Only when we discovered what our planet truly looks like – and that was not even half-a-century ago, with the first images of the ‘blue marble’ shot by the crew of Apollo 17 on their mission to the moon – did we start to become aware that this Earth of ours is limited. Finite in terms of space as well as natural resources.

Our first reaction was to concentrate on consuming less. But then some clever guys figured out that this meant we were only extending matters a bit, so we combined our drive towards consuming less with a recycling initiative, inspiring cradle-to-cradle production techniques, new circular economies, and so on. It didn’t last long before those same clever guys started making similar remarks. Recycling is fun but it won’t stop the Earth from being ransacked, because we continue to use-up the same limited natural resources, just at a slightly slower pace. The current solution is to keep on consuming less and recycling more. But we also have to seek out new resources. To this end, we have invested heavily in new sources of natural energy and have started to experiment with a variety of organic life forms, such as using fungi to replace diminishing stocks of natural materials. Though nothing can replace the human as the ultimate resource, because we can’t deplete ourselves as long as we continue to walk on this planet.

EMRG Valencia Photos: EMRG
The human being as a production facility for new and limitless resources seems to be an incredibly smart idea, but as it looks now, there will only be more and more of us. Of course, more of us means more people to dress and more spaces to decorate. How can we create new wall and floor coverings, fabrics, and textiles using our own physical bodies and mental activities as inexhaustible resources? On one side of the spectrum is the Experimental Media Research Group (EMRG), based at the St Lucas School of Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. It is intrigued with the complexity of visualising big data. Some years ago, EMRG teamed up with engineers and researchers at IMEC, the top-notch digital research and development department at the University of Leuven, which was developing a brainwave monitoring system. In order to measure brain activity, they used a sort of helmet as an interface, equipped with electrodes that could register the electric waves induced by neural activity.


Caucasian hair
The EMRG team focused on the brain’s alpha frequency, through which one can observe whether someone is feeling relaxed or agitated. In an experimental set-up called Valence, they created a living-room environment in which light, sound, and wall patterns could change based on the person’s emotional state of being. Imagine coming home after a nerve-wracking day at the office and – via a real-time data analysis of your brain waves – your personal environment is completely altered to make you feel at ease. The colours and patterns of your wall coverings are adjusted to induce relaxation or to stimulate you, as the case may be.

It might still take a while before you’ll be able to install this system at home. Initial experiments have only dealt with alpha waves, but there are also gamma, beta, theta, and delta brainwaves, all of them transmitting different aspects of one’s state of being. The more accurate the measurements, the more detailed such a system can be. Additional research based on brain-pattern recognition expands the possibilities even further. If you think about a forest, for instance, an image of a forest will appear on your wall. New scientific developments by Barco and Philips about ways to ‘paint’ LCD screens onto different kinds of surfaces could also become a great facilitator.

Asian hair bag A net bag made of 100% human hair waste, first spun into yarn and then formed into rope
A collection of rope products made of 100% human hair waste, showing the potential of different applications
Engineers at IMEC and any other research facility working on neurofeedback systems, might in the first place not be too concerned about the interior of your living room. Fortunately, a few alert people, such as the visual researchers in the EMRG team, are willing to pick up on their fundamental research and translate the findings into opportunities for all of us. Who knows, maybe they have just taken the first steps towards entirely changing the way in which we perceive and adjust the space that surrounds us.


On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, regarding using the human body as a depletable resource, one can find Dutch designer Sanne Vissers. During her MA course in Material Futures at Central St. Martins in London, she visited nearly every hairdresser in the city, collecting all the cut hair. Not for the purpose of making wigs or hair extensions, but for transforming this so-called useless waste material into thread and yarn, as an alternative to naturally-harvested fibres and cottons.

During her Bachelor’s degree studies at Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, Vissers had already experimented with the transformation of hair into visual patterns and sculptural forms, but at that stage it was still a purely artistic and poetic engagement. Her research at Central St. Martins made her aware of the sustainable and innovative opportunities of hair as a bountiful resource. It might indeed be useful to look for alternatives to cotton, as worldwide production of the fabric involves up to a quarter of all insecticides and one-tenth of pesticides worldwide, and it takes an average of 8000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of it.


Hair is perhaps the most natural raw material available, as it grows continuously, for free. And besides the portion that is harvested specifically for wigs, it doesn’t get recycled. The most important parameters of hair are that it is a very strong fibre that consists mainly of keratin and it’s extremely elastic. Both of these characteristics are really important if hair is to qualify as a possible replacement for cotton fibre. By using the ancient craft of spinning, Sanne Vissers managed to transform cut-hair into thread.

In theory, this ‘hair thread’ can be used like any other kind of yarn to produce all sorts of textiles, but for the moment, Vissers’ research is mainly focused on the production of rope, due to its strength and elasticity. The potential of her approach is up for grabs, but some issues still have to be resolved before ‘hairy’ clothes will be hanging in the shops. One of them is that thread made of spun hair still feels very itchy when used in textiles that are brought into direct contact with the skin. Vissers is therefore looking for collaborators to solve this problem and to further develop the wide-ranging prospects. She’s also aware that she has to develop a system for organising the local collection and sorting of hair. Feel free to get in touch with her if you wish to be part of this.

The team at EMRG working on Valence, the brainwave visualisation project, consisted of Tom De Smedt (artist and software engineer), Lieven Menschaert (social scientist and data visualiser), Ludivine Lechat (graphic designer) and Lucas Nys (research coordinator).

This article appeared in DAM60. Order your personal copy.
THE NEW AGE OF TRICHOLOGY Sanne Visser Demonstrating that Asian hair waste can withstand more weight than Caucasian hair
Dog leash A rope product made of 100% human hair waste
Hair formed into rope
A key design element in The New Age of Trichology is the system of using the material-waste stream. The project created a method of producing a material by using existing crafts and waste. In this case, it was focused on the tensile strength of human hair fibre, applying spinning and rope-making techniques. This is a closed loop system whereby the raw material collected at the beginning remains additive-free and can go straight back into nature at the end of its life cycle, through composting or recycling.
EMRG Valencia Photos: EMRG