Lichen literacy

Mixed media installation (photography, video, text, textiles, assemblage, lighting), Archives of Curiosity, Hockney Gallery, RCA, 2019.

Through different sensory engagements (audiovisual, haptic) and across multiple scales (micro, macro, human), this installation invites humans to ‘read’ lichens from a variety of perspectives. Certain species of lichen act as biological indicators of the health of an ecosystem. A live specimen is included in the installation: Xanthoria parietina growing on a roof tile.

The video comprises microscopic imagery of this lichen, whose presence can correlate with certain types of air pollution. The audio recording consists of an interview with an archivist from the Lichen Collection at the Natural History Museum. This interview and the subsequent book chapter (pictured, reference below) explore the historical relations between late industrial pollution and changes in lichen populations.

Lichen literacy was developed following residential fieldwork at Cober Hill with the British Lichen Society.


Sabin, L. (2019). “Deciphering the lyrics of the lichen: on biomonitoring, worlding and airy symbiosis”. In: Sabin, L. and Dalle, M. (eds.), Archives of Curiosity. Limited Edition. London: Royal College of Art.