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Natural Material Studio drapes floor-to-ceiling biotextiles across Copenhagen art gallery

Danish design practice Natural Material Studio has unveiled its Human Nature exhibition, which featured compostable biofoam seating and biomaterial textiles, at 3 Days of Design.

The studio designed the Human Nature installation to take full advantage of the large vaulted space at art gallery Copenhagen Contemporary, hanging handcrafted biotextiles that were up to seven metres long from its ceilings.

"We created a lot of materials for this exhibition, I think around 150 square metres," Natural Material Studio founder Bonnie Hvillum told Dezeen.

"But what's been really exciting has been the length and height that we have managed to work with – the textiles are over seven metres long."

Biomaterials at Human Nature exhibition
Human Nature features metres-long biotextile installations

"It's something that we are curious about, expanding the scale," she added. "Spatially, it creates a completely different experience when the textiles come up in the scale and surround us, almost like trees."

Natural Material Studio uses its own material processes to create its biomaterials. Among the ingredients used for the materials in Human Nature were natural softeners mixed with biopolymers, chalk and clay.

The textiles that were dyed with chalk had a fittingly chalky white hue, while those dyed with clay become greenish.

Chalk-dyed biomaterials by Natural Material Studio
White textiles were dyed with chalk

As part of the exhibition, which was on show during annual design festival 3 Days of Design, Natural Material Studio wanted to showcase how humans and nature interact in the creation of the materials.

To that end, the biotextile pieces were cast in wooden frames to be handled as they were drying, but were otherwise were left to develop naturally.

Human Nature also featured sculptural seating designs that were made by casting Natural Material Studio's self-developed biofoam in a three-dimensional frame, within which it was allowed to shape itself.

The resulting square seats come in a variety of colours, including pinkish ones made by using red clay.

Red-clay biofoam seating at Human Nature
Compostable biofoam forms sculptural seating

The material can be composted at the end of its life and will biodegrade in about a month, according to Hvillum.

"The material is biodegradable – you can give it to your chickens," Hvillum said. "My chickens eat it, I can't leave it outside!"

The exhibition also includes lighting works, which were constructed by attaching the biotextiles to a metal frame above an LED light, and which mark the first time Natural Material Studio has created lighting designs.

"For a long time we were trying to bring the materials onto the wall," Hvillum explained.

"This is basically the material suspended over material frames and then we use a LED light to try to work with them like this."

Lighting designs by Natural Material Studio
Natural Material Studio designed lights for the first time

Describing the installation as a "spatial art piece", Natural Material Studio said the idea was also to allow visitors to touch and interact with the biomaterials, which represent years of research and prototyping.

The handcrafted nature of the biomaterial process comes through in the finished design, with the seats and textiles having kept their rough surfaces and textural qualities.

Natural Material Studio at 3 Days of Design
The natural materials were showcased in an industrial setting

The company is currently working with the Danish National Museum, which conducts research into the longevity of materials such as plastic, to look at how the biomaterials will age.

"They have taken in my materials and we're going to be having a look at how they age over time," Hvillum said.

"They can speed the process up so that one month is equivalent to 30 years, so we can very easily see what happens with these materials."

Interiors at Human Nature exhibition at 3 Days of Design
The installation was on show at Copenhagen Contemporary

Hvillum is also interested in how the biomaterials can be "kept alive".

"With this research project we try to understand how they change over time and what we can do to prolong life, for example, moisturising them," she said.

"It's keeping them alive, basically, which is mind-blowing – actually thinking that we need to water them, just like I water my plants because it's organic material. You give them a little spritz to moisturise them."

Biotextiles hanging from ceiling
Bioxtextiles surround visitors "like trees"

Hvillum hopes that the Human Nature exhibition will showcase more of the process of working with different materials, as well as what the materials can do.

"I feel like we sometimes as designers want to force the materials into certain things, and I wanted to really be honest about the process and about what the materials actually do," she said.

"I think it works quite well as an installation to come in and really start living with these materials, experiencing them and slowly start building these relations."

Other projects on show at 3 Days of Design include a farmers market inside the Frama store in an old apothecary and an exhibition of emerging designers inside a woodworking factory.

Human Nature was on show from 7 to 9 June 2023 as part of 3 Days of Design. See Dezeen Events Guide for information about the event, plus a list of other architecture and design events taking place around the world.