Think IN BED: Talking Algae-based Bioplastics with Jessie French
Words by Elisha Kennedy
Jessie French is an artist and designer with a vision for a post-petrochemical future. As part of her practice, Jessie investigates consumption, sustainability and regeneration through ongoing material experimentation. She’s currently exploring the use of algae as a sustainable material and its potential applications for closed-loop systems. After a research trip and residency in Morocco in early 2020, she became fascinated with Agar—a jelly-like substance derived from Algae—and has since developed her own recipe for an algae-based bioplastic that she uses to produce exquisite objects and tableware from her Melbourne studio.
Jessie, what can you tell us about your interest in algae-based bioplastics? What led you to pursue your research residency?
The research residency I did in Morocco last year (right before the pandemic) came about thanks to Anaïs Lellouche, a wonderful curator who sent the opportunity to apply my way. At the time of applying, I wasn’t completely aware of how relevant the location would be, but once I got the application in, I researched more and found that more than half the world’s agar comes from Morocco. Agar is one of the algae-derived polymer bases I use that is processed from red algae.
What are some of the capabilities and applications of algae-based bioplastics?
It’s really just the very early days of this material, but some of the big advantages are that it is directly recyclable (able to be recycled without going to an industrial facility–or another country!), it can make use of organic byproducts as a substrate and it can be removed from surfaces without the use of chemicals; it is non-toxic, biodegradable and compostable.
It can be used to make a variety of things and be applied in various ways. It’s really just the beginning.
Where are you sourcing your materials from presently?
The pandemic has presented significant challenges to sourcing some ingredients! Though I built up a relationship with suppliers in Morocco, it is not possible to source directly from there at the moment. There are similar challenges with most suppliers, but I’ve been lucky to have time to plan ahead and source some more locally.
And you grow some of it yourself?
Yes, I’m also lucky to be able to grow my own microalgae to use as pigment and substrate. These are growing happily in my studio and do incredibly well, even when neglected for long periods due to our frequent lockdowns!
What are you currently working on or towards?
At the moment, I’m working on my contribution for the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, rīvus in 2022 which will take place on Gadigal and Gomeroi Country, as well as a couple more exhibitions for 2022 and a collection of commissioned work to be completed over the next few months. Before all that, though, I’m working on setting up a more substantial home studio because this lockdown seems like it will be going on longer than first expected!