Lichens and art mix in exhibit at MDC's Discovery Center

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Kansas City
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Kansas City – In aqua blue, lime green, brown or rusty red they bring color to rocks, trees and old wood. Now, lichens are the stars in a free art exhibit at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, which is part of a hide-and-seek art project in Kansas City. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is hosting artist Sarah Hearn's exhibition, Invisible Landscapes.

Lichens are composite, symbiotic organisms, usually a dominant fungus paired with algae or bacteria, sometimes all three. Together they share the abilities to absorb nutrients from the host, utilize light for energy or convert air into a nutrient. Lichens grow where many other things cannot, such as on bare rock. They are found in a wide variety of shapes, colors and textures. That is, if the human eye notices their subtle presence.

"They're all around us but we hardly notice them," Hearn said. "But once you pay attention to them, you realize how strange and beautiful they are, and how prevalent they are in our everyday surroundings."

Hearn uses lichen shapes and colors to create one-of-a kind artworks made out of cut photographs, drawings and vinyl. Some are in color and others in black and white. At times, she mixes lichen species together to create new artistic forms. Her goal is to reveal the shifting boundaries between science and science fiction, art and artifice. She's also simply fascinated with lichens.

They serve various roles in nature. Some are used as food by wildlife. They can serve as indicators of air quality. In Missouri, the painted lichen moth and the black and yellow lichen moth caterpillars feed on lichens and use them for camouflage.

"The more I learn about lichens," Hearn said, "the more I realize I don't know."

Hearn's exhibition, Invisible Landscapes, is on display in the north wing of the Discovery Center through September. Also, her Urban Colonization project features 12 hidden-in-plain-sight lichen colonies of her creation at the Discovery Center, Science City at Union Station, The Mid-America Arts Alliance and PLUG Projects. Six of the colonies are at MDC's Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Ave., in Kansas City. The first 100 people to discover all 12 colonies using her app will receive an edition artist photograph and a special surprise. That project runs through Sept. 1.

Lichens, Hearn says, "are the most marvelous things you may never have noticed."

To find her hidden lichens and participate in the colony hunt, visit or

Discovery Center will host a chance for visitors to meet Hearn and visit with her from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1. Also, Hearn will host Art + Lichen: A Symbiotic Workshop, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5, at the Discovery Center. Topics in the workshop will include the role of symbiosis in ecology, varieties of lichens, and hands-on art work with a focus on lichens.

For information on Gorman Discovery Center, visit Information about lichens in Missouri is available at