Repairing with Lichen

Repairing with Lichen explores notions around micro-rewilding in ‘the city’ from a lichen-eye point of view to reimagine nature in the city. The residency project aimed at imagining alternative ways of co-existing within the city of The Hague, using digital technology to understand the complexity of the ecological consequences of urban development while raising questions around its openness, interconnectedness, diversity, and nonhuman agency.





Point of Entry :

Repairing with Lichen - Pesetabs

So Prototype growth tiles

Ec Lichen time horizon

Ar Artwork ‘One and the Care of Many’

Bu Least natural site model

Sc Inside lichen VR



This project addresses lichen as a starting point to consider notions of collaboration and care between species in the context of endangered city ecosystems. Like cities, lichens are a multispecies population; mycelial and algae partners living together in a flourishing and site-specific complexity of architecture and community. Occupying six percent of the earth and calculably metabolising two gigatonnes per year of atmospheric carbon globally, lichens are both ancient and current. They are at once micro-terraformers, atmospheric bioindicators, ecosystem cornerstones and discrete non-human storytellers of that blink-of-an-eye millennium in which humans have apexed across the earth. As a multi-member microbial community and trade-based symbiosis, lichens speak to innovative approaches to interdisciplinarity, partnerships and notions of care between species. They role-model collaborative living and urban rewilding at the city surface level.
Through the brief to reimagine nature in the city, Penelope Cain presents a series of lichen-centric experimental provocations. From how to imagine urban micro-rewilding, a non-human storytelling through the eyes of an algal protagonist at lichen-time, to a consideration of microbial gestures of care and the role of touch, and a prototype proposition for flourishing on urban surfaces.

Text by: Manuel Ciraqui in booklet REWILD exhibition

This project broadly centres on lichen as a role model and starting point to consider how nature, and interspecies communities in endangered landscapes, can survive and thrive within the Hague, where space is limited and ‘nature’ controlled. The project will consider the city from a lichen-eye view and search for modes of micro-rewilding. The project will search for the ‘nature holes’ in the city; the places least likely to have a connection with lichen, and use these as propositional ignition sites for micro-rewilding in the city.

Lichen, as a self-sufficient and symbiotic community of fungus, algae and bacteria, are a model for collaboration and speak to a way of moving forward that looks to interdisciplinarity, partnerships and collaborations between species, for a more-than-human greater good of all. Lichen occupy spaces where plants struggle, such as stones, walls and roof tiles. They absorb atmospheric pollutants such as NO2, SO2, heavy metals and are interspecies biomonitors and witnesses to climate change.

This will be undertaken by working with available datasets through Witteveen+Bos, and with non-traditional data, such as bee counts, community pollinator and wildflower counts, atmospheric monitoring, in addition to regional scientific investigations, such as lichen data monitoring and urban material science research. The project will search for the ‘nature holes’ in the city; the places least likely to have a connection with lichen, and use these as propositional ignition sites for micro-rewilding in the city.

The outcome of this research will be an experimental community driven gorilla strategy for micro-rewilding, led by lichen. It will have a physical element, such as a material experiments and intervention to create bio receptive carriers to promote lichen growth, and a parallel digital/ online avatar of a ‘least natural sites’, where visitors can experience the micro-rewilding and co-build a rewilding over time: showing its full potential and impact.

The jury decided to select Penelope Cain as a winner of the Repairing the Present Fellowship at Regional S+T+ARTS Centre In4Art because the project Repairing with Lichen proposes a novel and innovative way to merge the physical with the virtual world in order to engage people to their direct urban environments. The project Repairing with Lichen investigates a new layer of imaging the city through the lens of one species: the lichen. It addresses sustainability challenges related to biodiversity within cities, with new appreciation for existing flora, but also through monitoring the carbon uptake and nitrogen sequestration. By introducing the concept of micro rewilding in the ‘least natural sites’ of the city, Penelope proposes a project which allows for extensive public involvement and scaling throughout cities and urban areas everywhere. The jury sees that the potential impact of this project is enormous, since the number of surfaces where it can be applied is huge. Through both physical interventions and digital storytelling, the project aims to realize a mental model shift where lichen can be seen as positive contributors to city life instead of a form of decay.


The work has been exhibited at:

2022 ■ MAXXI (IT)
2023 ■ RADIUS (NL)


Penelope Cain is an artist with a research science background, working at the science-art intersection in a speculative and open-ended storytelling mode. She is interested in landscape in its widest definition, in particular the occupied, extracted and transformed landscapes of the Anthropocene and the Post-Carbon period.

Drawing from scientific research, her art practice is located between scientific knowledge and unearthing connective untold narratives in the world. She works across media and knowledge streams, with scientists, datasets, people, stories and land to connect untold storytellings from the present and near future.



February 2022 – December 202




Witteveen+Bos was as a residency host. The project was part of the S+T+ARTS Regional Centers project Repairing the Present and has received funding from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement LC01641664.

S+T+ARTS / Funded by the European Union

S+T+ARTS is about thinking out of the box and building bridges between Science, Technology and Arts.

STARTS is an initiative of the European Commission to foster alliances of science, technology, and the arts, that effectively implement a European approach to technological innovation centered on human needs and values.

Science, Technology and Arts form a nexus with an extraordinarily high potential for creative and reflective innovation.And such innovation is considered to be precisely what is called for to master the social, ecological and economic challenges that Europe is facing.

With disruptive methods of exploration and an accurate critical eye on the use of technology, artists decisively raise awareness of the societal challenges and global concerns we are tackling. The artistic practices are seen as innovative processes and have a wide-reaching potential to contribute to the development of new economic, social and business models.

Sign up for the S+T+ARTS newsletter