Nature Observations (lockdown 2021)

leaves

 

We often talk about time as if it is real, yet according to Albert Einstein and many scientists, time is only an illusion. Time is subjective and personal, and everyone has their own concept of time. In Zen Buddhism, the founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji (1200–1253), also wrote about time or ‘uji’ in Japanese, which is usually translated as ‘Being-Time’. The most common interpretation of the two kanji characters is: “time is existence and that all existence is time.” According to Dogen, we are time, and time is us. Time is a complex subject, and I don’t intend to dwell on it here, but personally, the lockdown has made me become more aware of my relationship with time.

During the pandemic, my digital calendar and paper planners were mostly blank for about 2 years. I had no work events or social engagements to attend, and no upcoming holiday to look forward to. I am sure that many people experienced some sort of anxieties when all the short and long term plans suddenly came to a halt. And with so much ‘time’ on our hands, how were we going to spend it?

Perhaps for the first time in life, I did not have to check my watch, clocks and calendar frequently. I stopped planning, and after a while, time became ‘insignificant’. I could ‘waste’ it day after day without feeling guilty about not being productive enough. When I finally let go of ‘time’, I felt liberated. I learned to slow down and live each day as it comes.

Instead of obsessively checking the clocks for time and calendar for dates, I began to observe time through plants and flowers when I went out for walks during the lockdown. Nature became the measuring device for me.

 

Winter

Perhaps it is a misconception to think that flowers do not bloom during winter. In fact, there are many evergreen shrubs and flowers that thrive in the winter like Snowdrops, Hellebores, Eranthis, Primrose, and Viburnum tinus Eve Price etc. During my lockdown walks, I would come across some blooming flowers despite the cold weather. With less distractions and stimulations, I found joy in identifying unknown plant species during my strolls around London.

 

Hedera colchica  Algerian iris

Hellebores

japanese skimmia  Iris foetidissima

First left: Hedera colchica/ Persian Ivy; First right: Algerian iris; 2nd row: Hellebores; bottom left: Japanese skimmia; Bottom right: Iris foetidissima

 

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of winter plants or flowers are the array of vibrant colours. There are bright pinks, reds, violets, and yellows – these are colours normally associated with spring/summer, yet they can be seen during the winter too. Time passes quickly when you place your focus on the surrounding nature rather than on yourself – the lockdown probably created an environment for introspection, yet too much of it would make us too self-focused due to less interactions with the outside world.

 

Red twig dogwoods  red maple leaves

img_5079

Eranthis   Mahonia

 Viburnum tinus Eve Price

Viburnum tinus Eve Price  Hellebores

First left: Red twig dogwoods; First right: maple leaves: 2nd: snowdrops; 3rd left: Eranthis; 3rd right: Mahonia; 4th & Bottom left: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; Bottom right: Hellebore

 

Euonymus europaeus  Chaenomeles

Chaenomeles

WEIGELA PINK POPPET

Magenta Hebe

First left: Euonymus europaeus; first right & 2nd: Chaenomeles; 3rd: Weigela Pink Poppet; last row: Magenta Hebe

 

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

Erica carnea, the winter heath

Clematis armandii

Primrose – Primula vulgaris

First: Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’; 2nd: Erica carnea/the winter heath; 3rd: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; 4th: Clematis armandii; Bottom: Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

 

My favourite time of the year is autumn and spring. Around late February and early March, the day light hours would last longer, which means spring is in the air. The gradual increase of sunshine and day light makes a huge diference to the ecology and humans. We start to notice daffodils blooming everywhere, and seeing the golden yellow colour covering the parks immediately uplifts our moods and spirits.

 

daffadils  daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

Daffodils

 

On the grounds, there are daffodils, and when we look up, we would see seas of sumptuous white and pink magnolias over our heads. Magnolia shrubs seem to be ommonly planted in people’s gardens in London as I tend to see them a lot when I walk around my neighbourhood.

 

Magnolia  Magnolia

pink magnolia

Magnolia

White and pink magnolia

 

For those (including me) who yearned to go to Japan but couldn’t for the last few years, the joy of viewing cherry blossom seemed to have become a distant memory. Yet London is also a good place for sakura viewing; even though it is not as spectatular as Japan, the number of Japanese cherry trees being planted in the U.K. have been increasing over the years. As far as I am aware, there is only one white-flowering cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis) standing alone the middle of an open field in Hampstead heath, and when it blooms, it is quite stunning. The next obvious place to view sakura would be Regent’s Park, both inside and on the outer ring.

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

A white-flowering cherry tree/ Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) in Hamspstead heath

 

cherry tree

cherry blossom

cherry trees

cherry blossom

Cherry trees in Regent’s park

 

The lesser-known sakura viewing spot is the residential neighbourhood, Swiss Cottage. The open space in around Hampstead theatre and Swiss Cottage library features rows of white-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) and pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’). When the flowers are in bloom, they do look quite spectacular and make you feel you are in Japan for a second. Since it is a recreation space, it may even be possible to have a viewing picnic party there (weather permitted).

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom  cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

The stunning pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’) in Swiss Cottage

 

In spring, we would often see a lot of beautiful camellias in various colours, especially Camellia japonica, which is the predominate species of the genus. Besides that, we might be able to spot some ravishing rhododendrons or azaleas ( particularly at Kew Gardens) blooming in people’s gardens.

 

Camellia Japonica  img_5512 

camellia

img_5643  img_5321-min

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Camellia – Top & 2nd rows: Japonica Camellia

 

rose

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

buddleia

primrose

First: rose; 2nd & 3rd: Rhododendron; 4th: buddleia; botton: primrose

 

If you are not a fan of showy ornamental plants/flowers, there are plenty of wild spring flowers that are captivating too. Personally, I am quite fascinated by gorse/ulex (commonly seen around the UK especially in Scotland), which is an evergreen shrub with bright yellow pea-like flowers and spiny leaves. The flowers are eible and can be used as a medicinal tea, as well as a natural dye, producing a yellow colour on the fabrics.

