It smells like red wine and feels like sludge when wet, but the cotton-like cellulose dress ‘grown’ at the Institute of Agriculture, University of Western Australia (UWA), fits snugly as a second skin.
The unique bacterial fermented dress, made from wine, could mark the start of fabrics fermented by living microbes entering the $229.5 billion per annum Australian fabric manufacturing industry.
The Institute of Agriculture, in collaboration with SymbioticA:The Art and Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, is in a unique position to link university faculties by integrating science and the arts.
UWA researchers Gary Cass, Donna Franklin and Alan Mullett authored Micro'be', an arts project using science to convert wine into a cellulose product.
Inspiration for the cellulose garments came when Mr Cass noticed a skin-like layer covering a vat of wine that had been contaminated with bacteria and gone ‘off’.
“Micro'be' examines the practical and cultural biosynthesis of microbiology, using biological specimens in art pieces,” Mr Cass said.
As the project’s scientist, he equips UWA arts students with the fundamental knowledge necessary to work in scientific laboratories.
Institute of Agriculture Director, Professor Kadambot Siddique said such cross faculty projects inspired students to appreciate the exciting potential of applying science to agriculture and other industries.
Mr Cass said there was an opportunity to consolidate UWA’s reputation as a leader in cross discipline boundary spanning, as Perth was one of the only places in the world where sciences and arts collaborate d through hands-on experience, largely through SymbioticA.
The Council of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, established in 2003, aimed to better link arts and industry through its national innovative role improving cross linkages with arts, science and technology.
“The Micro'be' project at the Institute of Agriculture promotes this cross linkage, as it is funded by ArtsWA, with in-kind support from UWA,” Mr Cass said.
“Biotechnology is used in the futuristic dress-making and textile technologies, as we attempt to redefine woven material production.
“The product is very delicate, comprising micro-fibrils of cellulose, the material that forms green plants’ cell walls.
“A non-hazardous, non-pathogenic bacterium, five microns in size, produces this material, which is more like tissue paper than cotton,” he said.
Artist Donna Franklin, whose dress made from living orange bracket fungus is touring museums around the world, said the project challenged conceptions of clothing and explored the implications of fermenting fashion from bacteria.
“This material looks at the evolution of future fashion and how garments can change,” she said.
The researchers are using other forms of alcohol, including growing the bacteria on beer, to produce a translucent material.
The dress will potentially be showcased in a Micro'be' exhibition, in Melbourne in August and, hopefully, further research will examine the practicalities and cultural implications of commercialisation.
According to Mr Cass, the ultimate goal was to produce a wearable seamless garment that formed itself without a single stitch.