden in Hampshire. In doing this, I have BioFunctionalised this material, that is, given it complex living functions far beyond that of ordinary cotton material.
In the image above (before incubation), it looks no different from cotton, but when it is cut and placed on a wet surfaces the bacterial spores germinate to form “intelligent” fibrils that explore the environment, and in a sense seek to repair the cotton, so that it becomes a living cotton/bacterial hybrid lace (please see images below taken after just 12 hours incubation at 25 C.
From scientific research that we have done in my laboratory, I know that these fibrils are sensing their environment and responding to stress and tensions in the agar, and so their movements and the patterns that they make are informed by the pattern of the cotton itself.
I also get a very strong sense that the bacteria are actively seeking something and thus perhaps a return to the soil where both the and the cotton textile originally came.
A couple of weeks ago we visited Peppercoombe Bay in North Devon, UK. At the entrance to the beech, next to the footpath that brought us here, there was a large pile of sea-scratched plastic, and so the beach had obviously been cleaned recently by environmentally aware volunteers. Despite this and their altruistic efforts, amongst the pebbles and boulders, the beach was still littered with smaller clots and fragments of this human-made material. The images below show just some of this plastic, which I collected over a period of just 20 minutes.
Unlike the majority of the natural material present on the beach, plastic melts and readily turns into a liquid form when exposed to high temperatures, and so when I returned home, armed with a blowtorch and my found plastic, I transformed this material into this gaudy and synthetic marine ecosystem. The different types of plastic respond very differently to the caress of the transformative butane flame, and this informs my use of them in this work. Some plastics form low spreading forms that coat the rocks like Lichens would, whilst other types autogenically curl up into forms that resemble the clustered eggs of sea creatures, or generate structures like the anemones and filter feeding organisms found in the sea here.
If I were to pick a pebble from a rock pool here on Peppercoombe Bay Beach, it too would be encrusted, in a superficially similar way, with a vast diversity of colour and form. This natural and living ecology however is fragile and could be destroyed by the same materials from which my showy synthetic, and also marine ecology is made.