 

Forsythia

gorse

Top: Forsythia; Bottom: common gorse

 

Spring is also the season to enjoy various lilac/blue/violet flowers like Ceanothus, Periwinkles, wisteria, lavender and bluebells. Ceanothus are popular garden shrubs in the UK, and their lilac flowers are particularly impressive.

However, when it comes to popularity, wild bluebells certainly rank quite high up on the list. Besides cherry blossoms, the bluebell seasons are highly anticipated by many too. It is quite easy to spot bluebells in spring, but the best places to view are still in the woods. Whenever I see a stunning carpet of blue in the woodlands, I would feel instantly quite ecstatic. There are two main types of bluebells in the U.K.: the British bluebell, (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), and the native ones are being protected by law as they are under threat now.

 

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Periwinkle

bluebell

bluebells

bellflower

Top & 2nd: Ceanothus; 3rd: Periwinkle; last three: bluebells

 

When I immerse myself in nature, I could see the cycles of nature and life. Flowers bloom, wither, and are replaced by other species as the seasons change. When there is a beginning, there will be an end… though the cycle will continue to repeat itself indefinitely. It does not matter if we can’t figure out what ‘time’ is, the more important thing is to live in the present. We are now living in a more precarious and unpredictable world, hence we ought to enjoy each day as it comes. If you feel down/ stressed/ anxious, why not head outside and spend time in nature to get lost in time? I highly recommend it.

 

Lockdown walks in London (Winter/Spring 2021)

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath, 28th Dec 2020

 

It is January 2023, and I have not updated my blog for about 2 years. Although a lot has happened in the past three years, everything seems like a blur to me now. How did I pass my time during the lockdown days? When did the lockdown end? I don’t recall much now. Luckily, I did take many photos during that surreal period, and now I am looking at them trying to recall my weekly activities. After being stuck in Hong Kong for most of 2020, I returned to the U.K. at the beginning of Dec 2020, just days before the second/ third lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson. In hindsight, I would not have returned if I had known that there would be another lockdown. However, I was lucky to have missed the initial lockdowns in 2020, and only had to endure four months of lockdown in London, which turned out to be not as challenging as I had imagined.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

winter

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath from winter to spring

 

For months, I did not take any public transport and I walked everywhere. I walked to Camden Town, Hampstead Heath, Paddington, Oxford Street, Regent street, Covent Garden, Kings Cross etc. I saw a London that I have never seen before – deserted. Yet it enabled me to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture, especially around Oxford Street. Perhaps the hardest part for me during the lockdown was not being able to meet up with friends (apart from a couple who live near me), and I had to rely on the weekly farmers’ market for some human interactions (not via zoom or Facetime). And over the few months, I became rather obsessed with cooking – though as much as I enjoyed creating new dishes, I was completely sick of eating my own cooking by the end of the lockdown.

 

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

Primrose Hill

 

Walking around London during the lockdown made me notice the surroundings more – I started to see all the architectural details that I had missed in the past. Usually I would not look up while walking down Oxford Street as I am more concerned with avoiding the crowds around me. Yet without crowds or heaps of tourists, I was able to saunder down the streets and appreciate the historic architecture in the city.

 

Regent's Park

Regent's Park  Regent's Park

Regent's Park

regent's park

Regent’s Park

 

Oxford Street and Camden market are places that I would normally avoid as I don’t really like crowded places. However, during the lockdown, it gave me joy to wander through the empty (and rather eerie) Camden market. Meanwhile I also felt sympathetic towards the shops and businesses, and was particularly sad to see my favourite eateries/cafes in the neighbourhood close down due to the pandemic.

 

chalk farm

camden town  camden town

camden town

regent's canal

camden tow

camden town

camden town

Camden Town and Regent’s canal

 

At the end of winter, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s park were becoming as packed as Bond Street before the pandemic, and I started to change my walking routes. Instead of going to parks, I did more walks along the Regent’s canal. I headed east towards Kings Cross and west towards Paddington along the canal… these walks lasted only a few hours but they were uplifting especially on a clear and sunny day.

 

kings cross

kings cross

Kings Cross’s Coal Drops Yard

 

Two years on, it seems unlikely that we will experience another lockdown soon (fingers crossed), and what I miss most about that period is the sounds of nature ( like birds chirping while walking down the streets) and cleaner air. The pandemic made many of us (city dwellers) evaluate our relationships with nature and our cities. It is hardly surprising that many Londoners decided to move to the countryside during/ after the pandemic. Nature has healing power, which is why so many of us turned to nature during an anxious and unpredictable period.

 

abbey road  abbey road

covid

Little venice

Little venice

paddington

paddington

paddington

Top: Abbey Road; Second: Maida Vale; 3rd & 4th: Little Venice; 5th to bottom: Paddington

 

According to a report commissioned by the City of London Corporation, London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. The metropolis contains 35,000 acres of public parks, woodlands and gardens, hence 40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space. Our public green space is precious, and I hope Londoners will continue to cherish and protect it.

 

london  bbc

regent street

carnaby street  carnaby street

oxford street

riba  riba

Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA

 

mosque

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img_5153

img_5162

img_5169

Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

 

covent garden

covent garden

Covent garden

 

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

A long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

A global pandemic is the time for reflection and change

sky

 

 

Like everyone else around the world, my life has been vastly disrupted by Covid-19. I was traveling in India for a month until early March, and luckily left before it started to spread, which eventually led to a nationwide lockdown on 25th March. Then I arrived in Hong Kong days before the government imposed a 14-day quarantine for all inbound travellers. So far so lucky.

