CONSIDERING COLLABORATION, NEW MATERIALISM and DEVELOPING the BODY of WORK
I want to show the materials and processes I used to develop this body of work over time, starting with the PP till September 2022.
Considering a collaboration with mushrooms as my making for this project:
By now I had the opportunity to do more spore printing with found mushrooms and started to build up a small collection of prints. I look at these prints and wonder if I can consider them as a form of pigment when it is transferred to the paper or surface. The work also reminded me of the work I did in Part One of the course material, where I used my fingers, dipped in ink and water to make marks on a paper. The difference is that my marks can only be seen by making imprints on a surface, which is mostly invisible. By using ink and water as a medium I made a video of this process; below are two still images I took from a video I made in Part One of the course.
Images of spore prints I have been making
The surface of the prints now holds certain materiality. It did record more than just the shape of the mushroom, here is life, energy and moment in time and a possibility that it could stay and connect with the surface. It brings questions of more making – to explore the spore print on paper as a possibility to cultivate mushrooms. I see more collaboration happening.
Some of these spore prints are reminding me of photography techniques like Daeguero, and a fellow student directed me to look at Wet Plate photography. I discovered the work of Borus Peterlin; who has a WordPress blog,( )and an informative Youtube channel where he shares much of his making and work process. I started following his IG account. I also discovered the George Eastman gallery through this photographer, where I could read more. The discussions on how to use these prints continued during social media interactions with a local artist who suggested I look at the gum print process. Gum prints seem to be less blue and there is an openness to adding pigment to the work. I do like the idea of working into a print.
I later discovered another artist who use photography when making spore prints, Alex. On her website she writes the following about her process: “To make the photograms, I leave a mushroom cap on silver gelatin paper from a few hours to a few days. In that time, the spores are released, larva inside hatches, and the cap disintegrates, often creating a radiating effect. In the darkroom, I expose the paper to light, develop the print, and let the remains of the mushroom wash away.”
I read about photographer, George Francis Atkinson (1854-1918 in The Musee online magazine and read the following : “In 1957, ethnomycologist Robert Gordon Wasson published a photo essay titled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” in LIFE Magazine. It detailed the author’s adventures ingesting Psilocybin in Mexico, and gained a fair amount of notoriety. Recreational use of magic mushrooms has been kind of main stream ever since. The mushroom has many uses, then, and as science plots ahead on how to decrease waste and pollution with the bacteria’s ability to both decay and potentially even build, art is also eagerly catching hold of this fungi fervor. In 2019, London’s annual Design Fair chose biomaterial as their theme, and the exhibition “Mushrooms: The art, design and future of fungi.” will be on view at Somerset House through April 26th, 2020.”
Looking at the series of spore prints I have collected it is important to note at this stage that I do like the idea that each spore print I have collected, contains the likeness of a specific mushroom – it was projected by the mushroom. I like to think of it as the traces of a drawing, made by a mushroom, about itself. When I later try and paint such an image with materials such as charcoal dust and chalk it just becomes a human act of representation and makes me think about how things leave impressions on me and how this relates to my need for making art.
It also reminds me of a conversation with my tutor when she shared the work of artist, Ben Woolfitt with me. We looked at a work which is part of a series, Rhythms and Series, which consists of 37 separate works. His process of using frottage with found objects was what captured me. He would use silver leaf, pastels and graphite in the works. I am also enjoying the poetic way he titled his works. Again the way in which he considered the relationship between objects, the title and text that I find I learned about in Part Five of the course. (Exercise 3 in my learning blog at: https://karenstanderart.com/)
I looked back to the work I made with water and gypsum in Part 2 of the course material. The images have been taken months apart. I view them as traces of material imprints left behind on the paper and now I have come to see the spore prints in very much the same way. In the spore prints, I am very aware that they contain life and are not merely a representation of the inside of the cap of the mushroom. My hand/embodiment (?) comes to play in the work below, but not don’t the spore prints. Would it be seen as a ready made or does it question representation: to look at an animist way of working with the non-human? I also think about how it would look underground before mycelium starts to pin and we observe the mushrooms.
I did more explorations with the method with the idea of getting closer to the invisible and interconnected work of mycelium. I worked on black paper I remembered reading somewhere about the “invisible web-like thread that is weaving their story in the dark” and with this in my mind I explore more. Whilst making these works I realise the freedom of not having an image I try to represent, but that the making became more about experiencing a living thing, a happening. The fact that I used my fingers made me feel that I was also part of the spore-making process and that my marks could identify with the happenings of the fruit getting ready to show above the ground. It also reminds of memories, and traces of moments of happenings. I think I could consider how nature acts as a metaphor for memories in things like bubbles in water.
This exploration continued with the use of white chalk and charcoal with which I worked back into the surface of the marks left on the paper surface. It is clear that the work is not stable and will not last long, just like the spore prints these are temporary paintings and imprints of my own fingers.
I started to develop a work, by layering the painting with weblike connections, working only with chalk and charcoal.
I captured the process with the following collage of images, which I call Underground imagined. It is interesting how this underground also reminds me of the sky (space) above, the same space I cannot see with my naked eyes.
Final paintings as outcomes of this experimentation: Both works are A4 size.
Whilst making this work I found articles (academia.edu) which referred to an essay by Goethe which was called his late life science project, a journal On Morphology. The part which fascinated me is called Natural Simulacra.
There was a direct quote from the work written by Goethe which captures my own thoughts at this stage:
“One layers a not yet open white mushroom, with a cut stem, on a piece of white paper, and it will shortly unfold itself, and so regularly pollinate the pure surface, that the entire structure of its inner and under fold will be drawn most conspicuously; …” (214)
The author, Amanda Jo Goldstein (2011, European Romantice Review) wrote the following: “the essay’s most striking instance of communicative decay in an act of fungal self-portraiture”. Does Goethe see the art in the spores left behind on the paper surface, the making of art, a self-portrait, a drawing, by the nonhuman? Can I say that the shape of what is left behind is art? The process of making is also intriguing and I do think that botanists or scientists would guide me to reproduction or pollination. I feel I sensed materiality (?), that exists between things and or beings – (this could be in the form of dust, vapour, or even droplets) but something, traces, the material left behind, it could be or is temporal (when decay/death sets)or is it just in between happenings and an ongoing process of life? ( After writing this part, I later found the book, Sweet Science, Romantic Materialism and the new Logic of Life, by Amanda J Goldstein) and will add it to my reading list)
Below is a way of making spore prints which is effective if one needs to capture these spores: place them on sterilised aluminium foil and later scrape them off with a sterilised blade.
On IG I came upon the work of Madge Evers, she works mostly with mushroom spores. She describes her practice on her IG page as follows: “I’ve adopted the spore print in form and medium to create works on paper. Also cyanotypes. Sometimes the two together.” I realise that I can take the learning in the above processes to create works, it would need planning in terms of having the paper ready and planning a type of composition when one place the mushrooms for the printing of its spores.
I tried again to make spore prints with oyster mushrooms I had been growing. I wanted to have these white marks on black cardboard. The mushrooms were few but varied in size. I made the first print on a small black paper and then worked on the board. I could not re-use the mushroom after 4 ‘prints’ and the smaller ones gave fewer ‘prints’. In hindsight, I learned that I waited too long to harvest the mushrooms, and my prints could have been better, had I cut them earlier. (This I learned by looking at the amount of white powdery material (spores) that was lying on the table where I kept the mushrooms during the growing period. )
I appreciate the soft and delicate prints of this work below. It made me wonder about the work as an aesthetic space where I invite a viewer versus my intent that the entanglement of harmony between human and non-human should be experienced. On my IG account, a comment that there is ‘something dreamlike with these’ (karenstanderart IG account) confirmed that viewers could understand or experience this entanglement and the aesthetic of the image.
