A Free Animal

Orin Noel, GFA ’23


This wet specimen sculpture explores the humanization of non-human organisms. As we work with biomaterials, we cultivate and care for life that grows from microscopic to tactile scales. They take on identities of their own as they spring to life before us. This process can involve unintentional sickness to the organism through mold, and it has to cause the death of the material in order to harvest it. Though we humanize and care for these organisms, we also “harm” them.

The wet specimen is an image of a “lab grown” organism.

Bacterial cellulose and needle felted wool organs

I conceptualized them as possible domestic pets. Similar to human children or sea monkeys, they grow and come to life before your eyes.

This mixture of care and confinement is a repeated pattern.


Five liters of media (containing yeast) was inoculated with G. Hansenii.

A large area of mold grew on the surface of the cellulose and penetrated into the bottom side which left holes in the body of the SCOBY. They also formed wrinkled clumps of mold that grew out into the air of the plastic tub.

Due to this mold, I soaked my cellulose in a mixture of 200mL NaOH/800mL H2O before going through the original week-long soaking/cleaning process. The mold was hydrophobic when alive, but after this soak in NaOH, it stopped being hydrophobic and absorbed water. The small wrinkled clumps of mold fell off of the cellulose after this soak also. The structure of the SCOBY was somewhat frail and tore apart if stressed too much. The mold most likely weakened the structure, and in some parts the SCOBY was thin and covered in a thicker layer of mold. Later in the process I soaked my cellulose in a mixture of 400mL NaOH/1600mL H2O for 3 days to continue to kill any leftover organisms.

While I prepared the wet specimen display, I left the SCOBY soaking in regular tap water. I’m going to replace this with a mixture of ethanol and water to preserve the cellulose and prevent (further) molding.

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