During the debut of Waag's Petshop project, we exhibited the individual work of one of the project's initiators: María Boto Ordoñez. María is the founder of PET*IT, a line of designer accessories and toys for microorganisms. Recently, we decided to ask María about where she got her inspiration for treating microorganisms as pampered pets.
According to María, the idea for the project initially arose during her internship in the Open Wetlab as she worked beside artists and designers using living organisms in their practices. Because they had to feed the creatures, keep them at the right temperature, and provide them with light, these artists and designers began to feel guilty if the microorganisms died. Perhaps more interestingly, they also assumed that any changes in appearance were related to feelings (happiness, sadness, stress). This emotional relationship seemed novel for microbes, but is completely normal with other organisms (like dogs or cats). For María, this seemed like an interesting area to explore.
Designing for microbes
María notes that when you walk into a pet shop, there are often more accessories than animals (everything from luxury food to furniture). Thinking along these lines, she wondered how one could interact with “micro-pets” and began to design objects that would facilitate and encourage interaction. She built mazes for slime molds, pet beds for mycelium, and a petri dish “passport.” But her favorite design is something she calls “Conquerors,” a large, square petri dish with a world map engraved on the bottom panel. Once the large dish is prepared, slime molds are placed at the corners and their food is placed in the capitals of different countries. Over a few hours, the slime molds “conquer” the countries as they move towards their food sources.
María believes that we all enjoy microbes—even if we don't realize it. To enjoy them as micro-pets, she thinks we just need to change our mindset. This, she notes, is something that has happened before with organisms as diverse as spiders, rats, and snakes.
During her exhibition with Petshop at Dutch Design Week, María's work was received very well. And because several designers offered to design more toys and accessories for PET*IT, she is hoping for a long life to the project.