RUBBING OR IMPRINTING
Lichen around my house on the pavers gave me an opportunity to work directly with imprints onto the surface, by rubbing the medium into the paper. I know tutor Lydia Halcrow used a similar method in her walking studies around an estuary.
It is important to note, that because spore prints are real matter, they can come off the paper easily – I sprayed fixative over it as a way to protect the ‘drawings’. It does make me wonder about the archival properties of this material., versus using the material as a growth medium for the fungi. I will research possible options in the short future. My ideas are currently to make a series of single-spore prints displayed in Petri dishes or to make prints.
WORKING WITH MUSHROOMS AS MATERIAL – MYCELIUM EXPLORATIONS
I ordered Petri dishes (65mm) in size and will receive them by the end of August 2022.
USING MYCELIUM FOR 3d OBJECT MAKING
An artist friend who is a ceramic sculptor contacted me after he saw my enquiry into mushrooms on my social media feed and suggested we look into making sculptures together. I need to continue growing my own mycelium for this project. We will meet up at end of August, or early September 2022 to discuss how we can continue. In the meantime, I looked at growing mediums like the woodshavings from my husband’s carpentry machines as possible substrates as mediums to use for sculptures. I consider working with oyster mushrooms which grow horizontally on or out of dead and decaying trees or stumps and are seen as wood composters. (called saprobe) It would be ideal if I could use beech and oak shavings. I have by now learned that oyster mushrooms release vital nutrients back into the ecosystem and are known to be specialists in breaking down some of nature’s toughest materials. Sheldrake has an image in his book where these mushrooms are living off cigarette butts, an experiment of a mycologist, Peter McCoy. (2020, 202 – 211). Below is a video I found on YouTube where Peter McCoy discusses this project.
I started making mycelium with paper (strips of cartons from boxes) on 16th July 2022. I used spores I have been keeping in a honey and water solution. These were mixed some with the paper and I filled three bottles which are made of 100% plant-based materials, with this inoculated medium. I have since learned that these bottles are called a bio-based polymer, as the origin is in plants, like sugarcane, corn, beets, potatoes, etc. The bottles were sealed with poly film and placed in a black plastic container with a lid. It is important to note that I do not have a controlled environment (airflow, humidity and temperature) and that this can lead to my experiment not having the desired outcome. It could slow down the process. Ideally, the temperature for growing mycelium is around 26 ‘C and for fruiting around 16’C. I have by now learned that most of the artists I have viewed make use of professional laboratories during this part of the making. I consider the risks I am taking, but the learning will outway, in my opinion. It seems possible to create a small laboratory with a controlled environment for future projects.
Update on the mycelium growing in recycled bottles, date, 04 August 2022: It seems two bottles are growing well, the third bottle is much slower and only shows mycelium at the top. I feel this is very promising and it motivates me to explore more, having the envisioned sculptures in mind.
Later in August 2022, the mycelium showed signs that the mushrooms want to flower. I have not yet made moulds to develop 3d works in. I used some of the mycelium and tried to mix it into paper and then onto figures I developed earlier in the course. They are also kept in a black container, which aids as a growing room. (Date: 16 August 2022)
I tried more objects which could be filled with growth medium: I filled a hollow shell of a tortoise and a skull of a Springbuck I collected on walks, with mycelium grown in coffee grounds, sealed it with polyfilm and placed it in the black container to grow in the dark.
I now have to wait a few weeks to see any results of mycelium showing growth and flowering. My thoughts go back to this idea of becoming or umwelt, as I am looking for signs that a mushroom might appear.
By 30th August I could see the mycelium was growing on all the objects. Below is an image taken on this date of the skull and on 8 September of the tortoise skull :
I made a note that I took the skull out of its container, as I wrapped soft paper around it to see if the growing medium would stay inside the body, as it has holes. I realised after that I did not sanitise my hands and that I might have contaminated the little skull.
On 1 September 2022 I explored making a face by using a craft shop-bought mask as a mould. I used a plastic lining (to act as a holder when I take the mycelium out of the mask mould) and placed the growing-medium, which already had mycelium growing, inoculated it with more mushroom spore, and covered it with plastic film.
Below is a short video before the object went into my dark box to see if mycelium would start to grow. (Sunday
I used aluminium foil to make to shapes of the masks, both of these sheets of aluminium have mushroom spore prints on them.
The mushrooms in the bottles (2) were growing and I continued to share the developing process (growth) on my social media platforms. By 24 August 2022 they were ready to be eaten. I again harvested spores from these mushrooms and hope to be cultivating the next generation soon. I researched the possibility of using bio-based polymer plastic as the container for my growing medium and or the mould of possible sculptures I could create. I sourced a possible supplier and sent an enquiring letter. (on 2nd September they explain that they only work with moulds and cannot supply me with the film product. They refer me to a bag supplier who only sells bio-based plastic bags. I learn that these bags are not clear plastic, but light green colour. I will do more enquiries.)
I visited a local mushroom laboratory that supplies growing medium (substrates) and spores and shared my ideas of making sculptures with mycelium and other materials which would be inoculated with mushroom spores. I was offered some growing cultures to add to my experiments. By now it became important for me to consider the material I use and that I would not like to extract mushrooms from nature on a regular basis – I have a sustainability issue with my interference and realised that cultivating my own was the way I would prefer to move forward. I plan to create a small lab where I can cultivate spores and continue the process of working with mycelium.
In my research, I came upon the company called MyCoWorks and learned that they started in art practice to eventually now having developed leather products as a biomaterial, by using mostly the Reishi mushrooms’ mycelium or root structure. It is clear that in order to develop these materials knowledge from process engineering and microbiology is also an important ingredient to successful end products.
Later I found an artist/designer, Eric Klarenbeek. His work created with a 3D printer is completely made of mycelium and mushroom spores. My artist friend’s idea is to create a plastic (clear material) as the mould. This mould should have a space of a few centimetres to let fungi grow in the medium which is to be filled underneath the mould. His vision is to see the growth and the decay – life and death.
My understanding is that all the cavities should be filled with the substrate so that it takes the shape of the mould. The mould can then be removed once the mycelium has formed into the shape and is a coherent mass, to either be dried in heat (to keep its form) or the add moist and put in a fruiting chamber to start fruiting, end then dried or left to decay.
I want to share my insight into the work of the artist (see Artist research blog)
Later I found more about her making process in a conversation with Margaret Rodgers, (2017) of the Canadian Art Magazine:
“When I create my lingzhi sculptures, I first put woodchips and lingzhi spore mixtures into the mould I create. Then, by controlling humidity, temperature, and light, lingzhi mycelium starts to grow. Once the lingzhi mycelium binds the wood chips into the mould’s shape, I remove the mould and put the bonded mixture into a small greenhouse to let it keep growing. After a few weeks, the body of the roots begins to grow and creates its own transformative sculpture. The beginning of this hybrid science/art/idiosyncratic/secular experiment satisfies me. I am no longer in control, nature is. For me, it’s important that each side of this equation has a chance to shine.“
By 13 September mycelium in the two objects, skulls, were showing signs that they will flower. I took the objects out of the dark box and placed them in a transparent plastic box and now need to keep the box humid for the mushrooms to grow.
PAINTING AND DRAWING WITH DIFFERENT MATERIALS
Considering ideas for painting and developing resolved pieces
Painting a mushroom using the organic form I made with foam as an inspiration developed out of ideas after looking at the potential of paint to create form as well as surface (Part Four of the course material). I would like to make use of the ideas from the Veiled mushroom and create a net shape around it. These mushrooms are called Phallus indusiatus, and are commonly known as bridal veil stinkhorns, veiled ladies, or long-net stinkhorns. I think the veiled effect of the mushroom when I look at images, relates to the way mycelial networks form as well as to my feeling of learning and so much that must still be revealed or hidden. I also think the veil reminds me of woven threads, organic life form, it is tactile and fragile – how the mushroom feeds above the ground. I read that these veils grow out during the night and that it takes up to 10 -15 hours to fully unfold. The skirt’s length ranges from 7 -25 cm and reaches the ground. I read that the bridal veil stinkhorn is an edible mushroom, but that the yellow bridal stinkhorn is considered poisonous, some people even get dizzy by just smelling them! To spread its spores, the cap of the bridal veil stinkhorn contains a gelatinous gleba that attracts insects. The spores latch onto the insects as they touch the gleba and are carried away to other places.
