Exploring the co-evolution of yeast and humans, while discovering the aesthetic value of yeast biotechnology, is what designers Anna Dumitriu and Alex May have been concocting. The manifestations of their research are showcased in their project Fermenting Futures: a series of artworks which explores, investigates and celebrates yeast biotechnology.
Yeast is an ancient biotechnology that has been used for centuries in the production of food and beverages, but also found its way into the pharmaceutical industry and the production of plastics. In Fermenting Futures, the significance of yeast biotechnology and its future are demonstrated while also researching its past. The designers collaborated with a team of specialists (prof. Diethard Mattanovich, prof. Michael Sauer, Dr. Özge Ata and Dr. Martin Altvater) at the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology in Vienne, Austria.
The center piece is an artwork consisting out of a glass vessel containing a Pichia Pastoris yeast that is modified with CRISPR technology, a DNA-altering technology capable of editing genomes in plants and animals. The modified yeast is able to capture carbon and altered with CRISPR/Cas9 which made the yeast capable to produce lactic acid. Another type of yeast, the Saccharomyces cerevisiae is naturally able to produce lactic acid and is combined with the lactic acid from the Pichia Pastoris yeast. This mixture of lactic acids are used to create biodegradable PLA filament for 3D printing purposes. In the artwork the viewer can see 3D printed yeast forms placed on the glass, almost like it has been growing on top of it naturally.
Another work in the series called ‘The Bio-archeology of Yeast’ explores not only the problem solving capabilities of yeast biotechnology, but also reveals an aesthetic appreciation of fermentation. The main inspiration for the work are extremophile fungi, or commonly known as ‘black yeasts’. Where normally they are seen as vile, pointing out unclean environments, the sculpture highlights its beauty instead. The work, created from Roman cement is stained with these black yeasts among other microorganisms, reflecting the beauty of decay.
Fermenting Futures is telling the full story of yeast biotechnology: from its first practical uses in human history to artistic expression. It honors a world normally only seen in the lab, for everyone to behold while offering solutions to pressing global problems we are facing today.
Fermenting Futures will be exhibited at the factory at Künstlerhaus Wien in Vienne from 3rd - 22nd March 2022. The project then will be moved to Kunsthaus Wiesbaden where it will be exhibited alongside biotechnology projects from 6th April to 24th June.