Austrian Designer Imagines Clothing Created From Your Body’s Bacteria


There is definitely something haunting about rendering the invisible “visible,” particularly when it comes to dissecting layers of the corporeal self. Austrian designer Sonja Bäumel goes one step further with her “(In)visible Membranes: Life on the Human Body and Its Design Applications” project, a fusion of fashion, philosophy, and science that explores how bacteria on our skin could be used to create clothing. Or, in her own words, how we could witness the “transformation of invisible skin bacteria on our living body to visible bacteria on a body-external medium.”

Currently on display at Design Academy Eindhoven‘s Graduation Galleries, Bäumel’s four-part series examines the relationship between our body and our clothes, our individual identity and the surrounding environment. “I want to confront people with the fact that our body is a large host of bacteria,” she says, “and that a balanced perception of the body is closely linked with a balanced perception of the self.”

The most compelling of her experiments is “Crocheted Membrane,” a time-based visualization of how bacteria might grow to create complex fiber layers that react to an individual’s unique body temperature. Repelled by heat, the fibers build up in areas that require the most warmth and insulation, resulting in a body-hugging silhouette that is “organic” far beyond the realm of natural textiles as we know them.

As part of her research — and to find out if bacteria could, in fact, react with textile fibers — Bäumel underwent a 10-day internship at a microbiology lab at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “I got some very good results from my experiments,” she says. “One proved that there is a reaction of bacteria to textiles, but my research also showed me that it is a long way until finally reaching my goal.”

Nonetheless, Bäumel’s work, which is reminiscent of the slow-design textiles of Marie-Ilse Bourlanges, created quite a stir at Dutch Design Week this past week. Like Bourlanges’ examination of decaying fabric, Bäumel’s complex web of threads reveal the intimacy we share with out clothes.

Crochet Membrane cultivation detail

Crochet membrane accessories

Sonja Baumel’s (In)visible Membrane glove

Sonja Bäumel's (In)visible membrane installation

(In)visible membrane on display

Sonja Bäumel’s installation chamber

Read more stories like this one on Ecouterre: a website devoted to the future of eco-fashion.