I focussed on a series of work to develop the Veiled mushroom I made earlier in the project:
These mushrooms also remind me of wearing skirts and as it is hollowed out, lacy or netted in appearance this takes me to the undergarments used in fashion and my explorations with the Las Meninas. In a tutorial after work done from Part 4, we discussed taking this literal work into further explorations. My tutor saw the potential of the above work on its own – I need to ask myself why did I stop here! I later came back to this paragraph and considered how time has to do with layering – time that passes or accumulates in my thoughts about the work and how I can develop it.
Thinking about how to develop the work
I could look at only exploring the white cellular structure, which does not need the fungi behind it – I can explore it as a type of layer that we as humans share with the fungal world. As is, it can be seen as over-explaining itself – the literal. Grabbing hold of it materially, explore it materially. The white structure can be explored – it is in all of us. I should think of an alliance here, trusting myself with this and doing the work. I need to think of obstruction – is it my habits in my making process? It does take me back to the first made object I linked to the fungi, see figure 6.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) describes in his 1983 novella Worstward Ho the very essence of the artistic process itself.
I used the project work done on text to layer a work, collaged with cut-outs and then painted over it. I am still captured by the shape of the veiled mushroom and explored more ideas of hiddenness and fragility, but also beginning to understand my body’s connection to the fungal form and complexities. I do wonder about how these entanglements are also a way of searching for self in this idea of shape or form. When Merlin Sheldrake was asked to explain entanglements, he said the following: “I think of the word “entangle” as a knotting and re-knotting, a raveling, and intertwining. The word appears to have some of its roots in Nordic and German words for “seaweed,” presumably because they are life forms that knot and clump with themselves—Entangled Life is a book about fungi, most of which live their lives as branching, fusing networks of tubular cells known as mycelium. Mycelium is how fungi feed. Animals tend to find food in the world and put it in their bodies; fungi put their bodies in the food. To do so, they must ceaselessly remodel themselves, weaving their bodies into relation with their surroundings. This entanglement—with themselves, with their physical surroundings, and with other organisms—is their staple mode of existence. On a very literal level, then, I use the word entangle to refer to the ancient growth habit of this little-understood kingdom of life.” (lithub.com)
Looking at the work to consider working towards resolved pieces and finding a connection with the cellular membranes we all share and see how I can use drawings and other works to speak back to painting. I would like to make more paintings. It feels that my intention is more focused to let my imagination go…. can I find relationships between these works I started making? I see connections between the materials and forms and think the ideas are also somewhere in these techniques I used. Thinking about words such as knotting, intertwining, but also covering (face veil) I realize I can develop a series of works that are not necessarily linked to the fungi, but the words that connect around the idea of a veil. At this stage, I mostly think of a veil as a texture and in textile form. By doing the cut-out – it reveals patterns and light and can be placed on top of something I want to obscure/hide, and only reveal partially. Both works were an exploration of building up the surface of the paint and not intended to create an image.
I consider the veil or veiling as metaphors, clothing, like cloaking devices, and obviously the veil, like for weddings, but also as a separation between objects or concepts
- they can be magical cloaks of invisibility like in Harry Potter and many fairy tales or in folklore.
- also, a mantle, evoking mystery as a piece of fine-textured material to cover the face/head
- it acts as a layer
- it acts as a cover, by concealing or camouflaging or hiding (religious humility shown)
- it is a symbol of religious or cultural beliefs, can become a story about ‘the veil’ or ‘veiling’, which has a wide difference of notions around aesthetics and Islamic Art/Religion there is a rich history of this as ornamentation and decoration.
Later in Chapter 5 of Entangled Life (p164) Sheldrake talks about where the person’s self begins and relates this to the mycorrhizal networks, which he writes, ‘that lace outward – extravagantly – from its roots to the soil’. Bringing this idea visually to mind is what influenced most of my making around this idea of a veil. In my study material, I went back to a reflective exercise (Part Four of Project Three) where I considered relationships with materiality. In this reflective exercise I considered agency and am reminded of how these drawings/paintings and 3d shapes drew visual feedback so as to look phallic. Looking at the name of the veiled mushroom, Phallus indusiatus, it is clear how it came to get this name, and in a way I acted with this in my own making which lead to different meanings of the work, which can even contain ideas around gender identity.
I want to consider the influence of Cy Twombly in this work process. I feel it is important to explore how he worked with a line which moves between being cursive, then containing some mathematical notations, working with wax crayons, pencils, ink and adhesive tape to create something that evolves or grows into more or less. Some people would argue that his early work was a reaction to Pollock’s drip paintings and that he ‘violenced the use of graffito’. On the Gagosian website, I took a screenshot of how this work, Treatise on the Veil was installed inside the gallery. The studies form a coherent narrative and visual harmony, it shows some thinking, and erasure – very fluid and evolving over 5 spaces.
Out of this looking at the above cut-out work, more exploration with material followed. More works were made by making imprints and continuing imprinting on supports. I used bubble wrap plastic to make these imprints, as it reminded me of the veiled effect. I also think I can refer to the automatic technique used by Max Ernst, decalcomania, as I laid a clear paper over a painter’s surface, used my hands, even feet, to create suction and then pulled it away. I do like the texture and new forms that ‘appear’ during this ongoing process, no one can be the same, as the thickness of the paint and the pressure differs with every ‘print’. Supports where canvas paper, newsprint, board and velour paper:
I chose plywood, gessoed it and worked with layering by drawing onto the work with a pencil and charcoal, concealing parts, then using paint and eventually adding a layer of egg tempera. I received positive feedback on my Instagram feed and the comments were that the detail in the work is “really interesting as it reminds of fungi or organism, but also a Monet, but with new materials. I feel this is what the work is about – my intent is a flow of materials giving the impression of a living organism, not well defined or structured, as it can be dynamic and changing.
This work was done over a few days. I worked textured layers onto the wooden surface and added black to give depth and density. I thought about overworking the piece and how I need to control my use of materials to create a composition that reminds me of the beautiful patterns of the veiled mushroom, but also creates an abstracted work from that subject. It is interesting that I enjoy the idea of mixed media in this work, as well as using layering where forms are tested, erased, and hidden to create texture. Most of the time I worked wet into wet – it caused issues where paint and charcoal mixed, but I liked the effect it gave
Did I show any painterly abilities in terms of movement and spontaneity, I ask myself, as this is something I have valued in the works of the Expressionists, who created broken movements with the way they laid down the paint on the surface. (Monet’s colours were blended optically rather than on the palette. So no perfect coverage and smoothly-blended transitions are shown in his work, one actually sees the colours underneath.) This technique is achieved through hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, dry brushing, and sgraffito (scratching into the paint). The mixing of brighter colours is done directly on the canvas to aid in creating the broken colour effect and only darker colours are mixed on the palette. I wonder if I look at how painting developed since the 1900s, that this helped me to have this view on my own painting of these natural forms I am investigating. It is indeed to me to look at the work of Ruskin, see below.
A friend shared photos of the cosmos flower fields on their farm (Highveld, Gauteng) and we compared my work with it. As if an abstraction of a close-up of those images – the colours considered.
