Building new futures: Liverpool Biennial artist Mae-ling Lokko

Building new futures:
On Liverpool Biennial artist Mae-ling Lokko, and her pursuit of an answer to a global question

Mae-ling Lokko, one of the headline artists at this year’s Liverpool Biennial, has been manufacturing biopolymer building materials for an installation at RIBA North. The details are oddly quite simple, and the applications are potentially earth moving.

Mae-ling Lokko’s commission, Hack the Root, proposes a large-scale installation in the public foyer of Mann-Island, outside RIBA North, the national gallery for architecture. The bricks, the key component, grow and repair themselves as the installation lives out its time. Using an agrowaste-fed fungus, the bricks have been ‘grown’ in public workshops, enough to create a huge 20-foot structure that displaces its harsh, glazed surroundings.

An architectural scientist in practice, Lokko is a step away from what we expect from Liverpool Biennial, more ‘interdisciplinary creative’ than strict contemporary artist. There is a statement in her selection from the Biennial team, that looks to the future of the arts, where science and art are connected by necessity, and creative thinking is celebrated, no matter its origin.

It doesn’t matter what your discipline, ideas are difficult to move beyond, and the fear of that holds artists and scientists back equally – Einstein and Grizelda Pollock are both quoted as reassuring listeners on the nature of ideas as theories that just haven’t been proven, but here, through display and public use, Mae-ling Lokko goes beyond ideas and theory into practice.

The science behind the bricks in her installation is astounding, but off paper it is surprisingly easy to test. Last month the artist visited Liverpool groups to build bricks for the installation, and people of all ages got involved, followed the recipe and made their own humidity and air quality controlling bricks from clean biopolymer and agrowaste materials.
In simple terms, its upcycling waste products, creating sustainable building materials from agricultural waste, specifically focussing on coconut husks, and burlap sacks to create a sturdy material that has the potential to be rolled out as an alternative to more time-consuming, earth scarring building methods.

Originally from Ghana and the Philippines the artist has spoken of taking the technology back to Ghana, on an industrial scale, a plan, which will hopefully be helped by creative industry support around the social, cultural, and political reasons behind her work, as well as the environmental challenges the architectural scientist is facing down.

Mae-ling Lokko, Hack The Root (film still), 2018. Image courtesy the artist and Cinetecture

Hack the Root opens at RIBA North on 14 July, part of Liverpool Biennial 2018