Crocheted Membrane

Textile Skin

It is not only scientists who have been intrigued in recent years with the unexpected diversity of the human ecological system, but also the designer Sonja Bäumel, who is interested in new perspectives on the human body.

It is not only scientists who have been intrigued in recent years with the unexpected diversity of the human ecological system, but also the designer Sonja Bäumel, who is interested in new perspectives on the human body.

Since 2008, during work at the Design Academy Eindhoven on her master’s thesis project, ‘(In)visible membrane: life on the human body and its design applications’, Sonja Bäumel has been occupied with a new evaluation of our second skin: clothing. Instead of orienting herself towards the traditional historical forms, she has chosen the invisible microcosm that already exists on our skin. Do we expect too little from our clothing? Its function has remained the same by and large for thousands of years. We cover our bodies for the purposes of camouflage, decoration, and protection. How might a piece of clothing look that is defined by individual bodily needs, such as its body temperature? What if we could use the bacteria that live on our skin anyway to construct our clothing? This is how crocheted membrane was developed in 2008. The project visualises how the form and function of a piece of clothing fundamentally changes when one begins by focusing on the individual body, with all of its needs, in an outdoor environment of 10°C (50°F).

What would happen if our second skin could adapt to outside conditions flexibly, autonomously, and according to the location? In 2008, Sonja Bäumel brought these questions to the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, where she was a lab assistant. In order to learn more about the life of bacteria, she was then given the opportunity to do an internship there in microbiology. After this introduction to the basics of microbiology, she began her experiments with skin bacteria in 2009, and thereafter with their reaction to textiles.

The film (in)visible, created after this step, shows her vision of the four layers of the (in)visible membrane.

Cartography of the human body 2010/2011 is the product of a collaboration between Sonja Bäumel and the ‘bacteriographer’ Erich Schopf, who paints with bacteria. This project deals with skin bacteria found on Sonja Bäumel and bacteria collected on a specific day in a particular area in Vienna. Bäumel and Schopf have developed and speak a language that lies somewhere between the fields of art and science, a language which they have used to create a chemically alive full body painting.

photo: Rene van de Hulst
photo: Kwok Wing Lam
photo: Sonja Bäumel

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