Artist Archive

2007. Ben Frost. AMENSAL



An association between organisms of two different species in which one is inhibited or destroyed and the other is unaffected. -Encyclopædia Britannica Online

A type of symbiosis where two (or more) organisms from different species live in close proximity to one another, where one of the members suffers as a result of the relationship while the other is unaffected by it. -Hyperdictionary

Amensal is a public installation work which explores the delicate balancing act that unfolds when nature ventures into the city. It examines our relationship with the natural world, our desire to cultivate, capture, prune, tend, weed and above all dominate natural processes.
To explore this territory, Lichens were chosen as the central players in the work. Each lichen is a symbiotic relationship between two species; lichen is a symbiotic association of a fungus (mycobiont) and a photosynthetic partner (photobiont), which may be an algae or a cyanobacterium. Some lichens consist of all three types of organisms. The association is not a simple mixture, however, but one in which the fungus produces a thallus, or body, within which the photobionts are housed. (The Lichen Symbiosis, Vernon Ahmadjian, 1993)

This symbiosis has enabled these organisms to survive in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth, from the harshest deserts to Antarctic, where neither symbiont could survive on its own. But lichens are extremely delicate and sensitive structures, they cannot tolerate rapid changes in their environment. Only the toughest varieties can survive in the city. Lichens are widely used as bio-indicators. They are very sensitive to sulphur dioxide. If sulphur dioxide (emitted when fossil fuels are burnt) is present in large amounts then few lichen will survive. In contrast if the air is clear then many forms of lichen will flourish.

In this work the balancing act is represented by the life of a lichen as it grows across a city surface. The lichen is delicate and if the viewer is not careful they could damage or even destroy it.

A giant lichen which grows across a surface. The lichen is magnified thousands of times to reveal its subtle colours and textures. The lichen is sensitive. If a noise is made near the lichen it grows slower, if it gets too noisy it starts to shrivel and shrink. If the shadow of a passerby touches the lichen then the lichen can become infected with decay. If you want to watch the lichen grow you must be quiet and still and be careful where your shadow falls.

Video: Kirsten Bradley + Nick Ritar
Audio: Ben Frost