Liselot Cobelens' Dryland rug

Burnt and shorn Dryland rug captures consequences of drought in the Netherlands

Design graduate Liselot Cobelens has presented a rug at Dutch Design Week that visualises real-world data on how climate change-induced droughts are damaging local landscapes.

The Dryland rug records four different consequences of drought – dehydration, loss of crops and animals, land subsidence and wildfires – and how they have impacted one particular region of the Netherlands.

Aerial photo of Liselot Cobelens burning the Dryland rug
Liselot Cobelens presented the Dryland rug at Dutch Design Week

Cobelens associated each of these consequences with a different manufacturing or processing technique in order to build up the finished rug.

She created Dryland as her final-year project at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, after witnessing the damage that worsening droughts had wrought on Dutch landscapes during her trips home from university.

Aerial photo of Liselot Cobelens standing next to the Dryland rug showing pattern of canals in grassy fields
The rug explores the consequences of drought

"I was thinking what kind of product or material is the best way of showing a landscape problem," Cobelens told Dezeen. "And then I came across tufting, which kind of gives a symbolic sense of how plants grow."

"From then on, everywhere I looked in the landscape, I saw rugs," she continued.

The Dryland rug photographed in a Dutch field
The rug pattern is based on the Deurnese Peel area in the Netherlands

Cobelens started by creating a machine-tufted rug that resembles a physical map of the Deurnese Peel region in Brabant – an area close to where the designer grew up that is protected under the EU's Natura 2000 programme.

The rug is made up of colours that echo the grassy landscape and features a pattern that reflects its rivers and streams alongside human-made canals and ditches.

As these canals and ditches were built to allow water to drain faster towards the sea and keep the land favourable for farming, Cobelens says they now exacerbate its dehydration under drought conditions.

"You can imagine that because not enough rainwater is flowing towards our groundwater in the near future, it will be under pressure," she explained.

Close-up of the Dryland rug by Liselot Cobelens showing tufted thread at different heights
Its different pile heights symbolise different groundwater conditions

Based on real water maps, this pattern of waterways is rendered in loop pile tufting, with blue thread added into the mix to give it a watery hue.

The rug's main sections are made of grassy heaps of cut pile tufting in several shades of green to explore the issue of subsidence.

Hand with electric clippers cuts away grass-like sections of rug
Cobelens cut away sections of the rug by hand to represent crop loss

Each section was manufactured to different heights, with lower pile heights symbolising less water under the ground.

Particularly in peat bog areas such as the Peel, this can lead the ground to cave in while causing problems such as bumpy roads and sinking houses.

Close-up of flame thrower burning the fibres of a grassy rug by Liselot Cobelens outdoors in a meadow
She burned the rug to reflect the effects of wildfires

For the other two themes, loss and burning, Cobelens finished the rug by hand after the machine fabrication process was over.

To explore the deadly impact of drought on plants and animals, Cobelens cut away areas of the rug using electric sheep clippers, creating shorn patches.

She also scorched sections of the rug with a blowtorch to reflect the course of a 2020 wildfire that took two months to get under control.

Since graduating a year ago, Cobelens has continued the Dryland project by initiating discussions around its themes and has made a series of related pieces that were exhibited together in Eindhoven for this year's Dutch Design Week.

In addition to the rug, there is a smaller tapestry and three stools with tufted seats, which symbolise the landscape in different stages of dehydration ranging from healthy and green to barren and sparse.

Another design studio that has attempted to visualise environmental destruction through textiles is Raw Color, whose Temperature Textiles collection recorded climate-change data in blankets, scarves and socks.

Dryland was on show from 22 to 30 October as part of Dutch Design Week 2022. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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