Lichen Literacy

Lichen Literacy, mixed media installation, Archives of Curiosity, Hockney Gallery, RCA, 2019.

Through different sensory engagements (audiovisual, haptic) and across multiple scales (micro, macro, human), this installation acts as a ‘sensing station’ for engaging with lichen as a biological indicator of ecosystemic health. The mixed media art practice (photography, video, text, textiles, assemblage, and lighting design) affords multiple points of interspecies encounter.

The textual element of this installation is a study in ‘ethnolichenology’, the relations between human cultures and lichen communities. The experimental essay, ‘Deciphering the Lyrics of the Lichen’, traces an historiography of changing lichen populations in the UK in correlation with different waves of late industrial pollution.

Fieldwork for this art-research project included an art-science residency with the British Lichen Society and archival research within the Natural History Museum’s Lichen Collection (in person and online).

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.


‘Do you realize,’ the phytolinguist will say to the aesthetic critic, ‘that [once upon a time] they couldn’t even read Eggplant?’ And they will smile at our ignorance, as they pick up their rucksacks and hike on up to read the newly deciphered lyrics of the lichen on the north face of Pike’s Peak.’

— Haraway in Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016, p.57).