by Dean Weigand, Stefanie Putsch & Elena Bangel

Tell us about your work with bacterial cellulose. What was your artistic intention and why did you choose bacterial cellulose? 

I have been making kombucha tea for many years but I first became interested to work with bacterial cellulose as a material after I attended a conference on bacteria in art. Learning about ways in which bacteria and the microbiome challenge binary constructions such as human/non-human and mind/body was really exciting and showed the conceptual potential of the material. Its material qualities such as the sliminess, strong body-like smell and skin-like texture tie into my research on affect, disgust and the body. I’m exploring the microbiome-gut-brain axis and looking at how the physical, material, more-than-human body is enmeshed with our subjective conscious states. I’m also looking at knowledge that is produced as a result of these symbiotic processes. 

Material properties: What kind of processing methods work best for bacterial cellulose and what were your biggest struggles? 

I usually wash the cellulose with soap before drying to keep the material more stable and to slow down the changes that occur over time. These changes (darkening and becoming more brittle) have been a challenge as objects that I make are not stable. However in the end I find that the fragility and ephemeral qualities of the material are very important to the concept of the work. The cellulose material is very porous and is strongly affected by humidity so this can also be a challenge but I accept that it can not be controlled and I need to work with it. 

Could you imagine bacterial cellulose being a circular material? (rather than being biodegradable) Are there ways to recycle it oder reuse the material? 

I don’t dispose of any of my material, except for contaminated samples that could pose a health risk. It’s not clear to me whether the material can be reanimated once it has been dried. This could only possibly work if it has not been treated with soap. 

Do you see the potential of bacterial cellulose being a material for industrial manufactured products? 

I’m critical of simply adopting more ecological materials for use in industry and then marketing these products as a solution to problems of sustainability. Often adopting these alternative materials are only surface changes. I think much broader changes are needed in the processes of manufacturing and production. 

If you had one wish: what would you wish bacterial cellulose would be able to do?

To communicate, but probably it already does, as the smells it produces are chemical signals that communicate within the body and between organisms. So rather I would wish that we could consciously understand the information it communicates. 

Alanna Lynch is a performance artist based in Berlin working with organisms, textiles and research. She draws on a varied background in biology, psychology and activism.

Alanna Lynch