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Friendly enemy – Japanese knotweed in the paper laboratory

Within the project we were discovering unrecognised qualities of invasive plants. Our focus was on researching the potential value of the Japanese knotweed as an alternative source of cellulose fibers and cellulose-based products. The corresponding exhibition reveals the process of papermaking from harvesting and processing the plant and a collection of various materials and prototypes, created from this undesirable plant.

Shifting the perspective
Focusing on the accepted ways of confronting the problems of domination of invasive species on one side and behaviours, politics, ideas and habits on the other, the designers started looking for ways to present Japanese knotweed not as an economic and environmental threat, but as a new opportunity to create a synergy between local and global dynamics: their interest lies in creating a bond between needs and knowledges found in local environments and common concerns that arise as consequences of contemporary globalisation flows. The Re-generacija collective’s aim was to find out if unwanted plants could be used as a local source of cellulose in the paper factories in the near future. Although in Slovenia the pulp and paper industry is using somewhere between 350.000 and 400.000 tons of cellulose, all the cellulose is being imported from abroad.

In search for the new material
Throughout the research process we encountered many unexpected outcomes that inspired new enquiries, ideas and proposals. The process of papermaking led us from organizing urban harvest and storing the invasive plant all the way to transforming the local craftsmen paperworkshop into creative laboratory for experimenting with processing the harvested material. Experiencing the microworld of the plant – a leap that was enabled by the national Pulp and paper Institute, made us understand the nature of the components, such as cellulose and lignin, that are of importance in the process of papermaking.

Collective knowledge as well as all the experiences, gained from the collaboration with Craftsman Workshop Vevče, the Pulp and Paper Institute Ljubljana and the Academy of Fine Arts and Design opened up the field of new opportunities for papermaking craft and industrial paper production, based on the use of the newly acknowledged material from the invasive plant.

The project and corresponding exhibition feature the results of laboratory analyses, characterisation and assessment of possible uses of the material as well as a selection of ideas and design proposals by students of unique and industrial design.

Within the current exhibition in the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana (MAO) the selection of materials and prototypes is also presented, inviting visitors to imagine new uses of the material and to inspire possible future collaborations. Yet undiscovered potentials of the material and fresh ideas could contribute to the hand-papermaking craft, which – despite its long tradition – is slowly falling into oblivion.

Photos: Nataša Košmerl

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