Sadly, my three-month stay in Japan had to be cancelled/postponed. All the courses that I enrolled onto were postponed to next year, just like the Olympics, which may or may not happen. I have been stuck in Hong Kong for months because all the flights were grounded until July, followed by a hike in all the airfares back to the U.K. I have no idea when I can return back to the U.K., and it is causing a bit of a problem for my work. Uncertainty is causing anxiety for everyone, and we somehow have to get used to it or even learn to embrace it.

How and why did it happen? When will this all end? Where do we go from here? What is our future going to be like? There are so many questions but very few anwers or even solutions. A majority of the population on this planet has never experienced a pandemic before, and we struggled to cope, physically and mentally. Yet it didn’t happen out of the blue, many scientists and visionaries had predicted it years before it happened, including Bill Gates. In 2015, Bill Gates gave a talk at the TED conference, aptly titled: “The next outbreak? We’re not ready”.

 

 

 

In Buddhist teaching, the law of karma refers to the law of cause and effect: that every volitional act brings about a certain result. It is the law of nature. In this case, we only have ourselves to blame. The cause of the pandemic is complex, but it is the result of human actions, regardless of whether they were intentional or not. Our planet has been sick for some time, and yet we continue to destroy and abuse it, and perhaps this is nature’s retaliation on us. I truly feel that nature has been too kind to mankind, and this is a stark warning sign for us all.

When governments place economic growth and technological developments as their top priorities, while disregarding the environmental impact on the planet, an imbalance would occur. This imbalance did not happen overnight. We are now dealing with numerous issues that have been accumulating over the past few decades such as climate change, pollution, electronic and plastic waste, deforestation, resource scarcity, antibiotic resistance, and overtourism… the list goes on. These are all man-made issues. We are killing our planet and we need to stop it asap.

During the pandemic, most planes were grounded, which meant that the air quality around the world improved as a result. Besides airplanes, luxury cruises were halted, road traffic was reduced substantially because of lockdowns; suddenly everyone has to go back to basics. Actually we don’t have much choice. This is the time to reflect and focus on what is most important to us. It turns out that most of us value our health and families more than money, work, fashion, and holidays.

I believe that crisis can bring opportunity and change. I only started my business due to a personal crisis; my suffering made me stronger and more motivated. If I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I probably would not have had the courage to start a business. All of us have the ability to changes our lives, and I believe the time is now. Instead of moaning about lockdowns/staying indoors, you can take the opportunity to do more indoor activities, and spend more quality time with our families. Often I would go into hibernation in winters, so staying in is not an issue for me.

Slowing down or being stagnated does not always feel comfortable, but it is essential sometimes. Maybe we need to accept that the world has been heading down a wrong path for decades, and now we need to readjust in order to find a more balanced path. I was quite pessimistic about our future before the pandemic, yet now I feel that there is still hope… if we become more aware/consicious of our actions, then we can make positive changes for ourselves and the environment. At the end of the day, our enemy is not the virus, but ourselves.

 

Two-day natural dyeing workshops at Aranya Natural, Munnar

aranya natural

 

The first two days of “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference took place at Eastend hotel in Munnar, followed by two days of natural dyeing workshops (at an extra cost) at Aranya Natural’s HQ. Due to limited numbers, all the spaces for the workshops filled up quickly, but many conference attendees requested to stand by and watch, which subsequently overfilled the workshops on the first day.

It was hard to blame those who wanted to watch the workshops as it was a rare opportunity to learn from three leading natural dyeing experts and a group of Japanese indigo farmers and dyers. Since the process of natural dyeing involves the understanding of chemistry, many of the experts would focus more on the chemistry rather than the aesthetics. To me, this is quite valuable, as I believe it is crucial to understand the science behind it all in order to achieve the desired results.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The first workshop that I attended was conducted by Michel Garcia, a world-renowned botanist, chemist, dyer, and naturalist. He is the founder of Couleur Garance (1998) in Lauris, France, and established Le Jardin Conservatoire de Plantes Tinctoriales (Botanical Garden of Dye Plants) in 2000. I have long wanted to attend a workshop by Michel, but he doesn’t seem to conduct many regular workshops, and I can only watch his videos online. In person, he is very funny, passionate and creative, you can really feel his passion for plants and natural dyeing.

In natural dyeing, a mordant is often needed to fix the dyes onto the textiles, and the most common mordant used is alum/potassium aluminium sulfate. At the workshop, Michel demonstrated how to use old tea leaves as a natural mordant, which was very interesting. However, the workshop was extremely packed, which made it difficult for us to hear and follow him properly. It was a shame that this issue was only addressed on the next day.

 

aranya natural  michel garcia

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Screen printing workshop using natural dyes with Michel Garcia

 

The afternoon workshop was conducted by Jagada Rajappa, who is an independent textile entrepreneur/consultant on natural dyes. She demonstrated dyeing silk yarn with kapila (mellotus Phllipinces) and lac (coccous Lacca), which resulted in vibrant red and yellow. The results revealed that naturally dyed colours are not dull and muted as many would expect.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Jagada Rajappas workshop and ceremony

 

The next day, the workshops were restricted to those who had originally enrolled, which made more sense. The first workshop was conducted by Linda LaBelle, who is a weaver and natural dyer specialising in indigo. She also runs the website The Yarn Tree that sells fair-trade indigo and other natural dyed items. After yesterday’s observational workshops, I was longing to get my hands dirty. Finally, we got to do some doodling with natural indigo on some cotton fabric that has been pre-dyed in myrobalan. It was a fun session and we got to taste some indigo tea grown by Linda.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

Indigo Doodles workshop with Linda LaBelle

 

The last session was the one I had been looking forward to since I signed up months ago. Buaisou was established in Tokushima by a collective of indigo farmers in 2015, and it is partly responsible for the revival of natural indigo worldwide in recent years. Not only it has over 44K followers on Instagram, it also collaborates frequently with other fashion and textiles companies to promote Japanese indigo and the colour ‘Japan Blue’. Buaisou is renowned for its indigo leaf farming – from cultivating the raw indigo, fermenting the indigo leaves (Sukumo), dyeing, and designing, all the way to production. Since the fermentation process takes around 10 days, Kyoko (the manager) had to arrive 2 weeks earlier to set up the vat.

