The historical construction of ‘Biomaterial Matters’ as a spatio-temporal issue (working title)

by Lisa Onaga and Laura Forlano

Biomaterials refer to a subset of engineered materials based on natural products. Such materials are used increasingly in biomedicine, especially in engineered tissues. Embodying characteristics that straddle both biological and synthetic materials, biomaterials represent an opportunity to understand the construction of materiality from a new perspective. This paper argues that the perspective of textile-making and fabrication allows a deeper comprehension of the construction of biomaterials that place their seeming novelty under a refractive light. A sociohistorically informed analysis of silk as a biomaterial explores the art and artifice of rendering natural products into new materials compatible with the human body. By integrating historical analysis with design research, we especially explore and conceptualize “biomaterial matters” through attention to the use and development of silk sutures in Japan, the ultimate interstitial object that represents how the protein filament fiber operates as both woven and proteinaceous. This approach traces silk from its entomlogical source, to mid-twentieth century weaving, to the perfection of the double-eyelid surgery in Japan, to deepen a genealogical comprehension of biomaterials as a category of materials beyond the realm of medicine alone.