Pauline Rip

Elficological know‑how

A take on fictional knowledge by Mediamatic artist in residence Pauline Rip

How can we reimagine the richness of our cultural relationships with plants and nature  through the imaginary creatures they inhabit? To what extent can fictional knowledge and cultures explore the value systems that exist in our societies?


Portrait of Pauline Rip wearing her piece from 'Artifacts for Bigfoot', shoes based a real pair worn by a researcher in the 1950s. - Pauline Rip

With: Pauline Rip

“Elficological know-how”, is a project based on research done by elficologists into the diet of elves and other folkloric creatures: morning dew, bramble wine, slug slime liqueur,  fern bread, lichen butter and more. Elven food has no limits, offering a creative vision on  how we, as humans, consume and harvest the earth's resources. 

In addition to its pleasant fantasy, “elficology” does not refer only to the search for elves.  According to the creator of the neologism, Pierre Dubois elficologist himself, it is defined  as "the ecology of the soul". For him, it is an approach that "wanders in worlds that are  created as they are explored". Therefore, the magical thinking of this project aims to  raise awareness about the ecosystems that surround us, fighting against the ambient  feeling of “eco-anxiety” by creating an original dialogue between man and nature, giving birth to what can be described as "eco-fairy". 

The project developed within this residency offers “fictional workshops” on the  harvesting of elven ingredients. For each ingredient a know-how is developed in order to  harvest it, thus including equipment, garments, gestures, that it becomes part  of an imaginary culture with fictional rites. 

A know-how has a certain value as it is synonymous with acquiring particular, even  rare, skills, allowing the actor of this know-how to be an expert in his or her field and to  participate in its preservation, notably through transmission. The creation of a culture  based on irrational data as does « Elficological know-how » emphasizes the value of  stories and folklore, beyond the simple fact of knowing whether they are true or not. 

While in the Netherlands elves are not really part of the picture, in Iceland 54% of  Icelanders either believe in them or say it’s possible they exist, 2% claim to have seen  them. Many of the latter tell of sharing their tables or even their beds... Some places on  the island are designated as protected reserves because they are considered inhabited by  elves. The elf then becomes a means of protecting a place where the use of folklore is in  favour of the environment and of species whose existence is not to be proven. 

In this constant balance between rationality and irrationality, fiction and reality,  poisoning and edibility, the project challenges our ignorance and certainties. For some  elements, such as the fern bread or the dish of birds’ tongues, are based on practices that  actually existed, one by starving peasants in times of famine, the other by the Empress of  Russia Catherine II (1762-1796) or even by the roman emperor Aulus Vitellius (15-69  AD); making historical reality a parent of fiction. 

Using the rationality of the design process in the creation of many know-how I ask  whether something has to be true to have value and become part of “culture”. In this  regard, who decides the value of a specific knowledge area ? 

I am often asked if I believe in these stories. As a designer, I need to step back to see the  bigger picture of what I'm working on, therefore I don't attempt to believe it, but what I  do believe is the need to believe.


Want to know more?

Pauline Rip is artist in residence at Mediamatic from 7 November 2022 - 12 February 2023. If you want to talk to Pauline to learn more about her work and elfecology, keep an eye on our Meet a Maker events!