What Is ‘Bio Art’ And Who Gets To Make It? BAB Lab 2022 Has Some Ideas

Writer Emily Doyle / Photographers Matt Gale & Cal Westbrook

A new arts festival is coming to various independent venues around Birmingham next month. On 8 – 12 August, Bio Arts Birmingham will present BAB Lab 2022 – a week long series of workshops and talks inviting you to experiment, play, and appreciate the living world together with a range of artists, designers, and scientists in the West Midlands and abroad.

Bio Arts Birmingham is the brainchild of Laurie Ramsell, an artist who explores, cultivates, and creates living artworks using bacteria, yeasts, and slime moulds. Ramsell wants to demystify the world of bio art and build on pillars of accessibility, lifelong learning, and ‘kitchen science’.

As part of the programme a host of creatives are delivering workshops to explore these themes, and so I had to ask – what exactly is ‘bio art’’?

“Bio art is quite a challenging word,” explains Trixiebella Suen, one of BAB Lab’s workshop leaders.

“To me, it’s anything related to biology and art incorporated together. Whether it’s to create new ideas and views or to show differing ways of research and innovation working with both science and art. I’m a believer that in every type of career out there, needing to have some sort of creativity and artistic views plays a role.”

Suen is a multidisciplinary artist who questions the need to create a difference between living and non-living objects. Her practice is centred on filming and installation work including the use of plants, and at BAB Lab 2022 she will be showing participants how to make natural dyes from vegetables, flowers, and other plant material.

Biologist and artist Matt Gale comes to BAB Lab 2022 from a background as a science graduate. “I’m still very interested in biological research, so I guess it’s inevitable that it creeps into my artistic practice.”

Gale’s work spans installation and sculpture and examines queer perceptions of what is natural or normal, frequently exploring hybrid and entangled states.

I wonder what he would consider to be ‘bio art?’

“I think it was just described as ‘wet’ work originally – so art that included living or real biological materials. Feels like it’s broader now, including more conceptual work too,” Gale muses.

For BAB Lab 2022 Gale will be talking about his practice cloning, and culturing wild-collected fungi. Sounds hi-tech, but it’s not all lab coats and flow hoods; “I currently do most of my lab work in my kitchen, although STEAMhouse has some great facilities in their new building so I’m hoping to work there more now.”

Also taking the week in a fungal direction is illustrator and model maker Cal Westbrook.

“When I was at school, I enjoyed biology but was not a ‘science person’,” Cal explains, “however, my venture into the world of fungi has become an evolving body of work; the delicate, transient quality lends itself to fabric manipulation. It’s a vast subject. The link between modern science, historical knowledge and folkloric tradition is very interesting.”

“I have always worked with soft sculpture, manipulating fabric into 3D pieces. This has manifested in puppets, dolls, objects, and natural forms. I love using the technique to create ‘fake’ specimen forms such as fungi, plants and veg…”

“I started making fabric fungi after finding an unusual clump of saffron yellow fungi in my garden. Since then, I have been spotting fungi in all sorts of places – not only woodland and natural settings but more urban environments, creating drawings and 3D pieces. Fleeting, delicate forms pushing through into the urban landscape.”

For BAB Lab 2022, Cal will be demonstrating craft techniques to create a menagerie of fungi as wearable soft sculpted art. Participants will have the chance to try their hands at making parasol mushrooms, fly agaric or amethyst deceiver from fabrics and natural dyes.

Over the week of 8 – 12 August there will be five days of workshops and talks celebrating yeast, clay, fungi, plants, and the human body.

For more on Laurie Ramsell visit: www.laurieramsell.wordpress.com
For more on Trixiebella Suen visit: www.trixiebellasuen.com
For more on Matt Gale visit: www.mattgale.co.uk
For more on Cal Westbrook visit:  www.calwestbrook.com

For more on Bio Arts Birmingham visit: www.bioartsbrum.notion.site or click here to go directly to the full festival programme and links to all tickets