Faber Futures / COELICOLOR

‘If a microbe produces a pigment, how do we work with it to dye textiles?’

This seemingly simple question, explored over time, reveals a complex web of interdependence between the living and non-living, and across multiple scales. We began working with a wild strain of the soil-dwelling organism Streptomyces coelicolor to see whether its naturally secreted pigment compound could be used to dye textiles.

In collaboration with Professor John Ward and his synthetic biology lab at University College London’s Department of Biochemical Engineering, we discovered that unique interactions between S. coelicolor and protein fibres could yield a colourfast finish without the use of chemicals – and with significantly reduced water usage compared to current industrial dyeing methods.

In the years since, Faber Futures has developed design-driven protocols engineered to achieve specific aesthetic and performance-related material outcomes – delivering products which not only possess embedded value in themselves, but also demonstrate the viability of new methods and technologies on the wider industrial scale.

Our process has drawn upon an interdisciplinary spectrum of knowledge and making practice, incorporating thinking and methodology from design, craft, engineering and science. This new taxonomy of making has been enabled by the global cultural shift towards the blurring of disciplinary boundaries, driven by the possibilities of new technologies, and the increasing cultural, economic and industrial necessity of a sustainable model of production and consumption.

Faber Futures’ journey with S. coelicolor continues to reveal astonishing discoveries – and generate ever more intriguing questions, which we have explored through a series of research experiments for exhibition commissions, and corporate and cultural residency programmes.

Image credit 1,2,3,4,6 Natsai Audrey Chieza. 5, 7 Immatters Studio.