 

buaisou

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

Since I have previously tried katagami (making paper stencils for dyeing textiles) and katazome (the Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil) with Bryan Whitehead in Japan (see my earlier post), I was quite familiar with the process. This time, I didn’t need to design and cut my own stencils as there were many beautiful and complex precut designs to choose from. We were all given a cotton bandana to work on, and after applying the paste through the stencils, we all took turns to dip the fabric into the indigo vat with some guidance.

I would say this was a taster workshop, and would love to learn more from them when I next visit Tokushima (which was supposed to happen this year but it got cancelled because of COVID-19).

 

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

After the workshop, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Over the four days, I made many new friends from around the world who share the same passion as me, and got the opportunity to chat to many experts in the field, hence the conference has exceeded all my expectations. The fact that it managed to take place just before COVID-19 became a pandemic was extremely lucky.

After exchanging contacts with many attendees, a few of us decided to walk back to town and have dinner together. It was a pleasant walk downhill and we had a fun girls’ night out – something that I haven’t done for a long time.

In the past few years, the pursue of natural dyeing has opened doors for me and enabled me to make new friends from around the world. This was completely unexpected, and it made me realise that I am on the right path.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

munnar

munnar

aranya natural

munnar

munnar

 

 

Aranya Natural & Athulya at Srishti Welfare Centre in Munnar

aranya natural

 

Before visiting Munnar, I was not aware of the health issues related to tea plantation workers in India. Often foreign media would focus on the working conditions of garment factory workers, yet the problems related to tea plantation workers (primarily female) are largely ignored. Although they are not stuck inside cramped factories, tea plantation workers have to deal with other serious safety and health issues. Locals told me that workers not only have to work long hours at low wages, they also have to live together in communial dormitories with poor sanitation at the tea estates. Health awareness among the tea plantation workers is poor, and often they give births to children with various health conditions and disabilities, yet they receive hardly any government support.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

 

In 1991, the Srishti Trust was formed, backed by Tata Tea Limited, to support differently-abled children of the estate workers. Founded by Ratna Krishna Kumar, the Trust launched two major projects: Aranya Natural and Athulya, aiming to rehabilitate local youngsters in a safe and fair environment. Later, Nisarga (the strawberry unit) and The Deli (a bakery and confectionery) were added to make preserves, breads and cookies using locally-grown ingredients.

Most visitors to Munnar would head to the main tourist attractions, but few would seek out the Srishti Welfare Centre. Well, they are really missing out. In 1996, the Srishti Welfare Centre moved to an abandoned shed in Tata Tea’s Nettimudi estate outside of the town centre. Their beautiful site is open to the public and visitors can meet many happy workers who are trained at natural dyeing and paper-making. What started out as an experiment has paid off for Ratna and her all-female team’, now even big corporations have employed the Trust to make paper and textiles-related products.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

Aryana Natural is the natural dyeing department at Srishti. All the textiles here are created in a non-toxic environment and all the dyes are azo-free. Many dyes are locally sourced, like eucalyptus, Nilgiri kozha (eupatorium), tea waste, pine cones and other leaves, petals, roots and bark are harvested from the forest nearby. Some specific dyes are sourced elsewhere, like indigo from South India, lac from Jangir Champa, and myrobalan, from traditional medicine shops in Coimbatore. Only natural fabrics such as cotton and silk are used as they work best with natural dyes.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

Every newcomer would receive training by volunteered trainers for about six months on skills particular to their aptitude and interests. Each artisan would specialise in at least one technique i.e. shibori or traditional block printing. World-renowned Japanese textile artist and researcher, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, regularly visits and acts as mentor to the young learners. She introduced many traditional Japanese shibori techniques to the trainees, which enable them to develop the skills further. Most of the artisans I spoke to told me that they really enjoy their work, and it was amazing to watch them work – they are fast and very skilled.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

 

Athulya is the handmade paper unit that creates handmade paper from recycle waste paper, cut boards and other stationery waste. It is committed to use only natural additives in their paper, most of them are found around Munnar like tea, eucalyptus leaves, lemon grass, pineapple leaves, onion peel, flower petals, elephant droppings and water hyacinth (which is a weed affecting our back waters).

Now around thirty people work in this unit and they produce over 52 eco-friendly, azo-free, biodegradable recycled paper products by hand. It is also encouraging to see Starbucks hiring the unit to produce their shopping bags.

 

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya

Athulya  Athulya

 

At the back of the sheds, there are a line of greenhouses growing organic vegetables and plants. Seasonal vegetables are picked and used in the Srishti canteen where nearly two hundred employees have lunch every day. There is also a playground for the staff’s children to play, and an award-winning flower garden that features a wide variety of flowers.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

 

One cannot come here without stopping at the shop. The Aranya Natural shop has to be the most beautiful shop in Munnar. It sells one-of-a-kind handdyed scarves, clothing and home accessories made by the artisans next door. The prices are extremely reasonable and you would not be able to find them elsewhere. If you purchase here, you are directly helping the centre and the artisans, thus making a bold statement supporting sustainable textiles and fashion.

 

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The Srishti Welfare Centre is not only a beautiful site, it is also an inspiring organisation. Before my trip, I knew little about this place, and I am flabbergasted that few people outside of the textiles world have heard of it. If you have only one day in Munnar, make sure that you spare time to visit this centre because it is well worth it.

