We talk to Make:Shift speaker Maurizio Montalti about making with biology.
Why making/building with biology?
Personally, I’m driven by the tangible possibility of collaborating with natural systems and organisms. My interest lies in adopting nature's technologies for a generation of more responsible and economically sustainable production possibilities, aiming to transform current existing paradigms, systems and networks, while promoting a shift from the traditional concept of industrial production towards an innovative model, rooted in cultivation/growth, through a direct collaboration with micro-organisms.
How is making with living systems different to making with natural materials such as wood?
Living systems and organisms have long been fascinating me, particularly due to their ability of morphing through different material states while fulfilling tasks, such as transforming matter through processes of decomposition and degradation, as in the case of fungal organisms and their mycelia. Working with living systems requires adopting a great dose of patience as well as a completely different set of know-how, particularly in regard to methods and techniques, this, while also entering a continuous learning processdriven not only by theoretical notions, but particularly by a direct hands-on experience (e.g. lab work). In short, it means being ready to place yourself fully into discussion. Beyond that, the social behaviour of living organisms contributes to providing plenty of inspiration along the way. These are some of the elements which personally attracted me to start collaborating with and experimenting on these tiny, underestimated creatures. In case of fungal mycelia, amazed by their capacity of growing relatively fast, enlarging their body and producing matter, while also firmly binding materials together, my focus has been placed towards the definition of a new production paradigm, defining alternatives and potentially different futures in which materials, considered as replacement for traditional synthetic polymers, could be grown and could exist as completely natural and neutral matters.
How important is collaboration to your work and what kind of professionals you collaborate with?
Collaboration is an essential ingredient when diving in such trans-disciplinary practice. It is important to recognise, value and rely upon the skills and competence of professionals from other fields. Just naming a few, along the way I have been involved with all kind of professionals such as scientists, biologists, chemists, material scientists, technologists, anthropologists, farmers, designers, architects, artists, craftsmen, industrial players, etc. The deriving benefits range from the possibility of favouring the merging of expertise from fields apparently distant from each other, up to developing targeted strategies and techniques for growing living cells, while directly monitoring and varying growth conditions, tools and treatments, drastically affecting the qualities of the resulting targeted outcomes. Along the process, the coincidental discoveries and trans-field conversations contribute to let unexpected suggestions arise, helping you progressing in the quest for defining preferable and more effective techniques for growing materials with different properties, shapes, sizes, etc. as well as the related applications.
What are the tools and skills of the future?
Within the emerging field of bio-fabrication, designers play a pivotal role, not only inspiring but particularly enabling the development of disruptive technologies affecting their own field as well as the manufacturing one and allowing those to intersect with the dynamics governing life on a small scale.
By investigating and favouring the crossovers between traditional craftsmanship, current production methods and scientific research, and thanks to direct experimentation with living materials, new opportunities arise
In such sense designers are not to be simply considered as the connectors enabling communication between apparently-distant fields of expertise, but rather as the experimental breeders nurturing new products and creating new ways of working with biology (or with any other field of action). Hence giving life to opportunities for “forgotten” organisms to expand and prosper, while positively affecting human society.
What are you looking forward to the most at Make:Shift?
I expect Make:Shift to represent an exciting opportunity allowing to communicate with a large audience, ranging from designers and young creatives to entrepreneurs, experts and general public, while directly confronting with diverse perspectives and expertise. Also, I expect that through the event it will be possible to positively “infect” the minds, while spreading the emergence of a paradigm shift, driving us towards the next material revolution.
Maurizio Montalti will present during the sustainability session at Make:Shift and share his pracice including industrial scale-up of mycelium based materials.