Close menu

Material Incubator

Powered by Caradt, MNEXT and Delft University of Technology

Material Incubator

Material Incubator (MI) is an interdisciplinary creative research lab that explores living and creating in collaboration with living (micro)organisms. We explore the potential of living materials and artefacts, and of more-than-human ways of storytelling and imagemaking. Our aim at MI is to nurture and cultivate an alternative notion and experience of the everyday, through co-creating design approaches and making processes that centre care, reciprocity, and flourishing.


Material Incubator (MI) encourages tangible interactions with living organisms, such as algae, fungi, bacteria, and plants, to explore and engage their unique qualities, potentials, challenges, and needs. We explore and refine diverse technical and creative methods, infused with theoretical and ethical inquiry, in which microorganisms, artists, designers, and scientists are equitable and active partners in the (material) creation process.

MI researchers explore the active role of living organisms. We research and co-create living materials, artefacts, and imagemaking processes, and experiment with different forms of (immersive) storytelling exploring more-than-human perspectives. Living materials and processes offer novel responsive behaviour and interaction possibilities, promoting new ways of doing and living, while raising critical ethical questions about care, responsibility, symbiosis, cohabitation, and adaptation. Our inquiries foreground explorations into different ways of relating that promote mutualistic care.

MI was initiated by Avans Biobased Art and Design lector Elvin Karana together with Rens Holslag of the Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (Caradt), as a collaboration platform between researchers affiliated with Caradt, the MNEXT Centre of Expertise (Avans University of Applied Sciences), and Materials Experience Lab (TU Delft), alongside an ever-expanding network of partners and collaborators. The core research team of MI includes artists and (product) designers specialised in bioart and biodesign practices, (digital) storytellers, and microbiologists, from Caradt’s Biobased Art and Design (BAD) research group. The MI lab is also an education space for student, internee, and resident training and experimentation. In addition the lab facilitates research – led by MNEXT and others – aimed to promote the energy and biobased material transition of industry and society.


Through interdisciplinary research in bio practices, MI seeks and centres alternative ways of caring for one another, developing artistic and design processes – with novel material expressions – that promote life and mutual flourishing, for all forms of life, nonhuman and human alike.

Foregrounding the active roles of living (micro)organisms – which are deeply rooted in an organism’s inherent qualities and behaviour – and exploring different possible forms of collaboration with these more-than-human beings, our experiments raise generative tensions and critical questions around care, reciprocity, ethics. What futures are we fostering? How does our research embody this vision, at every micro-turn, in every phase? What lessons do we engage from toxic pasts and presents? How do we unlearn and avoid repeating these harmful habits?

We embrace these tensions and questions which steer and propel our research, demanding our continual (self-)critical reflection, and ethical discernment.

Through workshops, education, symposia, presentations, publications, and other outreach activities, MI researchers aim to share their ever-evolving research and vision with various audiences across different fields. Centring and co-creating together with living (micro)organisms, by means of living- materials and artefacts, storytelling, and imagemaking, we aim to instigate and proliferate a widespread and deepened understanding of, care for, and everyday interaction with, more-than-human worlds. 

Interdisciplinary approaches

MI encourages and benefits from open observation and exploration approaches, in which observations guide and lead inquiry – an approach often associated with and engaged in artistic research practices. These methods are generative in unlocking the unique potentials of living organisms for everyday materials, as well as discovering unexpected approaches to more-than-human ways of storytelling and imagemaking. 

MI researchers work with the theory of Materials Experience, which suggests that while our experience with an artefact may originate from, or be influenced by, a wide variety of sources, one of the most prominent sources is its physical reality: its material(s). Designers work in collaboration with the livingness of organisms throughout the design process – for example, their grow-ability into predefined forms, their ability to release colour during growth, and so on. 

(Please read more on the theory of Materials Experience @ Materials Experience Lab).

Bioartists and educators at MI foreground a more-than-human perspective and approach to un/re-learning ways of relating with different worlds, one another, and ourselves. Their decolonial, queer/feminist, intersectional approaches gesture away from dominant, anthropocentric, lethal structures, and towards alternative possible futures that foster care, reciprocity, and flourishing. (See examples from Annemarie Piscaer, Risk Hazekamp, Sarah Lughthart).

The Lab Facility

The Material Incubator MI lab is specifically designed and equipped for tinkering, researching, and exploring collaborations with living organisms. Located in the extensive complex of St. Joost School of Art & Design, in Den Bosch, the Netherlands, and situated between various material workshops and maker spaces, MI offers an inspirational environment for researchers and is suitable for prototyping small to large-scale research artefacts.

The MI lab is equipped with the required facilities and sterile environment to work with microorganisms. MI comprises:

  • biological safety cabinets with integrated UV filter to create a particle-free working environment through air filtration system
  • autoclaves of different sizes to sterilise the equipment by means of pressurised, saturated steam at 121 °C
  • climate chamber to grow samples under controlled environmental conditions 
  • shaking incubator where cultures in suspension can be placed to be agitated under constant speed and temperature
  • standard incubators used to grow and maintain microbiological cultures 
  • fume hood to limit exposure to hazardous or toxic fumes, vapours and dust
  • large industrial oven with an adjustable electronic over-temperature monitor that enables the drying of material samples in an efficient and effective manner
  • AW water meter which enables us to monitor the amount of water activity of products, to ensure safety and predict product shelf life
  • freeze dryer which results in high-quality material samples because of the low temperature used in processing; the original shape of the material after growth is maintained and the quality of the rehydrated product is excellent, and perfect for biological materials

Alongside these large apparatus, the MI lab is equipped with basic lab equipment for tinkering with materials, such as a weighing scale, vortex, heating plate, and more.

The leading research departments working in the MI lab are Caradt (which includes researchers affiliated with Materials Experience Lab (TU Delft)), and MNEXT CoE, alongside an ever-expanding network of partners and collaborators. Students from the Master Institute of Visual Cultures (MIVC) can also join the lab via elective modules. Given the diversity of educational backgrounds of students that work in the MI lab, students receive dedicated training to develop the required skills to enable work in a microbiology lab. In addition, placements for interns and residents are also facilitated.

The facilities are shared between researchers and students, making the MI lab a stimulating environment for knowledge exchange and creative processes.


We opened the doors of Material Incubator (MI) bioart and biodesign research lab in January 2020.

Over the last decade we have seen increasing evidence of art and design input positively contributing to the development of new materials and approaches in collaborative projects. However, the collaboration between creative industries and science communities remains challenging. Professionals, from both research and practice, list diverse reasons behind this situation, including the lack of a common language and methodologies to support collaborative projects, or a lack of common lab space to host researchers from diverse backgrounds as equal partners in collaborative material development. Artists and designers are often visitors in the science labs, where scientists still hold the ultimate power in the proceeding steps for a material’s development. In such projects, where science is pushing the boundaries, utmost attention is given to the over-specification of materials in order to improve its performance (mostly concerning durability), while materials can offer much more when creatives are allowed to freely explore their potentials.

In recent years, the number of bio-labs inviting artists and designers for residencies or  collaborative projects has noticeably increased. There is also an increasing number of open wet-lab spaces that provide equipment and know-how for bioartists and designers. MI now enjoys being a part of this international community, and welcomes collaborations and partnerships.