In a way, this work, the orange tones, reminds me of the lichen I have been viewing at the coast. I use the above painting to make a drawing on Velour paper and work with colours that remind me of the lichen I have been collecting at the coastal area of Jacobs Bay, Western Cape, South Africa. I used the above painting as the ground onto which I rubbed charcoal onto the Velour paper, then I followed with a Yellow Oil Pastel to make markings of dots/stippling to resemble the lichen, and add white chalk for contrast and also to connect this work with the Pink work, above. ( I still need to assign a title to it)
In reading more about lichens I came upon drawings and paintings done by Ruskin in 1871. I enjoy his close observation of nature. I was also intrigued by them growing on rocks and scrubs during a recent holiday at the coast, and it reminds me of naturalist ideas to taking notice, but there is also the reminder that there is a slow process happening in nature which erodes and now could be seen as a form of violence against the environment. When I looked at the work of artist Emma Stibbons, I was confronted with the work of Ruskin and his perspective on painting as recorded observations, but also an awareness of the environment and nature. He was of the opinion that the Industrial Revolution posed a threat to air quality and already in 1850 observed ice recessions.
Later, after my tutorial session on 28 April 2022, I read the following: “Haraway, a prominent scholar in the areas of science, technology, and gender, has long been interested in the permeability of boundaries between humans and animals and, in this instance, between humans and one of the most tenacious forms of vegetative life, itself both primitive and highly complex. In claiming allegiance to lichen, Haraway is talking about the importance of the symbiosis, co-dependence, and inter-connectedness that allows this organism to exist, and that makes it such a potent example for our environmentally threatened times.” (Courtauld, UK). The more I research the fungal world the more I believe we share with these living things the struggle/strive, but it is a ‘collaborative survival’, as are the ideas of Haraway. Looking at Sheldrake in the last chapter of his book, Entangled Life he talks about anthropomorphic and mycomorphic and I became more aware how we use metaphors in language to describe ideas around symbiosis or relationships between different organisims, living and non living.
A local artist, Kristen McClarty also posted work on Instagram and I enjoyed her explorations, which she also sometimes turns into beautiful prints, inspired by her during walks along the beach in the area she lives.
I explored my own painting (pink, untitled above)) and used it as a ground for the next work, by applying the frottage technique to rub the textured surface of the painting with charcoal:
I then worked onto this textured surface with oil pastel to make drawings of lichen like forms. I also erased areas.
I continued to another work for this series, and worked on white paper, using oil pastels, charcoal and chalk. This time I also added a graphite pencil, for detailed lines. Below are images of this work, which was still under investigation as of 10 April 2022.
Below is the final drawing. By now I had named the work.
I also wanted to paint these ideas and forms and colours that came to the front in looking at my collection of lichen.
The above work is an exploration and study for a painting I want to do and I plan to use the found materials I collected around Jacobsbay earlier this year. By looking more closely at the lichen I saw forms which remind me of mushrooms or little trumpet-like shapes.
During a tutorial (28 April 2022) my tutor discussed looking at and finding forms to engage the viewer in the final process of viewing the completed study. I decided to make some small studies with charcoal and prepped Fabriano cold-pressed paper with gesso and explore space and form. I enjoy drawing on gesso prepared texture with charcoal and have learned that I can use my fingers to erase and create great textures and marks – it reminds me of making use of palimpsest as a making method and brings in my learning from researching Twombly and Kentridge making methods. I find that I am getting closer to the essence of the thing.
I prepped a piece of plywood with gesso and worked more on considering an observational study of lichen. Looking leads to questions – here I am looking at a twig with lichen on it.
I decided to also draw on velour paper and set my two easels next to each other for this drawing session, whilst I also made some video recordings of the making.
I like the outcome of these drawings on Velour paper and will explore working on Velour more.
I decided to create grounds for my lichen-inspired paintings by using frottage and pouring paint. I worked on canvas paper and started with ink and acrylic paint which I regularly wetted with water. To really appreciate the lichens, one has to have close-up views as in the image on the Right. I do love the different layers of these rounded to almost round shapes and the growth on the stems of the coastal scrubs.
I then made imprints (decalcomania technique) into the two wet works to develop a series from it:
I continued to develop these imprints; thinking of them as a type of fungi underground of the paper support I am working on. I also used an old work – not completed and did an imprint on it. It reminds me of the day I picked up my lichen branches at Jacobs Bay, earlier this year (2022)
Later I placed two cutouts of these paintings onto a growing medium (my own spore and coffee grounds) and left them to see if any growth would happen – I saw this as merely experimenting and working with fungi. The spores were placed on coffee grounds on 15 June and I looked at it as my own Lichen-inspired fungi collaboration. Later when looking at artists who use similar methods it became clear that to have a sustainable creative practice, I will have to work closely with a grower or have my own sterile laboratory. In early July I found the first growth into the paper – small yellow oyster mushrooms were pushing through, in the circular form, and later on 20 July two grey oyster mushroom showed early signs of growth. The next day another group was pushing through. Now it is a matter of keeping the mushrooms moist and observe the growing process.
I continued to work on these grounds. The work below had ‘shown’ a footprint. I decided to develop it further and became more intrigued with the idea of lichen being traces and the fact that one can ‘trace’ on top of it, as scientists do as a method of identifying it. I consider the work as my opportunity to work with what I had and manipulate (edit?) the outcome for the viewer.
I had positive and encouraging feedback when I posted this on my Instagram site:
- you have a great visual language.
- I’m inspired
- details and expressions really speaks to me
The work is still under investigation and I will place more images as I progress
Looking at Mycelium
Mycelium has the appearance of a mass of cottony threads and becomes a repeatedly and complicated branching of the tips of hyphae. The mycelium grows by using nutrients from the environment and, when it reaches maturity it forms fruiting bodies, the mushrooms. Shelldrake said that mycelium is how fungi feed. The mushroom then uses its reproductive cells, the spores, to be dispersed, When these spores reach a suitable substrate, the spores germinate and develop hyphae that grow, branch repeatedly, and become the mycelium of the new individual.
For a more dramatic effect I painted with acrylics on black paperboard in the work below:
I consider scaling up work as part of developing final resolved pieces for this project: What I learn from Twombly’s ability to scale up drawing, is that he still keeps the essential intimacy in his work. He ‘exposes his understanding of lines as well as the use of colour about how there is an energy (flow?) between his thinking in this exploration. I feel that in a way I achieved some form of manipulation of dimensions within the work by working and reacting to marks and considering the form of a living cellular membrane. I am thinking about interconnectivity and intricate webs which is about interdependence. Using plastic bubble wrap to create the first layer of circles, which also reminds me of a beehive and mycelium growing, I worked with layering more forms onto it, working mostly with charcoal, chalk and paint and applying different strokes with the brush, which tried to sometimes erase or grow out of a layer.
I wondered about the use of sound with the work and looked at John Cage playing the piano – the score has mushrooms on the notes and he plays on the mushrooms. Is this not too literal? On Saturday 30 April I attended an OCA session which was led by the head of the Music department, and ideas were mostly around improvisation. I thought of the freedom I used in this work as I created during a very open process. I am reminded of the fine line between chaos and coherence when I work with ideas of spontaneity. In this work, tonality was used to play with space. I realised afterwards that the object was my first concern, and I used lines to express it. I am not sure if I can say that the lines became the subject, as I made use of lines to share this representation. On my Instagram feedback, this work was commended for giving the impression of being 2 dimensional and showing organic connections.
I am thinking about a lot of the sounds that are in my environment and how I can use it in my work. Recently I have noticed that when I make videos of my working process the outside sounds are always very audible. I realized that this plays a big part in my work, in terms of the place where I work. I regularly walk outside or go and sit there for a while, when I work in my studio. I need to explore the text in my work in terms of using it as a subject.
More explorations: In the work below I worked with charcoal and acrylics I found that trying to draw into it with a fine pen and graphite lines became an unstable place – I found the surface as a type of boundary to what is under and what is known.
