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Biobased Art and Design

Research Group

Livingness  has been a source of inspiration for creating alive-like  expressions in art and design, such as integrating kinetic elements that move  like living things. Livingness  has also been a more literal element in the design of artefacts through the incorporation of instances of nature or natural patterns into artefacts, just as in Biophilic design. The Biophilia Hypothesis, as proposed by Wilson (1984), explained aspects of human psychology with regards to our attractions and positive emotions towards organisms, species, habitats, processes and objects in their natural surroundings. This inspired many designers to incorporate living elements, from plants and trees for instance, into their designs to increase this sense of connectivity from its user.

But what if designers took a more extreme stance on Biophilic design? Instead of inserting living elements into artefacts as we know them, why not collaborate with living things  as the building blocks for novel artefacts that synthesise the artificial and biological?

In 2007, Tomas Libertiny presented a collection of vases made in collaboration with honeybees – pushing the boundaries of conventional design by defying mass production and enabling nature to create what would typically be considered a human-made product. 40,000 bees made a single vase in one week. Fascinated by the intelligence and behaviour of plant roots, Diana Scherer has explored the material-ability of root plants to create the unprecedented textile-like material: Interwoven. Through a self-developed technique, the artist guides the growth of plant roots to form geometric patterns found in nature, like honeycomb structures, or foliate designs reminiscent of Middle Eastern arabesques.

Positioned under the notion of biodesign, these two examples, among many others over the last decade, do not merely offer a novel aesthetic expression or a biophilic attempt to connect with nature, but also, they suggest a new materiality for art and design, a new industrial paradigm.

The research group Biobased Art and Design capitalises on the role of artistic practice in unlocking the unique potentials of living organisms, such as algae, fungi, plants and bacteria, for everyday materials and communicating these to a broader public. In doing so, the group aims to instigate and accelerate our widespread understanding, further development and usage of such biological materials. The researchers examine material qualities, addressing their roles and influences. Such qualities are deeply rooted in an organisms character and behaviour, and shape our experiences of materials made with living organisms. Researchers adopt diverse technical and creative methods taking artists, designers and scientists as equal and active partners in the material creation

Collaboration and impact

The research group is part of Avans University of Applied Sciences. The leading Professor Dr. Elvin Karana combines her professorship at Avans with a position of Associate Professor at Delft University, Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, where she leads the research group Materials, Fabrication and Computational Design.

Avans and TU Delft have shared projects in the Biobased Art and Design domain. Within Avans the research group collaborates with the Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy (CoE BBE). The basis for this collaboration is a shared laboratory in Den Bosch. This laboratory, called Material Incubator or [MI] lab, has two connected workspaces; one for Caradt and one for CoE BBE. Furthermore there is a lab training room ([MI] Project Space) for students to learn through using the [MI] lab and conducting basic biodesign experiments.

The group is involved in a fast-growing number of externally funded projects. Researcher Wasabi NG collaborates in the SIA RAAK project Building on Mycelium, and the SIA GoChem project Colouring Mycelium, both initiated by Avans CoE BBE. Researcher Ward Groutars (Caradt) works on an NWO Smart Culture project Coloured by Flavo, developed by Elvin Karana in close association with Wageningen University and the company Hoekmine BV.

‘It is through the “not-knowing” that a stimulating and caring environment can be created to confidently share vulnerability.’

Risk Hazekamp arrow

‘Humans are atmospheric beings, particles, dust, in intimate cycles of exchange, actors with an incredible force.’

Annemarie Piscaer arrow

‘Exploring and integrating novel perspectives to our everyday through the eyes of fungi.’

Wasabii Ng arrow

‘The dynamic relationship between humans and living artefacts will continue to evolve reciprocally with mutual care.’

Elvin Karana arrow

‘Bacteria, Fungi, Humans, all part of the same experiment.’

Ward Groutars arrow

‘I believe a collaborative and efficient lab can address both educational and research demands.’

Serena Buscone arrow

‘I am eager to explore how unique qualities of ‘living materials’ can transform the way we think, feel and act.’

Hazal Ertürkan arrow

‘Nature is a perfect example of an iterative design process. It is inspiring and full of exciting solutions.’

Clarice Risseeuw arrow

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Risseeuw, C., Mcquillan, H., Martins, J., and Karana, E. (2024) (Re)activate, (Re)direct, (Re)arrange: Exploring the Design Space of Direct Interactions with Flavobacteria.arrow In Proceedings of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’24). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 705, 1–18.

Risseeuw, C., Martinez Castro, J. F., Barla, P., & Karana, E. (2023). FlavoMetrics: Towards a Digital Tool to Understand and Tune Living Aesthetics of Flavobacteria.arrow In DIS ’23: Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference (pp. 2079–2092). Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

McQuillan, H. and Karana, E. (2023) Conformal, Seamless, Sustainable: Multimorphic Textile-forms as a Material-Driven Design Approach for HCIarrow, CHI ’23: Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Article No.: 727.

Kim, R., Risseeuw, C., Groutars, E., Karana, E. (2023) Surfacing Livingness in Microbial Displays: A Design Taxonomy for HCIarrow, CHI ’23: Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2023, Article No.: 156.

Hazekamp, R., Lykke, N. (oct. 2022) Ancestral Conviviality. How I fell in love with queer crittersarrow, FORUM+, Volume 29, Issue 3, Oct 2022, p. 30 – 36.

Zhou, J., Kim, R., Doubrovski, Z., Martins, J., Giaccardi, E., Karana, E. (accepted, 2023) Cyano-chromic Interface: Aligning Human-Microbe Temporalities Towards Noticing and Attending to Living Artefactsarrow, DIS’23.

Buso, A., McQuillan, H., Voorwinden, M., Karana, E. (accepted, 2023) Weaving Textile-form Interfaces: A Material-Driven Design Journeyarrow, DIS’23.

Karana, E. (2020), Still Alive: Livingness as a Material Quality in Design, Breda Avans University of Applied Sciences, ISBN: 978-90-76861-61-6.arrow

Karana, E., Rognoli, V., & Jacob-Dazarola, R. (2020) The Role of Design in the Development of New Materials: Interview with Elvin Karanaarrow, Diseña, (17), 46-55.

Barati, B., Karana, E., & Hekkert, P. (2020), Understanding Experiential Qualities of Light-Touch-Matters: Towards a Tool Kitarrow, Journal of Design Thinking, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1-20.

Veelaert, L., Du Bois. E., Moons, I., Karana, E. (2020) Experiential characterization of materials in product design: A literature reviewarrow, Materials and Design, 190: 108543.

Zhou, L., Barati, B., Wu, J., Scherer, D., Karana, E. (2020) Digital biofabrication to realize the potentials of plant roots for product designarrow, Bio-design and Manufacturing, 4, pages 111–122 (2021).

Karana, E., Barati, B., & Giaccardi, E. (2020) Living artefacts: Conceptualizing livingness as a material quality in everyday artefactsarrow,  International Journal of Design, 14(3), 37-53.

Hazekamp, R. (2020) Unlearning Photographyarrow, Mister Motley, Motley College.

Barati, B., Giaccardi, E., & Karana, E. (2018). The making of performativity in designing [with] smart material composites. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI18) (pp.5:15:11). ACM. 

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Material Incubator

Material Incubator is a creative research lab that explores the potentials of materials from living organisms for an alternative notion of the everyday.

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Still Alive

The Still Alive event served as a celebration of recent developments regarding the establishment of biodesign research and education in Art.

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