Material Culture Research: Nano-Cellulose

Material Culture Research: Nano-Cellulose

Commission by Ordinary Culture as part of a curatorial project responding to Dukes Wood, a wildlife conservation area and site of special scientific interest, IBI have begun to research material culture - the influence of developments in advanced materials on social, cultural, and economic development. Dukes Wood was the site of the first on shore oil field in the UK, established in the 40's, playing a significant role in the war effort and with the help of american drilling companies established BP and the british oil industry as it is today.

Against the backdrop of this significant yet contentious aspect of british economic and cultural development IBI sought to explore alternative material developments and the ways in which different materials can influence cultural development in differing ways. Current research interests in material futures lies in the realm of the nano material, particulate materials that can be engineered on a nano scale (1 billionth of a meter) to be applied in a broad variety of ways.

Recent years have seen the research booms in carbon-nanotubes, graphine, and recently nano-crystaline cellulose. However, unlike other nano-materials, NCC isn't a new material. Discovered in the 40's, shortly before the establishment of Dukes Wood Oil Field, and researched since the war it has been used in a broad spectrum of applications from advanced electronics to dietary supplements and medical implants. The Dukes Wood Oil Field was a secure military operation during the war and when it was established the complex included a research lab known as the Puddingpoke Laboratory, named after the woods adjacent to Dukes Wood. Puddingpoke was established to research advanced materials in an effort to find reliable alternatives to conventional materials that were scarce due to limited overseas supply lines.

For Ordinary Culture, IBI have researched the history, production and application of a material that has been equally as influential in global cultural development as crude oil yet seen far fewer column inches. Producing a small publication that outlines the story of nano-cellulose and it's development at the Puddingpoke Laboratory as well as sourcing a number of photographs, and artefacts from the laboratory that tell the story of it's history. In addition to this we have also built a replica of the famous Puddingpoke device developed at the lab that uses bacterial cultures to create a continual production process of nano-cellulose that led to NCC manufacturing processes developing as a localised production as opposed to large scale industrial processes necessitated in the extraction and refinement of oil.

Our interest in this parallel narrative is in uncovering the ways in which oil production has influenced cultural development towards economic models centralised production and distribution over decentralised localised variated production processes. We are interested in how this approach to the material components of our developed world has led to homogeneity from the burgers we eat to plastics we eat it them out of and how, had the significance of these two material narratives been inverted, the shape of our relationship to materiality may have been significantly different.