Fabricated Symbiosis by Mirte Luijmes

Editor’s thoughts

In this material-driven research developed by Mirte Luijmes, the starting point is the realm of lichens. Luijmes’ mesmerizing project embodies a deep reflection of lichen. The final materials highlight a species, often invisible to our attention, adjusting its properties to a knit and acting as a bio-informer. The knitting technique, the wool or cotton threads, and their ability to absorb water, make the ideal conditions for lichens to photosynthesize and grow. It is a beautiful dance of movement, growth, and adaptation of nature that can be seen and contemplated in this project.

Words by Mirte Luijmes

Lichens are everywhere around us but are generally unseen by many people. Lichens are packed and fragile in their dry state. When they come into contact with water they soak up the water like a sponge, become greener, expand, and become flexible. The lichens adjust and react to the circumstances of their surroundings: humid or dry. Luijmes’ project is driven by the lichens and adjusted by their properties in the knit which make them the bio-informer. The knitting technique, the chosen yarns, and the colors are considered to achieve the optimal interaction between the two elements informed by the properties of the lichens. Furthermore, the knit is designed in a way so the lichen can enter and be part of the textile. Design decisions are guided by the natural process and this makes nature an active collaborator in the work which makes the lichens co-worker to the knitting technique and the designer.

A lichen is a symbiosis between algae and fungus. A lichen survives because of this symbiotic relationship and together the fungus and the algae create the property of adjusting to their environment. When in contact with water the fungus makes a place for the algae to photosynthesize. The man-made expansion of cities, the removal of natural areas, and the extinction of species prove that in our society today, there is a general lack of knowledge about what natural organisms contribute to our ecosystem. Lichens are important to our ecosystem because of their diversity, they indicate air quality, they serve as food for big animals or shelter for insects and they protect substrates against acids.

Fabricated Symbiosis by Mirte Luijmes

Lichen & knit

The responsive property of the lichens to humidity led to the investigation of this species in combination with the flexible properties of knitted textiles. The knit enhances the lichens’ properties in its stretchable, textural, and color possibilities. While activating the textiles through moisture, there is a change in haptic- and visual expression. Working towards a material library, the transformable properties of the textiles are being explored. Lichen in combination with knit is investigated in four categories: transformation, shape, texture, and dye.

The lichen and the knit adapt their role according to the category and demonstrate the potential of their various collaborations in each category. The lichens combined with natural fibers such as wool, paper yarn, and cotton are biodegradable and can be given back to nature to increase the lichen population. These fibers absorb water which makes the lichens moister and gives them the chance to photosynthesize and grow.

By decontextualizing the lichen into the man-made world, human interference becomes visible. In several countries, lichens are protected due to the increase in air pollution. Due to the slow growth of lichens, the material is not introduced as a design material but is used to raise awareness by visualizing the existence of the lichens. In addition to arousing appreciation for the unseen species and other marvels surprises of nature, the work aims to let the viewer reflect upon the relationship of humanity towards nature.

Video by Antonio Ikovic & Images by Mirte Luijmes