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Fermenting Futures

Fermenting Futures is a project by artists Alex May and Anna Dumitriu which traverses BioArt, synthetic biology, digital technologies, sculpture, craft and installation and explores the significance of yeast biotechnology from a cultural perspective and seeks to engage arts audiences in the history and future of this important but under-recognised field. The project is created in collaboration with the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology at BOKU – Universität für Bodenkultur in Vienna.

About Fermenting Futures

“Fermenting Futures” explores the significance of yeast biotechnology from a cultural and aesthetic perspective – engaging audiences in the history and future of this important – but under-recognised field.

The central artwork in the series explores and physically contains a CRISPR modified Pichia pastoris yeast that is simultaneously able to capture carbon and output lactic acid for the manufacture of biodegradable PLA plastic – for 3D printing. The sculpture comprises a glass vessel containing the bubbling modified yeast, sustained by a mass of tubes, atop a block of horse chestnut wood. 3D printed yeast forms incorporating the yeast-produced PLA plastic swarm across the container. The artwork extends two research projects in the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, which use genetic modification techniques and directed evolution. One project resulted in Pichia pastoris yeast capable of capturing carbon and using it to produce animal feed, and another where Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast eats sugar and produces lactic acid.

“The Bio-archaeology of Yeast” investigates the field marks created by extremophile ‘black yeasts’ on sites of cultural heritage, not as something to be cleaned away, but as the objects of aesthetic appreciation themselves. We produced moulds from 3D photogrammetry data of yeast colonies and cast them into sculptures using Roman cement. The sculptures were then placed into liquid media containing black yeasts and stained by them in a process of beautiful decay.

Culture (2021)

In “Culture” we explore how the co-evolution of yeast and human culture might actually be led by yeasts. Our collaborators discovered the genetics behind fermentation, and used CRISPR to give a non-fermenting Pichia pastoris yeast the ability to make bread rise. A jumble of breadcrumb-encrusted, furnished, and lit, architectural models made with this novel yeast, emerge from a bed of soil.

This work is supported by the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), funded by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs (bmwd), the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit), the Styrian Business Promotion Agency SFG, the Standortagentur Tirol, Government of Lower Austria and Vienna Business Agency through the COMET-Funding Program managed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG. The funding agencies had no influence on the conduct of this work.

In collaboration with Professor Diethard Mattanovich, Professor Michael Sauer, Dr. Özge Ata and Dr. Martin Altvater at the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria.

News

  • Fermenting Futures: Media Update - March 15, 2021
    Despite the continuing lockdown, work continues in earnest on the Fermenting Futures project. We have just completed a video pre-visualisation of the exhibition that is being developed (expected to be finished by August 2021) and are able to share some images from the video here. Fermenting Futures is a project by artists Alex May and ...
  • Ars Electronica 2020: Alex May artworks and videos - September 3, 2020
    Alex May has works featured in Ars Electronica 2020 gardens, including Fermenting Futures, Acquired Immunity, and ArchaeaBot at KONTEJNER

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