Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Bacteria And 3D Printing Collide to Form Art

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While bacteria most likely won’t have their own Saturday morning cartoon any time soon, they have received quite a lot of attention over the years, not all of which has been negative. Despite the apparent bacteria-cidal sammy-jobbins-wells-skin-corset-living-organisms-digital-prototyping-designboom-06mania gripping hand sanitizer addicts, the positive and negative attributes of bacteria is much more of a mixed bag. It is true that bacteria are responsible for salmonella and gonorrhea among other horrors, there are also types of bacteria that eat human sewage and produce, as a convenient byproduct, rocket fuel. This is of little consolation to someone suffering gastrointestinal discomfort, but interesting nonetheless.

If you are a fan of sourdough bread or kombucha tea, you may positively adore bacteria. However you feel about the “wee beasties” they have captured the imagination of artist Sammy Jobbins Wells who used them to produce the surface of a garment. With a feeling much like human skin, the surface the bacteria create is given form by an underlying skeleton designed using the Delaunay Triangulation, as well as being placed over 3D printed molds in order to later dry and take form.  It is reminiscent of the activity that many remember from childhood of spreading a layer of glue on your hand and then peeling it off in a single sheet.

The bacteria is placed over a 3D print of a face, left to dry and then removed.

The bacteria is placed over a 3D print of a face, left to dry and then removed.

However, instead of spreading something on a surface to dry, this surface is grown using acetobacter xylinum, a strain of bacteria that consumes glucose and produces a microbial cellulose textile. This method of textile production is completely sustainable in that it consumes no energy for its production. The material itself is tensile and irregular, characteristics which interested Wells as she considered the intersection between the precision of digitally generated forms and natural biological processes.

sammy-jobbins-wells-skin-corset-living-organisms-digital-prototyping-designboom-02The underlying structure, created in Grasshopper, was inspired by the forms of antique animal bone corsets in that they provide rigid structures inhibiting free movement and, especially with the added ‘skin’, modify the overall surface of the body. Well’s creations wrap the waist and pelvis area, are directed up the back and finally encase the head of the wearer. The algorithmically generated forms are produced using rapid prototyping equipment and then the cellulose is able to contract and develop over the forms creating a perfect fit.

Suzanne Lee's Bicouture Jacket

Suzanne Lee’s Bicouture Jacket

Wells is not the first artist to work with growing textiles. The London-based designer Suzanne Lee, a senior research fellow in the School of Fashion/Textiles, has created a series of garments in which she uses textiles created from bacterial cellulose. Her ‘biocouture’ jacket was produced by millions of bacteria that were grown in bathtubs of sweet green tea. What differentiates Well’s work is her interest in the interplay of digital and biological – sometimes conceived of as being binary opposites.

Wells hails from Australia but recently moved to pursue an MA in digital media at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany.  Let’s hear your thoughts on Wells’ work, in the 3D printed bacteria art forum thread on 3DPB.com.

[Source: Cargocollective]

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