 

 

 

 

Aranya Natural’s “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference in Munnar

aranya natural conference

 

The purpose of my trip to India in February was to attend a natural dyeing conference. And it took place before COVID-19 changed our lives. Aranya Natural is a natural dyeing organisation under Srishti Trust in Munnar, supported by TATA Global Beverages Limited, which runs programs for the education training and rehabilitation of the differently abled children of Munnar’s tea plantation workers. Last year, it was the organisation’s 25th anniversary, and “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference was organised as part of the celebration. However, the conference was postponed by a year after a major flood in Kerala devasted many parts of the state. It was fortunate that the conference managed to take place before COVID-19 started to spread in India, otherwise it would have been cancelled for the second time.

Honestly, I am not a big fan of conference and would rarely volunteerily attend one. Yet this conference was like no other, and I felt that it would be beneficial if I want to continue my natural dyeing practice. To me, natural dyeing is not merely a hobby, it has become my passion and aspiration in recent years. Currently, we are seeing a revival of natural and indigo dyeing as many people realise the harmful effects of synthetic dyes on our bodies and environment.

 

aranya natural conference  indigo farmer aranya natural conference

Left: The conference schedule; Right: A local indigo farmer and conference attendee

 

The 2-day conference took place at Eastend Hotel in Munnar, bringing dyers, manufacturers, teachers, designers, farmers, and enthusiasts etc together from Indian and around the world. One huge draw for me was the list of speakers, which included experts like Yoshiko Wada, Jenny Balfour Paul, Michel Garcia, Charlotte Kwon (Maiwa), Dominique Cardon, Jagada Rajappa and Buaisou… these are all big names in the natural dyeing and textiles world, so it was a rare opportunity to meet them all in one room.

One factor differentiates Aranya Natural from other organisations – it is an all-women team led by a visionary founder, Ratna Krishnakumar. Since India is a patriarchal society, it is inspiring to see the empowerment of women here. The fact is women in India are likely to face more challenges than women in the West, so being able to run an all-female team here is highly commendable.

The conference also addressed the most important issue that we are facing in the textiles and fashion industry today – sustainability. The rise of fast fashion has done immense damage to our environment in the past decade or so, hence the conference aimed to increase the awareness of natural dyes, and discuss how the industry can shift from using synthetic dyes to more sustainable ones.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

 

Until recently, sustainability has been fashion industry’s last concern. If you trace the path of your favourite item from Primark, then you might be in for a surprise. Your ‘bargain’ £10 shirt probably costs about £3-4 to make, meanwhile the garment factory worker in Bangladesh would receive less than £1 for a day’s work (14-16 hours). Aside from exploitation of these workers, the environmental damage caused by the chemicals used is unaccountable. Although India has had a long history with natural dyes, many garment manufacturers have now switched to synthetic dyes to cope with the high demand from the fast fashion sector. Natural dyes have been pushed aside due to higher costs. lower production rate and more labour intensive.

So, how can we re-introduce natural dyes back into the profit-driven industry? There are no easy answers, but I did meet some young Indian designers at the conference who are using natural dyes to create beautiful designs. I do hope that they will change the landscape of Indian fashion in the future.

 

aranya natural conference

Soham Dave and his sustainable collection

 

When I was still a student years ago, I bought my first shibori book, “Shibori: The Inventive Art Of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing” by artist, author, and curator, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada. This is an important book to me and I never thought I would get the chance to meet Yoshiko in person, but I did – we even exchanged contacts, and later had dinner together, which all felt a bit surreal. Besides Yoshida, I also spoke to other speakers like Dominique Cardon, Michel Garcia, Axel Becker, Jagada Rajappa, William Ingram from Threads of Life, and Rashmi Bharti, the co-founder of Avani. The conference also enabled me to connect and make friends with attendees from around the world. Many of them are dyers, designers, textiles teachers, and shop owners etc, so I found the whole experience valuable and unforgettable.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

 

The talks on both days covered a wide range of topics relating to sustainability and natural dyeing, but the word ‘indigo’ was a key term at the conference. Indigo is probably the most mysterious and complex natural dye of all. Indigofera is a flowering plant of over 750 species and belongs to the pea family, Fabaceae. It has been in cultivation in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide for many centuries, yet the characteristics of each specie varies and can yield different shades of blue. The world-renowned indigo expert writer, artist and curator, Jenny Balfour-Paul has published several indigo-related books, and she was the last speaker to give a talk on indigo. Not long ago, I read her novel “Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer, hence it was interesting to hear her examine the colour ‘blue’ from many angles.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

Talks and slides on indigo

 

On both evenings after the conference, there were entertainments including dance and music performances, violin recital, and fashion show. The fashion show featured natural dyed designs created by Riddhi Jain (Studio Medium), Sreejith Jeevan (Studio Rouka) and Sunita Shankar. Unlike other fashion shows, their show was modelled by workers at Srishti, which was more authentic and fun.

Based in New Dehli, Riddhi Jain is a rising star in India’s fashion world who has won the Elle Decor India Design Awards, International Craft Awards and India Story design awards amongst others. She told me that she employs a small team of artisans and designers to create beautiful hand-dyed and hand-stitched shibori pieces that are one of a kind. I love her designs, and honestly, I would rather spend my money on an unique handmade piece that supports a local craft community than a designer piece that supports its marketing campaigns and executives.

 

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference

aranya natural conference  aranya natural conference

Riddhi Jain (Studio Medium)

 Sunita Shankar

Sreejith Jeevan (Studio Rouka)

3rd row: Riddhi Jain and her collection; 4th row: Sunita Shankar and her collection; bottom row: Sreejith Jeevan and his collection.

