blond & bieber / Essi Johanna Glomb & Rasa Weber
Algaemy – crafting our future food
Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee
Algaemy – crafting our future food
Algaemy – crafting our future food
Algaemy is a design-laboratory investigating the potential of microalgae as pigment in textile printing.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
There is no clear biological definition for weeds. It rather exists as a personal judgement, defined by a subjective social viewpoint instead of science, biology or botany. The perception of weeds is extremely divert in different cultures. Plants that we see as weeds can be a valuable part of nutrition in other parts of the world or even carry a symbolic meaning which increases their value. It is a term strongly bound to social conventions and a subjective viewpoint, therefor it offers room for discussion and interpretation.
The "Unkrautlabor" / "Weeds-Laboratory" , established by Hella Jongerius and Lucas Verweji, was searching for the inherent and mostly overseen qualities of weeds. The goal was to not only reveal the arbitrary aesthetics of plants which are by definition unwanted and in direct opposition to beauty, but also to find completely new applications for those unwanted "misfits". Aesthetic, social and even metaphorical interpretations of "plants in the wrong place" were included in the 4 month research and product development.
The global temperature is rising rapidly. Above average Germany was facing an increase of almost one degree within the last century. This affects not only our ecosystem on land, it also massively changes the balance of our waters and seas. One species that seems to profit from those new harsh conditions are algae. Certain types of algae are not only incredibly resistant to warmth, they even profit from a higher CO2 level, from waste waters and salt.
Fears are rising that algae are slowly overgrowing our swimming waters, taking essential light and air from other species. Regarding it from a different ankle the "green-plague" carries a lot of potential:
It is filtering waste waters, has the ability to bind CO2 in high density and is even regarded as new super-food, considering its high value in proteins and minerals. Besides that it can be easily grown under unfavorable conditions and does not require additional cultivated land, that is needed for our food production. Diving deeper into the topic we find out that it has even more unexpected properties, like being able to be used as food coloring, building material or medicine.
Up to 60 000 forms of algae are known so far, whereas only one percent of it is culturally used. We certainly do need to emphasize the potential in this enormously rich resource, which is going to grow exuberantly in the next century. It is time to discover in it much more than our future weeds.
Algaemy is inspired by old alchemy laboratories where experimentation and failure played a huge role in productivity. The approach to „undiscovered“ materials or material combinations is led by curiosity and try-outs rather than facts or experience. In everyday life microalgae are basically known as food addition. And indeed algae are a very rich and heathy nutritional resource. The machine ironically quotes this connotation to food, as it reminds of the traditional asian mobile-kitchens with the difference that the output of this experimental kitchen is not used as food but as ink.
Visiting the Fraunhofer Institute for microalgae, it was obvious that the dried algae have never been regarded as a color-pigment. Microalgae have a surprisingly wide color palette from different shades of green, to dark red, brown, yellow and even a decent blue. The color collection which was „discovered“ in the Fraunhofer Institute served as a basis for a research on possible printing techniques with this enormously productive organisms.
Looking for a way to handle the aesthetics of algae, it was an approach to connect the material to traditional crafts such as weaving, knitting, printing, pottery. Algae itself are hardly perceived as an aesthetic or beautiful material. Crafting algae means changing its shape, look and meaning. It is possible to construct flat but structured surfaces, yet breaking the common aesthetics of a regular pattern. The discover of the beauty of irregularity undermines the concept of the project. The chosen craft - screenprinting - works with a printing paste created with microalgae, which develops its own structured surface and an instable color that keeps changing its hue.
Microalgae are basically growing anywhere. Their modest requirements for growth make a cultivation at home manageable. Most forms flourish in room-temperature, with nothing more than water, sunlight and some additional CO2.
As Algaemy tries to work without any additional energy requirements, therefor no electrical air pump was added to the system. Instead natural CO2 that every human produces just by exhaling is used as an energy-resource to enhance the growth of the algae. As algae are also a rich nutrition, any physical contact is not only completely harmless but even healthy.
In Kenia Spirulina (one of the post popular microalgae used in the food industry) is a precious and cheap food resource. It grows extensively in western Kenia´s Lake Victoria. Due to its high protein value people are harvesting it from the sweet water. Traditionally they are extracting the algae with nothing more but a piece of old cloth that is used as a water filter. This idea was applied to the algaemy machine in order to find a low-tech filtering device.
Algaemy is an analogue textile printer for microalgae. It ideally functions as a closed circle avoiding any input of extra energy or output of waste material. Due to its printing role it is mobile like traditional Asian street food-kitchens. The moveable laboratory displays the creative working process with living material crafted for textile-printing.
The huge potential of microalgae has been a subject of research in natural sciences for quite some time. Meanwhile the artistic and creative value of this resource is mostly undiscovered land.
Algaemy investigates the potential of microalgae in a creative context. The designers Essi Johanna Glomb (textile design) and Rasa Weber (product design) reveal the aesthetic potential of a resource which is mostly regarded as weeds within Europe.
Algaemy is an analogue textile-printer which produces its own (surprisingly fast-growing) pigment. A wide color palette from different shades of blue, green, brown and even red derives from various species of microalgae.
Microalgae have an incredibly wide range of applications, such as nutrition, energy- and oil production, filtering qualities and even CO 2 absorption. The machine uses this potential to create an autarkic circle of production, which does not require additional energy or material apart from human power and the microalgae itself.