That under the ground was becoming a space for imagination. I sprayed a fixative to explore more layers – thinking to thicken the surface with materials. Ideas of a membrane were drawn into the work, a lot of erasure was taking place by covering it with materials. It made me think of cut-outs and making a fragile work of a skin-type membrane – I started writing into the work the thoughts that came with the making. In the forest I have learned, more than 85% of plants are connected with the mycorrhizal fungi, and trees will not be able to survive without this symbiotic connection. In these marks, which I think I should call accidental, on the paper, small and bigger connections were made with materials and the written word, to me it says something about life itself around how this system is supporting life. Is it talking to this knowing that we are all connected, my body is also part of this life and this connectedness. In the meantime bombs are falling in Ukraine and many other parts of life – death and destruction are not a threat.
In between making I am reading A Tsing’s, The mushroom at the end of the world, and thinking about the mushroom pickers and how we link value and freedom in our exchange with things and relationships. In these paintings and drawing into them I become aware of how my imagination flows – is this also a place of freedom I find in the process of making?
I look at this work and see potential for more layers. I started making some mushroom drawings into the surface, using a B pencil. It feels like I challenge the surface which is very textured at this stage. These explorations reminded me of the roots of plants/trees/fungi, which are mostly hidden and organic connections I find in my research into the fungal world. The entanglements speak to me of connections and being disconnected. I wonder about nature and our ideas about being connected and grounded.
I continued my exploration by looking at cut-outs and 3d objects I could make to show a relationship between my making and the fungi:
I wanted to make bigger work and started a painting on a piece of plywood I found in my husband’s carpentry shed. I could develop this even further by growing mycelium into the work.
The shapes of my homegrown grey oyster mushrooms inspired this work. I did not want to be too representational from the onset and explored forms around the subject in the work.
I also looked at other materials which I think link with this exploration after my tutorial session around Part 4. I liked the textures of the veiled mushrooms and found materials in my studio seemed to talk to me – wire and plastic netting fabric (veggie packaging) I used frottage with gold acrylic to get texture and layered the canvas paper with a thin wash of persian Indian Red and Burnt siena oil paint. I then made markings with charcoal and rubbed that into the paper
In March 2022 I visit a local ceramic artist and asked if I could come work with him in his studio, to develop some works of my own. I had an idea to make hands holding a mycelium-like structure. I used his clay and made the hands first. He gave lots of support, I have not worked with clay in the last 30+years and needed a mentor and teacher.
I wanted to bring in a mycelium structure and started by making a type of coiled vessel to put into the hands.
This making took on another form, in the sense that I am working with a descendant of the Khoi tribe, who makes sculptures, mainly figurative and of people reminiscent of his own tribe. I am learning from a humble, down-to-earth artist. He collects the clay locally and his oldest son helps him to prepare the clay in its raw form, ready to use for making. We both speak the Afrikaans language, which is also his mother tongue. I cannot help but share an image of my mentor on clay sculpting project.
I added some glaze to a few ‘strands of mycelium’, but with the second (warmer glaze)firing, this did not turn out to be a a good idea, as I used too little of the glaze. My lack of experience after not working with glazes for more than 30 years, is clearly showing here. Looking back, I could have done more layering of the mycelium strands around the work. I do feel the experience opened my mind in terms of how clay is such a natural material to explore the organic matter I am working within this project. I like that here is a representation of my own body, holding mycelium of fungi like structures in a caring observing way.
I do like the ruggedness of the final piece and will use it for the OCA EU group exhibition in June 2022. I like how the mushrooms are intertwined in the hands, which symbolises care and acts as a holding agent. As part of Part Five of the course I need to title this work and asked followers on Instagram to suggest a title. The following was suggested:
- Terra Afrique
- Alkebu Ian (the ancient name for Africa)
After a figure drawing session, I was intrigued by the hands of the model and the work below was inspired:
Blue, Indigo coloured mushrooms caught my eye and were the inspiration for the above painting with indigo pigment
The work reminded me of the Cy Twombly paintings I saw in the Louvre, Abu Dabhi. (These series of canvases are part of a series that the artist called Notes from Salalah after the name of an area in the south of Oman in the Arabian Peninsula) In a tutorial session with my tutor, she referred to this work as a part of my making where I am starting to find my kinship – not the same as Cy Twombly, but there are characteristics, which will help me to find my way through. Here I showed a way of working through something by putting the 3 objects together and could continue to explore this relationship. I can now see how an artist like Ian Kiaer searches for these relationships. Again I refer to visual research and bring it into my work. I am starting to imagine using the cellular layering with this work, and even consider ideas of feminist principles, such as care through working with these materials that are implicated.
Continuing exploring the Fungi Kingdom through making with OCA group sessions:
In the session, I took an object made out of airdried clay and drew ideas around a veil around it. I then made a drawing of this object and it became more of a vessel. After the session, I took a small piece, a fragment from earlier experimental making with plaster of Paris, and tried to draw a mushroom onto it with coloured pencils.
I made other clay objects:
Looking at how materials can be used, I am drawn to finding materials that can be moulded into the forms of fungi. It becomes clear to me that mushrooms have an infinite variety of patterns, colours, and smells. I will take some artistic freedom to make colours into pallets I want to work in, which would not necessarily be representative of the real thing. I have an almost daily feed of images through a Facebook group I joined: Photogenic Fungi- the Art of Mycography, which is a public group. In the images the paint and painted surfaces create the form of the mushroom as well as being the surface of the work.
On 23 December I visited a local gallery after the owner shared a new exhibition on her social media. The exhibition is called Phantasmagoria and will be shown from 5 December 2021 to 27 February 2022 here at RK Contemporary, Riebeeck Kasteel. Merriam-Webster describes phantasmagorial as dreamlike, fantastical, and imaginative. The curator and artist took their cue from Valles’s critique (Woodborne, 2021, 64) of gravitas and morality, standing in opposition to the “pompous, grandiose aesthetics of the Second Empire.” I was intrigued by where the artists in this exhibition found inspiration. So much is about dreaming and revealing an inner world of magic, which I believe is not always found in words. Here are ceramics, tin cutouts, 3-dimensional papercraft, stitching and textiles, and mixed media work to tantalize the senses and remind us to dream and be creative.
During a crit session with the OCA EU group, it was suggested that we think about video and sound in our presentations of these fungi materials. Due to the distance and working online, we find it difficult to see how our work could come together. Afterwards, Anette, one of my collaborating partners shared a Youtube video she made. Her use of music and colour is fascinating. It made me think of how the collaboration could present work as well as compositions that could complement the work we are making. Anette has since then decided to use this video as her personal making for our OCA EU student online exhibition.
My sketchbook with small drawings/paintings and developing ideas are growing. Below are some images from my sketchbook:
Mycelium-like shapes that influence me:
My strongest visual influence become spore prints and the structure of the Veiled type mushrooms. I have not seen a Veiled mushroom in real life and can only read about it and look at images.
I start to work on a bigger sheet of compressed board and developed shapes that remind me of spores and mushrooms. I want to create a layered installation and start with a cut-out on paper and then move to velour paper. An engineer friend suggests light aluminium and I helps me to source the material.
The following work developed after a session with tutor Cheryl Huntbach on Saturday 11 June: Drawing through Repetition and Iteration. The primary focus was on drawing using repetition as a process. We started with a few timed sessions I was now very aware of the veiled mushroom becoming an iteration of rounded patterns or shapes that I wanted to explore. I erased, smudged and repeated drawing into the work, adding and or removing layers to create what I see as a complex design of layers. I enjoyed working across media. (I was introduced to American artist, Terry Winters and discuss my learning in a separate blog) I am looking at my work and explorations and feel that I am searching for shape and meaning when I do these works. Looking at these works, it does remind me of the veiled mushrooms, but now it is becoming (has the potential) to become, something new.
