AgarAgar Bioplastic Series
Brief Overview (TLDR):
This series focuses on experimenting and creating with the emerging and petrochemical-free material of Bioplastics in new artwork. Agar Agar, a bio-substance derived from Red Algae seaweed, is cooked with vibrant pigmentations to create jello-fabric-like and semi-translucent new materials, which are then cast in hard, clear resin and formed into new objects and shapes.
I remember seeing the sunlight shimmer and flow through the water, collecting green hues of color as it passed through the translucent seaweed underneath the surface of the small lake in Northern Michigan we had a living trailer near. I was young. Young enough to be afraid of what swims and lives beyond the dark intangible barrier of non-light that the seaweed seemed to be at the entrance of. I knew how far I jumped off the end of the wooden dock by how close I was to the start of the seaweed after I opened my eyes underwater. There was a local legend of an old train resting at the bottom of this small lake due to an accident many decades earlier, but no one really knew for certain. I couldn't have imagined that a few decades later I would be learning about and creating with a new type of material derived from certain species of this mysterious underwater seaweed plant I had become so familiar with.
Until I first saw some examples of different bioplastics online, and eventually experimented with making my own, I had never come across a material like it before. It can take many different forms and shapes, really only limited to the mold you are pouring/casting it into and other decisions of the sort. When cast thin, it can take on the form of something like translucent jello-fabric. Cast even thinner, it can be almost as a paper or a film, curling its edges as it dries out. It can even be worn, as shown by artist Tiare Ribeaux in their "Bioplastic Cookbook for Ritual Healing from Petrochemical Landscapes", an online resource where I was originally exposed to the concept of DIY bioplastics cooking. No matter the thickness or shape, it always maintains its semi-translucence, calling back to its original form as natural underwater seaweed.
'Plastics' have gone through many different phases from thousands of years BC to modern day. This is beautifully presented and described within Goda Budvytyte & Viktorija Rybakova's book "El Plastico, The Sun That Lives Inside The Rock". "Clay" (an ancestor of plastic due to its inherent plasticity), gives way to "Plastics" (Early forms of latex and rubber produced from trees), gives way to "Synthetic Plastics" (1500-1960 - this is probably the plastic that we are most familiar with in our lifetimes thus far), and finally giving way to the new budding era of "Post-Plastics", including bioplastics, which is still in its infancy as a material today.
Many times Synthetic Plastics are created through Petrochemical processes, meaning that they are derived from crude oil and natural gas, making up a significant percentage of the world's oil consumption. Bioplastics are comprised of mostly, depending on the specific type, natural materials including that of corn, cellulose, bacteria, or algae (Agar Agar).
On a creative and fabrication level, it's inspiring to make art and object with naturally derived materials as it feels like more of a collaboration
with Earth, as opposed to making things *despite* of Earth, ignoring the harm being caused in the process.
This AgarAgar Bioplastic Light Series is an ongoing exploration into what it means and looks like to work with post-plastics heading into the
future. There are so many exciting things being researched now with the production of new materials and the continued shift away from petroleum-based processes. For instance, the epoxy resin used to encase and preserve the bioplastics in these lights is a traditional synthetic plastic, as almost all resins currently are, but there are already new types of natural resin coming onto the market that promise petrol-free production and similar qualities and consistencies to the current resins today. I'm excited to try these new natural resins and other new materials and fabrication techniques developed in the future that have a less anthropocentric and more earth-first focus to them.