 

I never knew that conferences could be so exhausting! Besides two full-day talks from 9am to 5pm, I did not anticipate two hours of evening entertainments, followed by dinners at 9 pm on both nights. Despite the lack of rest, I was still looking forward to attending two more days of workshops led by different experts. And I got to visit the beautiful site of Aranya Natural, which is located outside of the polluted town centre.

To be continued…

 

aranya natural conference

I loved my conference gift bag

 

 

“Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Mordern

Olafur Eliasson

Model room (2003), Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn

 

Although I have seen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s works before, I was still hesitant to visit his “Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Modern fearing that it has been overhyped. Then when I went with a friend on one Friday evening, we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely – it was also more fun to go with a friend.

As soon as I stepped into the first room, I was immediately captivated by all the geometric origami architectural pieces behind the glass case. Since I completed a paper art course recenly, I found these pieces utterly fascinating. These preliminary and experimental models enabled the artist and his team to develop larger geometric installations that could be seen in the other rooms. Though seeing these models helped us to understand the concept and work process.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

 

Eliasson often creates works that aim to challenge viewers’ perception of reality. “Is Seeing Believing?” is the question that we sometimes ask ourselves, yet our past experiences are leading us to think otherwise, since we are constantly deceived by our brains. The truth is that most of us are able to grasp reality.

Eliasson’s most famous work ‘The Weather Project’ drew 2 million visitors to gather beneath his artificial sun installation in the Turbine Hall back in 2003. This ‘fake sun’ became the talk of town for a long time.

This time, an 11-metre-high waterfall constructed from scaffolding was installed on the terrace outside of the museum. According to Eliasson, the piece is meant to probe questions including: “Is nature constructed? Is nature real? Is it fake? Does nature exist?”

 

Olafur Eliasson

 

Since Eliasson spent much of his childhood in Iceland, nature and environmental issues play prominent roles in his works. In one of his earlier works Beauty (1993), for example, Eliasson wanted to recreate something he’d witnessed first-hand in Iceland. Visitors would enter a dark room and see mist coming out of a punctured hose pipe with light illuminated from a single light bulb. If you stand there long enough, you are likely to see a rainbow. Is this nature or manmade? It is up to you to decide.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Beauty (1993)

 

In another room, visitors would be surrounded by a dense fog that changes colours as you blindly navigate yourself through it. Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) was first presented at Copenhagen’s ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in 2010, and at this exhibition, it has been recreated in a 39-metre long corridor.

The artificial fog is actially made from non-toxic polls, a sweetener often used in food production, hence you can taste the sweetness at the back your throat when you inhale the fog. Not only you might feel disoriented, but all your senses would also be evoked in this space.

 

Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)  Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)

Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), 2010

 

Another immersive installation Your uncertain shadow (colour) focuses on light and colour. Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall, are arranged in a line on the floor. These colours combine to illuminate the wall with a bright white light. When the visitor enters the space, her/his projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five differently coloured silhouettes. The deceptive and playful installation is probably the most ‘instagrammed’ at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

 

Beyond the interactive installations, there are also works that employed a more conventional method focusing on the effects of global warming and climate change. A series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999 are hung alongside with photos taken 20 years on to illustrate the changes in the landscape that are happening now. They act as a stark reminder that global warming is not a hoax and needs to be addressed asap.

His other ongoing prject, Ice Watch (2014–) is a collaboration with the geologist Minik Rosing in which large blocks of glacial ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet were installed in three locations, including outside of Tate Modern a year ago. The melting ice installation raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Like I mentioned earlier, many of his geometric origami models in the first room were later developed into larger installations, like ‘Your spiral view’ (2002), featuring a eight-metre-long tunnel constructed from steel plates that are assembled into two sets of spirals coiling in opposite directions. When visitors walk through it, they would find themselves within a kaleidoscope, in which the space they have just left is reflected fragmentarily together with the view out on the other side. It is another fun and disorientating installations at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Outside of the exhibition, visitors could also view his other projects, including Little Sun, developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, aimed at children in Africa and other developing nations. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The structural evolution project 2001.

 

In my opinion, Olafur Eliasson is undoubtedly a persuasive and important artist of our generation. It is hard to put him into a box as he is also a designer, philanthropist and environmental activist. Even if you don’t consider his works as ‘art’, he does have the power to make the public engage and think about our environment, which hopefully will bring about positive changes to our planet.

 

 

Raindance film festival: Toxic Beauty & Mossville: When Great Trees Fall

raindance

Q & A with the director of Toxic Beauty

 

After seeing two powerful documentaries at the Raindance film festival, I thought to myself that we all have to be activists in this day and age. Recently when I met up with different friends, we would talk about how the world seems to be heading towards a ‘wrong direction’. We are now battling against numerous man-made issues like climate change, pollution, deforestation, inequality, sexual harassment, human rights, religious extremism, refugee crisis, terrorism… the list goes on. The problem is that most politicians in power are not interested in tackling these issues because they care more about staying in power and/or profit-making. When we look at all the leaders around the world today, it is rather depressing and it makes me wonder if our planet has a future.

I think all women need to watch Toxic beauty, a documentary by Canadian director, Phyllis Ellis. The film interviewed a group of women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer as a result of their lifelong use of Johnson & Johnson‘s talcum/baby powder. In recent years, the company has been clobbered by thousands lawsuits alleging that it was aware of the baby powder being contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogen. Although the company has has strongly denied those accusations, it has been paying out billions to settle different lawsuits, including $4.69bn to 22 women ordered by a Missouri jury last year. Coincidently, this week, the company recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder in the US, after health regulators found trace amounts of asbestos in a bottle purchased online. The scary thing is that ever since I was a child, this product has been a staple at my home. This was a family-friendly and reliable brand that consumers trusted, but sadly, it is no longer the case.

