Human mycorrhizal activism: resilient clothing

Lorena Madrazo
8 min readSep 9, 2021

During the summer of 2020, I designed a concept for the research project Re-FREAM which explores the interaction between the domains of fashion, design, science, craft, and technology.

This is the theoretical framework and source of inspiration I established for this proposal: The forests, their trees, and the Wood Wide Web.

Human mycorrhizal activism — Theoretical framework

I asked myself some questions

How could we imitate the interconnectivity generated by the symbiotic relationship between trees and roots (the visible and invisible) as a means to feel and get connected throughout our bodies?

How could we physically represent it?

What sensations do we want to feel and replicate?

And I drew several paths to explore the plausible responses to those questions

A self-organizing map may be used to automatically match the sensor/actuator dynamic range and to transfer data between different dimensions in such a way that the human gets an interesting experience.

Let´s do a mimicry exercise. If we are planning to imitate the current layered composition that lies between the trees and plants, the soil, and what happens inside their roots, we must have a look at the Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus network.

Let´s explore what we certainly have in common: feelings such as fear, stress, and lack of nutrients (dehydration).

Humankind and forest connections

I designed two different scenarios where daily life people are the centered question

SCENARIO 1

User story — Temperature variations

I have to deal with different temperature changes in my body throughout the day. I get up, get dressed, and go to work. I ride my own bike to get to the metro station. I am at my destination, 25 minutes later. When I left home early in the morning, it was a bit chilly. When I got to my job at the newspaper office, the temperature was different. Climate temperature and mine had varied.

After 8h of work, 2 meetings, and a meal with my colleagues, I finally return home. This time I get lucky, my neighbor in the village works nearby so we returned together while chatting excitedly on the way. Once the working day is over, I relax and start my own routines. A bit of reading and a toast before sunrise and then off to bed.

Scenario 1 — Human activity

SCENARIO 2

User story — Motion

Today, early morning, I went running to the park with my dog. I like listening to music on my mobile to cheer up every step. Half an hour later, I went back home, had breakfast while listening to a podcast, took a shower, and left off to work. Luckily, I am half an hour walking distance to work, just have to cross the park. So I arrived at my office at around 10, went for a coffee at a nearby grocery store, and at approximately 12.30 had lunch with friends in a restaurant 20 minutes far away by car. After, came back to the office again for 15 minutes because my phone was out of battery and I had forgotten the charger — time enough to be able to receive a phone call and some messages to go for a drink. So I went, the pub was close home. By 8 PM, I felt hungry, so I decided to visit the supermarket to buy dinner. After 12 hours away from home, when I finally get to bed, I realized how many places I had visited, how much I had walked, and that my mobile phone ran out of battery just after I got to the office in the morning. At that very moment, I wished I had a chance to charge my mobile phone with the energy stored by the movements I had performed during the day.

Scenario 2- Human Motion & Energy Storage

Insights

Think about our clothes; their behavior resembles a second skin, which can be felt together with our experience. Analyze the possibilities of this garment as a physical and aesthetic space where a great deal of information and energy is collected, stored, and transformed throughout our daily life. A beautiful garment that works with and for us, on behalf of the woods. The embodiment of the forests’ feelings is to strengthen the bonds as a hyperconnected society. Enlightening the need to attend, respect, and understand in a natural way what surrounds us and gives us life, the forests.

Let´s have a look at the symbiotic communication system established between the roots of plants, trees, and fungi, building the mycorrhizal communication systems. A complex and perfect nutrient transport and information transfer system. A skin that enables us to directly communicate with nature.

Research and Knowledge from Re-FREAM partners

Empa (Materials Science and Technology) is part of The Hub Berlín is actually working with 3D virtual dummies to test temperature variations. This 3D model can give us a clue on how to build a responsive material that adapts to temperature variations.

From analog to connected is one of the challenges covered by the Re-Fream project . And it is the one I am interested in.

Hub Berlin — From analog to connected

Additive manufacturing space have successfully 3D printed conductive elements on *PCBs using graphene and conductive polymers.

Christian Dils from Fraunhofer IZM — TexPCB

Virtual modelling interaction labs dummies. Heat and humidity models could serve us to think about how to build a responsive material.

Empa (St. Gallen, Switzerland)

First approaches

The idea is to develop an intelligently emotional material for garments to link it to our most sensitive nature. To make visible, the invisible by imitating visually and functionally the primordial work that forests do thanks to the mutualistic symbiosis established between their roots and fungi.

The mycorrhizal network: from micro to macro

Heat and humidity dictate the distance between the fibers because their hydrophilic cellulose and hydrophobic triacetate components respond differently to moisture. When they’re in a hot and wet environment, the fibers move closer together, and this spacing lets IR radiation escape. When the environment is cold and dry, the fibers move apart and trap IR radiation.

YuHuang Wang & Min Ouyang

What happens between your skin and your clothes. Areas of condensation, ventilation and evaporation.

A mission statement

Let’s take a humanistic approach to replicate tissues that imitate the mutualist relationship using natural conductive fibers and sensors. To turn them into beautiful and functional garments that come to life in contact with our bodies. This is some sort of symbiotic activism. It’s a visual tribute to the engine of our invisible ecosystem that unfolds.

Let’s be activists in our daily life, asserting the vital role that forests play in our survival.

The outsource

To design an interwoven material with sensors able to capture bodily sensations concerning external stimuli, imitating the mycorrhizal network’s visualization and its interconnected communication form. This collaboration will provide us with the best suitable textile, applying computerized technology, measured by sensors to exchange information and energy.

If you were able to get to this point of the reading I must tell you that in the end I didn´t get the chance to develop this idea but I got the best feedback from the Re-FREAM team which I appreciate the most.

The feedback

· From a technical point of view, the application raised innovative challenges in terms of material and process developments that could be adopted for other technical and social applications and so can have an impact on the textile industry and urban manufacturing. Harvesting energy through body heat or movement is an innovative technology that has not yet been fully industrialized.

· Interesting idea how to use garments as a means to communicate with nature

· Miniaturized thermoelectric generators that generate electricity from the heat also already exist. The disadvantage is that these are very expensive and, due to their brittle substance, are not suitable for textile integration. The development and investigation of alternative materials cannot be carried out with the resources from Re-FREAM.

· Great concept to mix technology, fashion, and nature.

· Great planning with how Re-FREAM can support the project (defined vision and proposal)

· Unclear what the prototype should be

· Unclear how Re-FREAM technologies should be used.

· Less impact from a technology perspective.

· It is not a business use case and scalability is an issue.

Now I can think about this like a thing for the future, a Futures Design practice.

It´s been a year since I wrote this proposal and I have finally decided to publish it. It was hard work and I think there are some good points that could be evolved. Furthermore, It is time to know the projects that are currently going on thanks to RE-Fream. You can check them out here. All of them are brilliant! 😍

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Lorena Madrazo

Designer, researcher and textile artist. Crafts and Futures Design are my pillars.