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Netherlands: the art of growing objects like mushrooms

Ⓒ AFP – Sophie MIGNON – | Italian designer Maurizio Montalti exhibits objects made from mushrooms in Amsterdam on 2 May 2017

Nothing like slipping your toes into comfortable slippers after a long day. But with the soft and warm texture of the wool, an Italian designer prefers the rubbery and viscous sensation of … mushroom under the soles of the feet.

Because Maurizio Montalti fashioned fungal slippers with dusty brown skin and elastic white soles and exhibited them at the Micropia Museum in Amsterdam with which he collaborates.

In search of new species of garments, he collects “those mushrooms found when one goes to walk in the forest, (…) that grow on the trees” and transforms them into a material as flexible as leather By treating and modeling them.

The 36-year-old designer even sees a plant substance capable of replacing, or even being more efficient than plastic, a material produced from fossil fuel and difficult to recycle. But also wood, rubber and paper.

“I started working with fungal material as a designer a few years ago,” says Maurizio Montalti, who exhibits at the museum chair, lamp and book also made from mushrooms.

“I was mainly interested in seeing what benefits we could derive from species that are generally ignored, such as fungal organisms,” he said.

– ‘Design pushing’ –

Its raw material: the mycelium, the underground white part, both robust and light, on which grow mushrooms. It mainly uses the oyster mushroom filaments, a white variety with the shape of an inverted saucer.

“Mycelium is a very interesting substance,” says Ilja Dekker, Micropia laboratory technician. “It can be used to build all kinds of things, like vases, objects that we can put inside our homes, but also to build our homes, as building material.”

In this way, collaboration between the Dutch University of Utrecht and Maurizio Montalti gave rise to the “design that grows”. A design with agricultural trends where objects are not carved or sculpted but grow of themselves, such as plants – most naturally in the world.

In a mold made of wood, plastic, clay or plaster, the fungus feeds on organic waste, flax, straw and hemp, which it decomposes while spreading its long, thin, fungal tentacles. All in very specific conditions of cleanliness, temperature and humidity.

“It creates this interconnected network of wires that works like an extraforte glue,” explains the stylist, “a natural glue that assembles all the distinct particles of organic substrates.”

But in favorable environmental factors, this plant web continues to expand and encompass everything in its path.

Then, for the fungus to stop growing, it is cooked.

– A chair grows in 20 days –

“A temperature of about 70 degrees allows the cultivation of the fungus to be completely deactivated,” says Montalti. “This results in a completely inert material, but still entirely natural and biodegradable.”

Like those sand-colored vases formed in ten days. Or this rough-looking, lumpy chair, which grew in twenty days.

Unique objects that differ according to the organic waste, the species of fungus or the conditions used. And therefore they can be rigid or elastic, porous, brittle, resistant to heat, says the University of Utrecht.

The objective is “to produce not by exploiting exhaustible resources but by cultivating”, emphasizes Maurizio Montalti, evoking a “need to change” our way of consuming and ensuring our ecological responsibility.

In Amsterdam, his “transdisciplinary design” workshop is looking for an organic textile that is as supple and robust as fabric.

It also develops prototypes to replace rubber and leather for major brands of footwear in search of environmentally and animal-friendly materials.

Algae, bacterial cells, fungi or even mammalian cells: many substances still little used by large industries are all alternatives.

“In the next ten to twenty years, these materials will greatly alter our way of life,” from the decoration to the automotive industry, to fabric transplants, smiles the Italian designer.

A life where organic objects grow like mushrooms.

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