 

TOXIC BEAUTY Trailer from WhitePinePictures

 

Parallel to the baby powder cases, the film also asked a medical student and cosmetics lover Mymy Nguyen to embark on an experiment to first measure the chemical levels in her body when she used her regular cosmetic products, then without any, and finally replaced them with ‘cleaner’ alternatives. As you can guess, the toxic chemicals in her body dropped significantly when she stopped using her regular cosmetic products.

The slight consolation for people who do not live in the States is that the EU has stricter regulations than the FDA in the US. The EU law bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. Meanwhile, the FDA bans or restricts only 11 chemicals from cosmetics. But what is more shocking is that the FDA hasn’t updated its cosmetic regulations since 1938, and relies solely on the beauty companies to regulate themselves (?!).

There is a misconception that all natural ingredients are good and all chemical ingredients are bad, which is not true at all. There are many natural ingredients that can be harmful too, so we can’t just blindly trust all the so-called ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ brands. With so many new beauty brands claiming that they are ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ or ‘vegan’, it gets very confusing for consumers who want to change and go clean. Usually clean products are notable to be free of the following ingredients: parabens, phthalates, and sulfates etc, but since preservatives play a very important role in products containing water, the clean beauty companies would have to replace them with natural alternatives. Recently I have downloaded an US-based app called ‘Think dirty‘, which is quite useful as I can check the ingredients of many cosmetics and skincare products on this app. Just like the food we eat, what we use on our faces and bodies are equally important, so we must be more cautious and protect ourselves from the toxic chemicals that hidden inside our expensive lipstick or face cream.

 

“Mossville: When Great Trees Fall” from Fire River Films

 

There were not many people at the screening of this fantastic documentary, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, yet it was one of the best I saw at the film festival. The film is about environmental racism, and one man’s fight against the industrial cooperations that have destroyed his hometown. Mossville in Louisiana is a town with predominantly African American inhabitants for generations. It was founded by Jack Moss, an ex-slave, in 1790. Yet chemical pollution emitted by the 14 petrochemical plants in the area has destroyed the town and killed many of its residents including the parents of the film’s protagonist. The South African energy and chemical company Sasol is behind the $21.2 billion industrial project, and in order to expand its massive petrochemical plant, it has issued buyout offers to everyone in town. While everyone has moved away from the site, Stacey Ryan took a stand against this company and stood his ground. He fought hard to save his house despite all the harrassements he had to endure initiated by the company.

It was quite heartbreaking to watch how Ryan health deteriorated as the film progressed, yet he was defiant until the end. Although he did sign the deal at the end, I don’t think anyone would accuse him of giving in too soon! Not only he lost his house, family time, but most importantly, his health, and all the money he got from the buyout deal ended up going towards his medical bills. Tragic.

I am not sure why this film received little attention despite the fact that it had won many awards at different film festivals around the world. I wonder if the protagonist was white, would it be more talked-about? I am not a pessimist by nature, but I have become one when I look at the state of our world today. How many Greta Thunberg is needed to rescue our sick planet? If we continue to allow greedy and powerful coorperations/ governments to run the world, the future of the planet will be bleaker than ever. All of us now have no choice but to become an activist in our own right. It doesn’t have to be attending protests every week, just find a way that suits you, no matter how small the action is.

 

LDF19: Biodesign Here Now at Open Cell

open cell

OPEN CELL

OPENCELL

 

After my recent visit to the biotech hub Open Cell at the Shepherds Bush Market, I was keen to learn more about biodesign and its future. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long because at the London Design Festival this year, Open Cell organised an event called Biodesign Here Now at its premise over one weekend.

The event showcased over 30 emerging international designers and startups with innovative ideas that are breaking boundaries between biology, design, and technology. Although I missed the fashion show on the opening night, I did manage to visit the exhibition and listen to some designers talk about their projects.

 

bio design now

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil – an architecture collective of PhD researchers from Newcastle University specialising in living technologies for the future. Our mission is to challenge conventional methods of construction by proposing an ecocentric alternative. We believe that the buildings of the future should be living, breathing and inclusive of nature.

 

Paula Nerlich

Paula Nerlich – her current research explores vegan biodegradable bioplastics and foams from industrial and household food waste with diverse possible applications within interiors and product design.

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic (in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture) – ‘Biogenic Luminosity’  is a research project that questions ‘flat’ appearance and unsustainability of synthetic materials in comparison to those of biogenic and geologic origin.

 

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad – Manufactured by Nature: Growing Generatively Designed Products

 

Post Carbon Lab

Post Carbon LabPost Carbon Lab

Post Carbon Lab – a design research studio launched their service pilots of two pioneering microbiological processes for sustainable and regenerative fashion applications: Bacterial Pigment Dyeing and Photosynthesis Coating on fabrics and garments.

 

Studio Aurelie Fontan  Studio Aurelie Fontan

Aurelie Fontan is a sustainable fashion designer, with a focus on bio-design and circular economy (including zero-waste production methods in texture making and cutting). Her collection includes a bio-designed dress from bacteria, recycled materials and four fully recycled leather outfits, none of them being sewn together but rather linked through innovative re-usable elements that allow complete disassembly and recycling.

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

BIO DESIGN  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D’Angelo’s Wetwear Couture uses Physarum Polycephalum/slime mould to create fascinating fashion pieces

 

OPEN CELL

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd – KAIKU Living Color is a sustainable alternative to colours made from petroleum. KAIKU uses plant waste to create natural powder pigments. Many plants & fruits we eat every day, such as avocados, onions, and oranges, have valuable colors within their skins and peels. Normally these are left to rot in landfills, but KAIKU transforms this waste into a high value resource.