On the padlet where we shared our work during the workshop, comments were made about the work as layers developed and that it is becoming atmospheric and abstracted.
I continued with this work and started a painting on a prepared board. I worked with white and black paint and considered mycelium growing.
Mycelium reminds me of a type of netted fabric and brought my thoughts back to the veiled mushroom, and layering ideas came to mind to develop this work. My work became denser with the different circular shapes as they became layers in colour and size. Looking at these works when I started growing my own mushrooms, I saw the circular forms of mushrooms growing on the growth medium I had. I see form and space in these works now – it is like showing fractals of the growth process of mushrooms. It also reminds us of presence and absence, it became to me a picturing of something that is not visible in terms of how it networks and forms connections. Just like I do not completely see how my house is connected to the electrical supply, I know where some connections are and what their function is.
I then add a layer by burning holes in Velour paper with Soldering Iron.
The cut-outs become exploration for more making and I draw spore prints onto them. I am thinking about this making as gifts from the mushrooms – Annette and I had a conversation around this idea of materialising the invisible. In it, I do see something about experience and making the ideas tangible or visible – a process of revealing in an attempt to improve understanding.
I explore making holes in paper as another layer
I do like the development of these added layers to the work.
Whilst looking at working with text and developing works, I made a text work around Entanglements.
The idea of working bigger was further inspired by a work I saw at the current Venice Bienalle.
The above work is part of the Oman Pavilion at the current 59th Venice Biennale of Art. The works are called Destined Imaginaries and Destinations Igamined. The above work was made by Radhika Khimji and was hung next to a work based on blind fish in the Hoota Caves in Oman. This artist sees them as a metaphor for the human condition. If one thinks about the question, ‘what would life look like without us?’ this is a great work of imagination about what differentiates plants, animals, human and non-human. I feel the work helps to create new layers of meaning, look at the other work it is surrounded differently and carries something of the network I find in the fungal kingdom. I could not keep this work out of my mind and contemplated for weeks how I could use her method in my own work. I see these holes or circular forms as veils that hide and reveal. I tried to read more about Khimji’s art-making process and learned she uses painting, drawing, collage and sculpture as part of her practice, which also includes working with textiles and installations.
(Later, on 15 August 2022, I learn that the above work was shown as made in 2008 and called The dangler. It is acrylic on aluminium and 300 x 200cm in size. (https://www.platform-mag.com/art/adorning-shadows.html) This article, called Adorning Shadows, was dated 08/10/2021.
I think the main thing I took away from her work and how it influenced me has to do with deconstructing ideas in the process of making and leaving traces or fragments of these ideas on your canvas or the work. I also think there is opportunity to use this as a tool to juxtapose polarities I find in my discovering and research around the Fungal Kingdom around ideas to collaborate with the non human.
I could see my above works hanging as an installation with the other works around this same explorations. The idea is inspired by the veiled mushroom, but it has taken on other thoughts about a veil and layers. Visually I like the idea of it leaving a trace – could be the shadows of light playing in/on or through the work. I started investigating aluminium materials I could source as another next layer. By end July ordered thin aluminium and will be developing more work on this theme. (July 2022) The material arrived in August and I was amazed at how ‘soft’ and pliable it felt when I rolled it open.
The idea is to have a work that is installed in front of the other works and that they function as layers or communicate with the other works, I also like the idea that I can explore the effect of reflected light and shadows in these works. This is a tough material to create the holes I want to work with, and I needed special tools to create the holes. I also have to flatten the material, as I bought it in a rolled form. Unrolling the material opened a new opportunity to work with a blank canvas. I can see a physicality coming to play in how I will have to work with the material.
The more I looked at this work I realised other developed works from this exploration which could include growing fungi on these sheets (paper materials) and or working on canvas and adding layers to it, and consider the ‘mould’ or positive of the form in a 3d way.
After trying out a few tools to cut holes, I opted to work with a drill and drill bits that could cut 3 different sized holes. My sheet is around 150cm long and 60cm wide.
I decided not to use the ‘real’ spore prints as it can damage easily. I made paintings of spore prints with the Corprinus ink I have been keeping in the refrigerator. The ink was not strained so I had some lumps in it which caused a few mishaps, but reminds of when I had wet or soggy type mushrooms on paper for making spore prints, and it left some stain marks behind. The foul smell did not make it a ‘easy’ medium to work with. I made use of a dipping pen and small brush to create the marks of spores on the paper.
I want to use this as another layer to the work.
The work now has to be shown as it would hang to become a resolved work which I could add to my BOF. How to install the work took me back to my research on Cy Twombly’s work, the Treatise on the Veil and I consider how my work could fit into this idea.
Installation ideas would be to hang the work, suspended from the ceiling; layers in a horizontal line. I have to source wire rope to hang these works and I looked at ideas for photographing the work for Assessment:
I went back to earlier paintings of the veiled mushroom and find I am now working much more mindfully by using erasing and re-drawing as a repetitive process. I worked with the shape of the earlier painting and tried to imagine the fragile skirt or veil with charcoal. I loved working with my hands into the drawing – smearing or moving the charcoal onto or around and then coming back with lines and ideas for shapes. The work helped me to understand my fascination with light reflecting from and through a form and how the form changes with this interaction. I realized that whilst working with a mushroom I became more aware of a trace of beauty, the fact of things that disappear – the fact that things die and decay. I see these moments as fragments, and being ephemeral and it shows in my explorations. The wonder for me is that in these moments of observation of a thing, the making and being involved with it; what it opens up in me, like traces or moments one remembers and wants to explain through your work.
For Twombly his work was a meditation on time and space (duration) could I say my work became a meditation on possible collaborations with non-humans? I consider the word TREATISE and read the following description in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
a systematic exposition or argument in writing including a methodical discussion of the facts and principles involved and conclusions reached.
I see in this more work to be developed in my next level of studies as research and making.
I now know that the mushroom, Phallus Indusiatus, (Veiled lady) grows on decaying trees and plant matter, its foul smell attracts insects and flies which consume the slime and disperse the spores via defecation. This is important for these fungi to grow and colonise through their spores. I am interested in the idea that the fungus and flies could be in a mutually beneficial relationship here. The veil is called the ‘indusium’. and is usually conical to bell-shaped, and has been described as having a net-like skirt. (also described as looking like a petticoat) It seems to be edible and enjoys an elite status for its medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. (high blood pressure and even cancer treatment?)
I consider how Twombly made and thought about his Treatise of the Veil, as discussed earlier. I would like to continue with these works as a series of explorations, influenced by his work. I will be using the cut-out method and burning the paper with an electric tool, in order to create holes in the surface of the paper surfaces. I revisited the form of this mushroom and tried to make imaginative drawings of my understanding of this short fruiting period we can see. My drawings in charcoal give a sense of fleetingness and were drawn with charcoal and erasing methods. Keeping Cy Twombly in mind and the fact that I want to show my investigation in words as well, I make notes on the drawings.
A painting was then developed. Below are shots taken during the making. As the work developed I feel I could see the influence of Cy Twombly in the way I want to link the work to the object in a loose scientific way.
The smaller works can stand as a group together as the Treatise to the final bigger works. I will place them on one big support. The bigger works will hang separately.
The following work will be put together as my Treatise on Collaboration with the Non-human:
Other drawings developed were influenced by mycelium and are more abstract In the work which follows, charcoal and white acrylic mixed media work were done working with music and trying to improvise the movement of mycelium. My choice with the music is fragile paper, with the hope to have it light and airy as final works. I work on
Starting the second work
I enjoy the fragility and exploring my idea of mycorrhizal relations underground as a very intimate encounter or entanglement and assemblage. Socially or personal I think of relationships about nourishment, connections and love and how we value this. I used music to connect to a mindful-making process whilst focussing on mycelium and interconnectivity. It is as if with the work I dream of a better world. The work developed after an OCA group session with
Considering if the work could be placed down as a horizontal piece
I explored velour paper and experimented with tile grout whilst working flat on the floor in my studio. I was pushing the material and considering the layered effect as well as the fragility of the paper and how it would carry the materials painted on it. I consider to frame this as a horizontal work, placed inside a box type frame I consider the flat effect for the viewer to enjoy the material exploration as if displayed in a glass box. I am not very pleased with the final outcome – I do not think the added colour compliments the work and would prefer the monotone example as the final work.
