Made by Insects
Made by Insects, is an ongoing research into the natural polymer, lac.
Lac is mainly used in the industry as a coating material, known as ‘shellac'. With the rise of chemical coatings, the demand for the natural version is decreasing. However, this research suggests innovative ways to look at the material, aiming to give it new life and revive this dying craft.
The research began on a field trip to Thailand, to study the crafty producers: the ‘Kerria Lacca’ insects and meet with people from the industry around them. As the insects use the material to build their cocoons on tree branches, in a quiet architectural way, Ori Orisun Merhav, was intrigued to explore the possibility to form other structures with it.
The insects live in their cocoon for a period of ten months, by the end of their life cycle the females lay eggs inside the cocoon, and only once the new crawlers are breaking out, the farmers are harvesting the material. This can be seen as the 'leftover' of their life cycle.
Coming back to the Netherlands, Ori Orisun Merhav was setting up the ‘Lac-Lab' to experiment with the material, slowly forming this newborn craft. Through a collaborative process with different craftsmen and people from the industry, she grew a library of new techniques to work with the material. Those are all gathered into an open source, a platform to invite other explorers to join in, and together expand the knowledge around this natural polymer.
One of the most exciting findings of the research so far is the discovery that the material can be blown. This has opened up a lot of new possibilities, the coating material has grown into three-dimensional shapes, creating a language of its own. To further research blowing techniques, glass blowers joined the experimentations, to explore the borders between glass and lac blowing, which brought a lot of insights to the lab.
Lac‘s melting temperature is quite low (around 100 degrees), which means that the material can be shaped without investing much energy. Moreover, it can always be re-melted and re-shaped, or in other words, it is recyclable.
To showcase some of the new techniques and advocate this new life of lac, Ori Orisun Merhav creates installations that tell the story of the journey. She sees these installations as a portal between what lac is now and what it can be. A way to start a conversation, evoke curiosity and communicate the research.
Although many opportunities for the material have opened up through the research, there is much more that can still be explored. ‘Made by Insects’ constantly seeks experts and people with experience with material research, who see the potential of the project and are willing to contribute to bringing it further.
In the coming steps, new collaborators are coming in to broaden and deepen the research in different directions. As well as moving towards more practical applications, which people can use in their daily life.
1. Lac is workable once it’s melted into a chewing gum texture, it can become very elastic.
2. The melting temperate is quite low, it's about 100 degrees. It can easily be reached with a heat gun, infrared radiator or stove.
3. Lac is very sticky! Therefore you will need a metal surface as your tabletop. Steel is the most recommend metal, it can absorb the heat and the lac will never stick to it. Do not use aluminium, the lac sticks to aluminium surfaces.
4. Some basic tools and gloves are needed. A lot of glass-blowing tools are useful in lac.
5. Lac is used in the industry mainly as a coating material, but it has so much more potential. It is a natural polymer produced by insects and it has some similar qualities to plastic and glass.
6. The material can be formed and de-formed easily while being heated. Or in other words, recyclable.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Creasia Group, Selma Hamsta, Adam Salvi, Auke Raaf, Rembrandt Van der Zee,
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