A Baby, A Beast
During the kombucha fermentation process, a cellulose-based biofilm forms on the liquid. This floating microbial mat, SCOBY, contains mainly cellulose, different bacterial species, and various types of yeasts. During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast consume sugars and other nutrients in the liquid and produce acetic acid, alcohol, and carbon dioxide as by-products. The SCOBY is weaved on the air surface as a result of the accumulation of these micro-organisms. Cellulose is a structural component of the SCOBY and gives it its characteristic form and texture.
The material can be grown in any shape or size, as well as dyed, formed pressed or patterned. The exact composition of SCOBY will depend on the specific micro-organisms present in the culture and the conditions of the fermentation process. It is 100% compostable and even edible. Designer Mari Koppanen has used SCOBY in various ways in her artistic Ph.D. research project. She illustrates the material qualities by using SCOBY in her designs as a substitute for plastic or leather and plays with different scales.
A Baby, A Beast investigates the line between the human and non-human through microbial cellulose. The study presents a range of SCOBY material samples in different shapes, sizes, and both living and dried formats. It displays how the microbial matter grows, works, and connects – and how we humans are connected to it. The research strongly emphasises the symbiosis between human and microbial world: our bodies are home to a diverse community of micro-organisms. It challenges the boundaries of contemporary design and material possibilities and aims to challenge our understanding of the invisible microbial life that surrounds us. She views the material as a metaphor for an eternal cycle of growth. SCOBY has a human skin-like texture, which evokes a sense of caring for it by providing warmth, nutrition, and oxygen – the necessary elements it needs to grow. Koppanen proposes microbial cellulose as a material that is not made to last forever, but rather to decompose. She demonstrates it as an alternative to materials and objects that are difficult to recycle and often designed for short-term use, such as plastic sequins.
All samples presented are dyed with natural pigments from plants, lichen and fungi.
Fermentation is started by combining water, sugar, tea, and a piece of SCOBY. The type of tea used, such as black tea or green tea, will affect the colour of the final material. Sugar serves as a food source for the microorganisms in the kombucha. To avoid contamination, it is important to follow good hygiene protocol. This includes using clean and sterilised equipment, using filtered water, and storing the kombucha in a clean place. The material is allowed to grow for a period of 7-21 days, depending on the desired thickness. Then it is harvested and washed with soap. Dyeing is best done directly after harvesting by placing the material into a dye batch for 1-2 weeks. The material dries for 3-4 days. During the drying process, it will lose approximately 80-90% of its thickness. Once it is dry, it can be cut into the desired shape and size.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Microbial cellulose (SCOBY), natural dyes