More exploration with materials followed and led to layered work on paper with straw in between and creating an imaginged visual idea of mycelium.
I was really intrigued by the lichens below, that look like little cups – I found them on broken-off pieces of small trees/shrubs, close to the beach. I now wish I had taken a sample to see if I could use it as a natural dye to paint with and learned that they are called Xantoria Parientina lichen. It seems it will make purple/pink colours if fermented in a 2% solution of Ammonia, or if boiled on its own, a bright yellow.
Making continued with considering materials to draw or paint with, as well as the grounds and surfaces that I could work with.
After I attended a workshop on using egg tempera I explored with dried lichen and made paintings on plywood.
Poem reading: The Mushroom Hunters.
More making followed with mono printing exploration
I wanted to paint spore prints onto a monoprint and used the roller to create a ground and then painted spore prints with ink into the print
This lead to painting spore prints with ink
Reflecting on where my making is taking me
Looking back and reflecting on these works I think there is something transient as well as an unpredictability about them that I can explore with more materials, such as cloth, fibres and even considering a type of woven process. I want the work to change over time, just as mushrooms decay over time. In this, I see an opportunity for the work to become ‘new’ or different again. Looking at the forms in the works I created, I see them as organic and explorative, but also a representation of these organic forms that I find within the Fungal Kingdom. There is also the fact that most of these ‘patterns’ or forms I looked at is mimicked in nature, like leaves, our own cellular structures of our bodies, etc. I do like that the work is becoming more tactile and organic, but also have a sensitive side to it.
Spore prints asked me questions with regards to marks I leave behind in nature, in my own work and life. The idea of an imprint is fascinating to me.
More and more I learn that nothing stays stable or is permanent. I do value the marks it leaves, and see them as being fragile. I ask questions such as if this could all be part of a transitionary process of life and death. I can explore these in-between areas of becoming, which I observed as layers. Is it because I am finding myself interwoven into these spaces? I am aware that the work started and explorations and looking into techniques of making and working with fungi, and that most of the work I have created in this project is not necessary stable or archival, but the Fungal Kingdom has also challenged me with ideas of permanancy and how that in this case, reflects on the materials I used.
Writing an artists’ statement
Annette and I had to write an artist statement around this collaborative work and during the last session with tutor Diana Ali, on 2 April 2022 we tried to explain our statement around the following guidelines: What is the work; How did the work come together, the materials used and; Meaning we assign to the work. We worked on a Google doc, see below:
So in the meantime I am putting these thoughts to paper and will most probably revisit this part:
This collaborative work is about a shared connection with the fungal world and our response to each other’s making. Out of our separate creative work processes, the work (to be named?) became a digital fusion of drawing and installation. For us the collaboration reminded us of mycelia which connect plants over large distances, exchanging nutrients. We shared a mutual fascination with the fungal world and learned that we could work together over a distance of at least 12406 km (average distance from Karen’s home to the two places Annette was located during our making) to create and invite each other to wander into new techniques and materials. We connected via social media platforms where thoughts, new learning and ideas for making were shared and discovered.
We are part of an online book reading group, a natural outflow of the WWW group, and are currently reading Merlin Sheldrake’s, “Entangled Life” . This became another way of experiencing shared connections and new learning in a ‘digital’/online world. On Karen’s) Instagram comment about our interest to work with the Fungal Kingdom was referred to as a giant metaphor for creativity. I do think this is my experience in terms of inspiration I found ways to reimagine my own relationship with all things. Annette experienced that like lichens are formed through the symbiosis of algae and fungi, our separate material artworks was fused into a new, digital one.
Annette, who lived in Lyon at this stage made mushrooms using different compostable and eco friendly materials, such as pastry dough, paper maché, yeast, silk noil, which was dyed with hazelnut ink. The size of these mushrooms varies from 30cm to cm in the final composition used in the work displayed.
Karen, working/living on a farm in South Africa and in reaction to the above-made objects, made a charcoal drawing on Vellum paper to act as an envisioned backdrop, but which can also be used as a separate work. The size of the drawing is 130 x 87cm. Shoe wax was rubbed into the surface to create a soft landscape and explore a technique of drawing and erasing to create a forest scene. The Vellum paper is made from cellulose fibres of plants and is completely recyclable. The image was digitally sent to Annette in Lyon France.
Annette used photoshop to combine the work into a new digital one. The work for the exhibition is completely a digital presentation and we envision decomposing the work after the exhibition. The plan is that Karen will send the work to Annette, who will let it decompose with the objects. We will record this process through photography and writing.
Mushrooms and the psychedelic or mind-manifesting
Later when I attend a discussion session with two other students in our collaboration project, the discussion around Chapter 4, Mycelial Minds come to a form of revelation about our making. (Shelldrake:109- 139) In this chapter Shelldrake discus psilocybin and magic mushrooms. I find his observations of his own experience in a clinical trial around the effects really stimulating. My interest is how consciousness is viewed and equations arose around consciousness as most possibly undervalued especially when it comes to our mental health and wellbeing. Could it be a way into observing your own perspective on yourself, your memories and your understanding of self (self-awareness)…even healing? People I have heard talking about their experience with magic mushrooms mostly focussed on vivid images which they saw, which could relate to gigantism or dwarfism, and/or hearing intense sounds, as well as hallucinations that were not comfortable. On a recent radio podcast, I heard an elderly lady talk about greater self-awareness and dealing with loss and grief. Sheldrake looks at the ability of these fungal molecules to “pull our minds into unexpected places” and that these very powerful chemicals can relieve severe addictive behaviours like alcoholism, or address the distress/anxiety of living with cancer or other terminal illnesses diagnoses, such as well as looking at severe depression like PTSD. It is amazing that these species have developed to have these abilities. The changes that people experience, according to Sheldrake, include “feelings of awe; of everything being interconnected, of transcending time and space; of deeply felt love, peace, or joy.” Interesting is a feeling of loss of a clearly defined sense of self. I learn that psilocybin stimulates receptors that are normally stimulated by serotonin. As I understand this means psilocybin acts directly on the mind – a type of rebooting takes place. Shelldrake even refers to some seeing an ability to disrupt the ego – an ego dissolution. Other interesting information about fungi that was discussed in this chapter was also how fungi find hosts in insects (Ophiocordyceps and Massospora), like ants and cicadas, and basically take over their functions around movement, altering their behaviour. Scientific studies find that it is their use of chemicals that change the behaviour in these insects, in ways that benefit the fungus, like spreading their spoor. Clearly, an interesting way in which fungi are challenging ideas of identity and individuality inside our minds!
Below is some making that focuses on magical mushrooms. I used spray paint to colour the expansion foam forms. In a way this making is by using fragments of objects and putting them together in a very random way – they do resemble a mushroom, but they are grotesque and even vulgar, out of place and in reality. I wonder about the psychedelic experience and how this link to a deeper look at something. In my daily life, I use mushrooms from time to time in food, clean them, cut them, and even have dried ones. I have never seen exotic coloured mushrooms and am intrigued by the images I find online. I let my imagination go and created these mushrooms as a temporary site in my garden. I love how the butterflies and garden birds interact with them, even a farm chicken has come to check on these objects.
