Japanese knotweed

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Made in

Biodegradable 232 Bioresin 21 Board material 30 Circular 217 Composite 99 Plant-based 168 Calcium carbonate 5 Japanese knotweed 5 Sodium alginate 14 Water 30

Japanese knotweed

Photos: Maxwell Fertik

Indeterminate Structures of Repair

'Indeterminate Structures of Repair' addresses the entanglement of human and nonhuman agency made tangible by invasive species. It calls for the need to harness this relationship and develop research on a plant that is naturally mass-produced. Combining the artist's background in sculpture and current work in design for the end of the world, Maxwell Fertik developed a novel material from an abundant and valuable natural resource.

Japanese knotweed brought to the West in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant, is a displaced species that rapidly takes over riversides and disturbed soils in all but 5 states in the US. It is resilient to almost all methods of extermination and often grows back stronger long after its removal. But despite its invasive tendencies, this plant has the potential to be manipulated into something as strong as wood and as malleable as clay.

This project set out to harness this resilience rather than eradicate it, by first breaking the plant down to its tough, wood-like essence, and then combining it with a binder to form structures out of the resulting pulp. The two completed structures, both moulded by hand and cast using found bricks and wood, exude an archaic, discarded quality with rough uneven textures and earthly brutality. Shelters, structures and standing forms have long occupied the imagination of Fertik and have made their way into much of his experimental practice. With a nod to materialist thinkers Elvia Wilk and Jane Bennett and a fascination with various archives of open-source recipes. The artist cherishes an outlook of the world as a constant interaction of materials and beings, overlapping and transforming in uncertain ways, ultimately leading to an emergence of more ecological modes of production and consumption.

Additional information

First, identify a significant patch of land that is occupied by Japanese knotweed. The leaves are wide and flat and almost heart-shaped. They are almost never alone so once you find one you will find many. The stems look similar to bamboo with clearly delineated nodes. Harvest by carefully slicing the stem above the ground. Its rhizomes can extend almost 20 ft wide and 10 ft deep, full removal is not necessary. Next, slice the stems into manageable pieces and soak them overnight in water. The next day, drain the water and boil the stems for 3 hours with a few pinches of calcium carbonate to help it break down and enough water to cover the stems. Then, after draining the hot water, pulverise the stems with a hammer until they are flat and fibrous. Finally, place the stems in a blender with some water as needed and blend to a fine pulp and drain the water. At this point, add gum arabica to make paper or add gum arabica and sodium alginate to make a structural paste that can be moulded or cast as desired. Using a dehydrator and or freeze dryer will vastly speed up the drying process.

Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.

Ingredients

Japanese knotweed pulp, calcium carbonate, water, gum arabica, sodium alginate

Credits

Rhode Island School of Design, Hyundai Motor Group, Edna W. Lawrence NatureLab for the summer fellowship