 

img_2253  img_2251

img_2252

Nikoletta Karastathi & Zafer Tandogdu’s ‘Awareness of the Microbial World’ explores antimicrobial resistance and the human-microbe relationship as key concepts for creating bio-textile.

 

Carolyn Raff

Carolyn Raff uses Agar Agar, an algae based gelatin substitute for many different experiments as a new kind of bioplastic. The complete biodegradable material can be created in many different shades, looks and structures. It is dyed with natural dye, mainly with algae based colours, such as astaxanthin and phycocyanin.

 

Mira Nameth Biophilica

Mira Nameth Biophilica  Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia - 'Made by moths'

Top & bottom left: Mira Nameth – ‘Biophilica’ is the result of a year long material development, working with plant-based resources. Biophilica materials are truly local, biodegradable, and recyclable.
Bottom right: Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia – ‘Made by moths’ is a project that investigates the potential of clothes moths and their digestive enzymes as collaborators in selecting and breaking down keratin-based textile-waste.

 

Silvio Tinello - 'Grown Objects'
Silvio Tinello – ‘Grown Objects’ is a collection where all the producrs have been bio-fabricated. This means, grown and harvested using biological processes. Grown in two predominant materials: A fungi bio agglomerate and bacterial cellulose, both grown in yerba mate: part of the “argentine cultural DNA’.

Lindsay Hanson, Margot Vaaerpass and Zaki Musa Resistance Runner  Wearable Lab on Body

Left: Lah Studio – ‘The Resistance Runner’ is a bio-formulated shoe that utilizes cloned bacteriocins and micrococcus in a nutrient broth cocktail; essentially harnessing the bacteria’s own defense system as a protective layer. 

Right: MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group creates ‘Wearable Lab on Body’ wearable systems and interfaces for cognitive enhancement.

Valentina Dipietro Mychrome

Valentina Dipietro – ‘Mychrome’ is a project that explores the possibility of mycelium and its surface applications. Mycelium is the vegetative part of mushrooms and it has been used to bind agricultural waste and create new sustainable materials which are naturally fire retardant, insulating and sound-absorbing. Dipietro likes to focus on designing with waste as well as using it as a pigment to dye and finish her materials.

Midushi Kochhar A waste project

Midushi Kochhar – ‘A waste project’ is made from by-products of poultry industry, namely, eggshells and feathers. The aim is to create alternatives for plastic disposables and encourage sustainable living. All the objects are 100% biodegradable and once their purpose is over, they can literally be crushed and thrown away in the compost.

 

Pat Pataranutaporn wearable lab on body

Pat Pataranutaporn from MIT gave a talk on the future of ‘Wearable Lab on Body’

 

Denimaize

Denimaize

Denimaize gave a talk on denim made from corn husk

 

The last talk of the day was by Denimaize, a studio from the University of Pennsylvania, which includes bio-designers, artists and engineers. They use wasted and diseased corn husks and process them to extract their cellulose fibers. The corn fibers are spun with flax and woven in a twill pattern. The fabric is then coloured with microbial dye and relaxed with cellulase enzymes. Denimaize is a response to the dominance of the corn crop in the U.S. and the waste it generates, as well as the pollution in the denim industry. Denimaize is proposing a biological (albeit corny) alternative to the old way of denim processing.

The weekend event was interesting and inspiring, and it is very encouraging to see so many designers, startups and innovators coming up with sustainable solutions to address the issues our planet is facing right now. Sustainability is not a trend, it has to be here to stay for the sake of our future.

 

 

A visit to the Biotech hub, Open Cell

shepherds bush market

Shepherds Bush market

 

In the last few years, we are hearing more of the terms ‘biodesign’ and ‘biotech’, but is it a fad or a breakthrough that will change our world? Recently, I joined a design-oriented walk called ‘Human: Biophilia in community and design’ organised by the Design Museum and curated by Something & Son to find out more about the biophilic communities and projects that is taking place in London today.

It has been years since I visited the Shepherds Bush market, and I was surprised to learn that a biotech hub is now situated in the middle of the market. Opened last year, Open Cell is a biotech hub for startups and designers located at the Old Laundry Yard, with 45 shipping containers that have been converted into labs, workshops and office space. Founded by Helene Steiner and Dr Thomas Meany, they aim to create a low-cost labspace with a user-centric focus, and provide a flexible testbed where innovative lab designs can be rapidly installed and tested.

 

open cell

open cell

open cell

open cell

 

We were greeted by Helene Steiner at the yard, and she gave us a tour around the area and explained about the work they do. I found it encouraging to see these affordable and community-driven labs because as many of the world resources are becoming scarcer, it makes sense to use the living organism around us to create alternative, innovative and sustainable materials for our future.

We met a bio fashion designer Piero D’Angelo who uses slim mould to create textiles and fashion, which is absoultely fascinating. The slime mould would also release a scent that makes people aware of any pollution in the surroundings. I never thought I would want slime mould on my skin, but maybe it is time to change my preconception.

 

Piero D’Angelo

Piero D’Angelo

 

We also met with three architects Paola Garnousset, Pierre de Pingon and Martin Detoeuf, who are the founders of Blast Studio. The collective uses mycelium, the root network of mushrooms, and coffee cup waste to create a series of homeware and furniture called ‘lovely trash’. Since 500 billion coffee cups are discarded globally and mostly end up in land, this project is a great way to upcycle these coffee cups. The cups are processed into a substrate that enables the mycelium to be fed on. This mycelium material can be transformed into vases and furniture through the 3-D laser printer. The results are very interesting and look almost like ceramics!

 

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio

blast studio   blast studio

Blast Studio

 

The tour of the Open Cell lab was eye-opening, and it has given me more hope about the future. I believe that not only the way we consume has to change, but sustainable innovations are necessary to change our future, and hopefully biodesign/ biotechnology will play a crucial role in the years/decades to come.