I leave chapter 7 (p195 – 224) with the words of philosopher and psychologist, William James in mind (Shelldrake quoted him in this chapter). ” James wrote: Our normal waking consciousness, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.” (Shelldrake:138)This reading motivated me to watch a YouTube video that documented a study using Psilocybin for depression and be aware of current studies and clinical research activities. Later I also viewed a Netflix series, Changing our Minds by Michael Pollan, who not only deals with fungi but other psychedelics.
Explorations with paint can be seen below:
In our WWW exhibition, one of the students made drawings which focus more on automatic creativity than on any thinking or as she would say, intellectualisation of a subject. She visited places like cathedrals to create her work as an exploration of this pursuit. I was reminded of the work of artist, Hilma Af Klimt and I also wonder about my own ideas about representational art and how abstract work can become more symbolic of a moment of experience within the process of making. I felt that this was very much my experience with making the mycelium work and trying to focus on the fungi rather than my thoughts about representing it. Reading more about Hilma Af Klimt I wonder about the almost biomorphic works with circles and flower-like geometric forms. I could consider looking at the work as being primordial. Is it an attempt of trying to understand evolution/life/consciousness as a process – this continuous growth, or is the work a metaphor for what I would call a search for nature and self?
I wonder about a perceived need to escape from reality – or just that space (place as a holder) we need to be alone and internalise. I agree that plants have always been for me an indicator of a place – its health, its diversity, its beauty, and its threats. In our OCA-EU student group, a member who is a biologist talks about plants waiting to be counted and being fixed in place.
In the work below I covered a 3d foam object with a stocking and painted layers of acrylic paint, mixed with medium onto it. For the cap, I used a bowl object I made earlier in the course. This object was left outside after I took these images, as an experiment in ‘destructing’ my work, as I was contemplating it with my work. I kept it next to the mushrooms I collected for spore printing.
CONSIDERING THE USE OF Artificial learning to create work or to collaborate with
The idea of what is artificial became something I wanted to consider. I started thinking about my intentions when making spore prints and presenting the mushroom’s print as a work of art; because the spore prints made by the mushrooms became part of my work. Could originality be questioned? I use an app, called Grammarly whilst writing and it was a curious thought when the spell checker of this program wanted to change a sentence where I wrote about the mushroom as the maker. An online search for “AI art” returns interesting artificial intelligence (AI) art generators, like Open Source AI’s like DALL-E, Dream, and I see more created by app developers/creators. The idea is that by using deep learning models AI creates original images from simple text prompts. What intrigues me most in this process is the use of logarithms to explore more possible ideas – and I would call that creative and even original.
I tried to use an open source application to use AI to create a work I shared earlier in this blog. In the work, I made spore prints from the mushrooms and spore prints using ink paintings harvested from the Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom. The application as another layer then animates the still images within the work, see the work below.
In a recent OCA discussion on the OCA learn blog a student looked at using Augmented Reality and shared insights and making processes. (https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/creative-arts/augmented-reality-what-place-does-this-have-in-art/)
Augmented Reality is also something I consider to bring it into my practice. I see possibilities in philosophical arguments about my ideas around collaborating with the non-human. I am inspired by new materialism and the ideas of Natasha Myers. I would like to explore the term ‘Planthroposcene’ (she is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at York University, Toronto, and the convenor of the Plant Studies Collaboratory, a space for collaborative interdisciplinary research on plant-based ecologies and economies) It seems the term ‘Planthroposcene’, articulates a vision of the future grounded not only in the human, she suggests it should be ‘a site for land-based justice, for healing and restoring relations with human and more-than-human kin, for growing livable worlds’. ( I have been listening to some of her discussions on YouTube). It is my opinion that science, in this case, would rather look to machine metaphors and I think there is great opportunity to look into how we as humans have conversations around our reality versus what the other experience. Questions or inquiries that arise are very much about:
- Could it be that the plants (fungi) are imposing themselves on me (the human)?
- Am I trying to mimic the ‘form’ of Fungi?
- Can I allow the Fungi to ‘alter’ (being moved by) my embodiment?
What am I learning?
Reflecting on the work I have done, as well as the whole experience of having some time after to course to come back to my work before I send it for Assessment, made me consider the idea of ‘composting’ as I read in an article in the June Fine Arts Newsletter of OCA. I could literally allow for the dust to settle on all my research and making and ask myself where I want to go from here. I had time to develop more work, re-work others as well as plan new work. I value my blog more now as a document of my process of making when I look back at completing this course. My understanding and interest moved more to the entanglements underground and questions around inter-plant species relations and outflowing interspecies relations. I have learned that after making it is important to acknowledge that you do need time to observe your own making and reflect on this process. This then becomes a continuous cycle, when you go back to develop, re-work create, and then take time to observe and reflect.
My tutor has shown/directed me to take care of this process: advice to give (allow for) the necessary attention to understand and evaluate the growth in the process became an important moment of personal insight and learning.
Thinking about questions that arose from this project:
I am thinking more about provoking questions taking this project further in my studies, and not being an opinion-based project on how I think. (I do not have the answers in any way). My main concerns to take away from developing my own practice are much more grounded in my relationship with nature and the importance of community and interdependence. I am intrigued by forms and shapes in the natural world, but also how we function within this space we share. I believe I have started to explore the shape of these entanglements we share with the non-human. Using different materials to work with, reminded me of resistance to ‘mix into’ – something about being humble to adapt for the sake of the other, in order to understand better. I will re-visit Petra Lange-Berndt’s article on how to be complicit with materials when I continue my work in Level 3. (2015:18-19) It is important that I use materials to show this ‘liveliness’ – being or staying dynamic.
Making an enquiry into the Fungal Kingdom made me question my own existence and how I consider this in relation to others, a complex entanglement and being intertwined with nature. I will also have the opportunity to further explore the importance of the material I use within this making relationship. I am wearier of how we as humans destroy by leaving our imprints of industrialisation, destruction, overutilization, excess of things
It is important for my work to consider questions like What sort of world do you the viewer want to live in?
I need to explore my practice and ask myself how the objects I create can be viewed as a stand-in for human presence/or absence within the complex relationship of these entanglements. I look to the spore print works and see them as entanglements between human and non-human. It feels great when a viewer of this work describes their feelings of dreamlike whilst being with the work. I understand I give context to the work by placing it in a space or on a surface which could add to the experience, but in the end, the aesthetic space is created which shows an entanglement.
I found the following on the artist Sofia Crespo’s collaborative website: (https://entangledothers.studio/info/) and believe this is an apt way of explaining my own fascination.
a state of entanglement
Entanglement is a complex state one where no single entity can be said to be separate, or somehow unaffected, by any other present entangled, we cannot consider ourselves without others, act without interacting, speak without being heard.
It is a multitude of you, and others, equally present and alive, together.
The rich substrate of the uncanny, eerie spaces between us and the non-human world cannot remain as an aesthetic space, our world cannot bear this self-imposed distance and denial of our inter-twined state of us and others.
List of Illustrations
Guzman, G, 2012. Important ethnomycological species of Psilocybe in the world [8 illustrations] Viewed online at: https://abm.ojs.inecol.mx/index.php/abm/article/view/32/62 (Accessed on )
Bennet, Jane 2010. Vibrant Matter. a political ecology of things. Duke university press online pdf
New Phytologist(2010)185: 543–553www.newphytologist.org
Guzmun, G. 2012 Looking at images of magic mushrooms
Klein, Jo Anna, 2019. When Fungi Fight Back, New York Times. Viewed online at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/science/fungus-threat-detection.html Accessed on 26 March 2022)
Lange-Berndt, Petra. 2015. How to be complicit with materials. Materiality, Documents of Contemporary Art, London: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press. pp 1 -20.
Shelldrake, Merlin, 2021 . Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures. Penguin Random House penguin.co.uk/vintage
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt 2015. The mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins.
Article on photography of mushrooms