Specimens is the first of its kind: a book created with a new bio-paper medium made entirely from bacterial cellulose. Its pages were once alive.
The quality of this new paper, which I developed over the past seven years, is its unparalleled strength and transparency. Each sheet is grown in a vat and harvested after several weeks. After processing, many layers — five or more — are laid on top of one another with the text block carefully placed within. Then the entire stack is pressed. The act of pressing these sheets is what gives them their strength.
Trapped forever within the thin lamina of Specimens’ pages is the poetry of e.e. cummings. The challenge of retaining the poet’s complex typographic wordplay required a new approach for placing text. Drawing upon my fascination with Voronoi tessellations — the natural pattern of cell structures in all living things — I created custom software to generate a Voronoi framework that would hold the text in place. The text block was then laser-cut from Korean hanji.
I would like to thank the Jerome Foundation and Minnesota Center for Book Arts for the opportunity and support to explore this exciting new medium. (Artist’s statement)
Gjerde’s Specimens exhibition — November 2016 through February 2017 — continues in the new tradition of bio art. One of the earliest and abiding proponents has been George Gessert. Since the 1980s, Gessert and artists/theorists such as Suzanne Anker, Eduardo Kac, Marta De Menezes, the Harrisons and Sonya Rapoport have constituted the bio art and eco art movements. A collection of his essays appeared as Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution in the Leonardo Book Series, published by The MIT Press in 2010.
More recently Dr. Simon F. Park’s The Origin of Species was touted as perhaps “the first book to be grown and produced using just bacteria”. Presented at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the small book has pages made of bacterial cellulose, produced by the bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus (GXCELL). Its cover is even printed with naturally pigmented bacteria.
The process underlying Gjerde’s work and its material inspiration — the bio-paper, e.e.cummings’ poetry, Voronoi tessellations and the software-driven Voronoi framework to hold the text block in place — are beautifully explored on his site.
The Voronoi framework is evocative of traditional papermaking technology. Here instead of the “deckle” — the wooden frame holding the mesh on which fibers are caught up from the soupy mash to form a sheet of paper — the Voronoi framework holds the text block between the laminations of the bio-paper.
The union of concept, process and the quality of the work make Specimens an outstanding work.