Watching Growth by multimedia artist Felix Kalmenson feels like dropping acid and going to the movies. Colors bleed into one another in strange, vibrant patterns that seem to eat away at the footage flashing before your eyes. A familiar face or distorted limb appears onscreen for a moment, before blurring again into blotchy, dissolving orbs.
The short video was made by cultivating mold from rotting strawberries on film stock of the trailer for 2008's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. As the fungus grew, it degraded the film, leaving behind psychedelic patterns that look a little like oil slicks. If experimenting with the destructive power of mold feels a little like a science fair project, that's intentional. Growth reflects the growing trend of BioArt, or art made with live tissues, bacteria, or other living organisms.
Kalmanson is hardly the first to mix art and science. Artist Anicka Yi worked with a team of molecular biologists and forensic chemists for her 2017 exhibition, Life Is Cheap, at the Guggenheim. It featured two living dioramas: bacteria grown in agar sourced from Manhattan’s Chinatown and Koreatown, and a colony of ants exposed to a special scent museum visitors were also spritzed with, "creating the possibility of a shared psychic experience between ant and human," according to the show description. Other artists have used honey bees to repair damaged artifacts and cultivated colorful strains of bacteria to use as natural pigments.
Kalmenson’s foray into BioArt was the outgrowth of an open call to artists and filmmakers by the collective Exploding Motor Car in Toronto. “A huge pile of old film trailers were acquired by the group following the storage purges of a local cinema,” he told VICE. “Artists were invited to grab spools of film at random and alter them as they see fit.”
The artist was working at the National Film Board of Canada teaching early animation techniques and experimenting at home with novel methods to disrupt the filmic image at the time. And for this project, he said, “I experimented with different techniques but settled on coating the film emulsion with rotting strawberries and then sealing the individual strips of film in Tupperware. The combined heat and moisture and the acidic quality of the strawberries proved to be just the thing for inducing mold.”
The mold, said Kalmenson, took about two weeks to grow, but he saw results within the first week. After the growth was “to a satisfactory level,” he opened the containers, dried the fungus, and scraped it off, so as to allow light to pass through and for the film to be scanned. “The film was too chunky and foul-smelling for film labs to accept, because they worried about jamming their equipment, so I meticulously scanned each individual frame (and there were over a thousand) with a film scanner loaned by my generous friend and photographer Sarah Bodri, and then I stitched the images together digitally.”
The resultant patterns show us the footprint of the mold. The colors bleed, revealing the rainbow of accumulated color, and making the remarkably complex growth patterns of these fascinating and misunderstood organisms evident.
It might be fair to say you’ve never seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 quite like this.
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