Gwenyth Chao, Artist – Vancouver

The artist on garbage day collecting organic waste to be reconstituted into biomaterials.

Gwenyth Chao’s practice invokes composting as a metaphor-process-material to reimagine bodies and worlds that may emerge in potential futures. Her experiments speculate that the next materials – for sustenance, building, and creative endeavors – will be made of reconstituted debris. Researching food-refuse-turned-biomaterial, the ingestibility of Chao’s sculptural installations gestures to her way of sense-making with a convalescing body in this time of ecological crises. Chao transplants thinking processes, misuses making techniques, and retrofits tools from gastronomy cooking, ceramic coil building, 3D printing, food science, pastry cake decorating, and polymer chemistry among others. Her transdisciplinary process explores the possibilities for a necessarily emergent practice to be informed by an ecological awareness.

Her work is currently included in the group exhibitions Gelling at Support in Montreal and Nonreturnables at Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George, BC. Both are on view until January 7.

  1. Tide pooling

A tidepool at the Pacific Rim National Park on May 18, 2023 at 6:27pm.

I cannot help but be fascinated by the ecosystems the receding tide reveals and then conceals continuously. I can spend hours watching these pockets of water and the bodies within. Or until the tide chases me away.

  1. Bodies

Gwenyth Chao, Biovalvia echinodermomycete, 2022, ingestible biomaterial made from onion skin, green bean husk, tea leaves, kiwi skin, garlic peel, eggshell, purple cabbage stem, gelatin, xanthan gum (fermented sugar), sodium alginate (seaweed), methylcellulose (vegetable cellulose)

I view bodies as interstitial processes, sites, and systems. Organized clumps of matter. Thinking through compost piles, these porous boundaries become more palpable as bodies emerge and decay, break down, and regenerate. I relate to this sense of impermanence as my biomaterial sculptures in the symbionts of capitalist ruin series are bodies in processes of becoming. Half-devoured by their ecologies, these bodies symbiotically entangle with what is within reach and bodies that are microworlds for other bodies.

  1. Electromyography (EMG)

Photo from John Hopkins Medicine

I underwent this test for a nerve injury where needles are inserted and the EMG measures muscle response through electrical activity. I can’t stop thinking back to how a still and silent body (at rest) has active electrical activity that can be heard.

  1. Microscopes

Microscope as installed in Gwenyth Chao, /stāj/ 2.4, 2023, mixed media installation of a lab-kitchen-studio research & making space for biomaterial experimentation (photo: Stefan Hagen)

I didn’t truly understand how scale can change perspectives until Dr. James Scott and I played with putting some of my biomaterials under the microscope. Specks become worlds and lint becomes bodily. From entomopathogenic fungi to hyphae growth, thank you, James, for giving me so much to think about.

  1. Atlas of Entomopathogenic Fungi

It is uncanny how the scientific illustrations in this book and my drawings of non-existent bodies speak to each other. This book inspires my reworlding and feeds my curiosity for the symbiotic and body altering relationships that exist between mushrooms and insects IRL.