NEW MATERIALISM IDEAS and DEVELOPING WORK
MUSHROOMS AS A MEDIUM TO COLLABORATE WITH
It became important for me to consider the mushroom as a subject matter, and look at its potential as a medium. From Tsing, I learned that collaboration could be ‘multi-sited’ and when opportunities to forage opened up in the winter of 2022, I saw more potential for involved processes of making and learning.
I could use ink from the Coprinus Comatus mushroom as well as make spoor prints of the mushrooms I can collect. Both options became reality when I had opportunities to forage during Winter, 2022.
On 29 June 2022, I had the opportunity to forage two Shaggy ink cap mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) to explore using ink from these mushrooms. A friend contacted me when she saw the two mushrooms in her garden. Again this collaboration was much more about what the fungi presented me with. I placed the mushrooms in an airtight glass container and kept them overnight in the fridge. The next day the dark black/brown ink was visible around the fast decaying flesh of the mushrooms. I made small ink drawings with a dipping pen. I was made aware of this use of the Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom from M Sheldrake. (p 7- 8) Interesting is that it is also an edible mushroom. With this in mind, I would like to look to fungi as a material to work with – I have now ‘made’ ink, (inkcap mushroom, Coprinus comatus) and consider the collaboration work as a form of network, like the Mycelium of fungi. Interesting to read that all the illustrations in Entangled Life were drawn with Coprinus ink.
A friend contacted me on 20 July with images of mushrooms she found whilst walking her dog – I was lucky, it was two Shaggy Ink Mushrooms. She took them home for me to collect. I became aware that friends were now becoming invested in my project and would assist with knowledge of sitings of mushrooms. On 21 July our housekeeper took me to a big Stubble Gill (Volvopluteus gloiecephalus); it made lovely spore prints.
The work above the canvas is fifty-two feet long. Twombly worked on it for over twenty years, symbolising a journey through life and toward drifting into death. On the Gargosian website I read the following
“I think of the painting’s movement as falling. . . . It cascades and it exits on the left. The painting is about life’s fleetingness. It’s a passage. It starts on the right and as you move to the left it just goes out.” Untitled (Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor) is a painted and written trace of life, of our being here, and of our bidding farewell—for Twombly, “a passage through everything.”
Mushrooms have a short life as we see it, many of the mushrooms I have encountered in nature have started the decaying process, mostly due to the higher temperatures, I would think. I learned that Mushrooms will go away on their own once the weather dries out, but this only means that the fruiting bodies have disappeared, and the fungal mycelia are still growing in the soil. In my garden, I look at the presence of mushrooms as a positive indicator of decay in my compost-making. and efforts to keep the soil moist. I have noticed how the mushrooms decay within a few hours in the Summer heat.
I also consider how the mushroom spores can make their own ‘drawing’. I read that part of identifying a mushroom in the wild is to collect the species and take it home, cut the stem and place the cap on white paper, close with a glass/plastic lid and leave for 24 hours.
“Spore prints, in addition to being used for identification of wild mushrooms, can also be used to cultivate mushrooms. The dry spores on the print must be hydrated for use. Sterility is important in all aspects of mushroom growing; bacteria or mould can keep them from growing altogether, but may also result in contaminated mushrooms. Many mushroom growers purchase spore syringes (filled with spores and sterile water) from suppliers rather than make their own.“
My first spore prints were made with mushrooms I bought at the supermarket and kept on a shelf in our pantry. I had no idea that the spore print would be brown and show off well on the white paper. My mind whilst thinking about the marks (spores) left by the mushrooms goes to when one works with nature, how much of the work made is due to the vibrance of the matter. I look at these prints as a type of Botanical print. I wondered if I can consider making cyanotype prints of the spoor. Here my material is natural and the work is its mark-making left behind.
Reading Entangled Life, I regularly find inspiring quotes to work by. I can think of them as provocations to inspire my making.
“Regardless, imagination forms part of the everyday business of inquiring. Science isn’t an exercise in cold-blooded rationality. Scientists are—and have always been— emotional, creative, intuitive, whole human beings, asking questions about a world that was never made to be cataloged and systematized. Whenever I asked what these fungi were doing and designed studies to try and understand their behaviors, I necessarily imagined them.” and later ……” Rather, I wanted to let these organisms lure me out of my well-worn patterns of thought, to imagine the possibilities they face, to let them press against the limits of my understanding, to give myself permission to be amazed—and confused—by their entangled lives.” (page 25) (Entangled Life ebook on SCRIBD)
Most of the fungal spores floating around in the atmosphere are made by mushrooms. Mushrooms are basidiomycetes, a vast group of fungi that get their name from the way they make their spores. Basidiospores grow from basidia – club-shaped cells with four terminal prongs called sterigmata. The spores inflate from the tips of these prongs like balloons. There are four because these cells’ nuclei are the four products of meiosis—sexual cell division—within the basidium.
Book, Among the Mushrooms. https://archive.org/details/cu31924000476113/page/n29/mode/2up
The work takes me to consider materiality: This anthology focuses on the moments when materials become willful actors and agents within artistic processes, entangling their audience in a web of connections. It investigates the role of materiality in the art that attempts to expand notions of time, space, process, or participation. And it looks at the ways in which materials obstruct, disrupt, or interfere with social norms, emerging as impure formations and messy, unstable substances. It reexamines the notion of”dematerialization”; addresses materialist critiques of artistic production; surveys relationships between matter and bodies, from the hierarchies of gender to the abject and phobic; explores the vitality of substances, and addresses the concepts of intermateriality and transmateriality emerging in the hybrid zones of digital experimentation.
Considering anthropomorphism and the agency of nonhumans
When I started this exploration I became aware of how I, as a layperson, should look to information shared in books and articles if find online. I should be aware of how authors can use speculation and imagination in this mix. Trying to understand anthropomorphism is that what stood out for me is that by recognizing similarities between me (human) and the other (plant, animal, living organism, etc) I focus more on the recognition of similarities and this draws my attention away from my own ‘human concerns. Being a child of Africa and having quite a good knowledge about our bush, trees, plants, birds, and animals, it is sometimes difficult to place me in a European forest. My knowledge and experience are of a much different environment – as well as the effects of man versus the wild in the way we developed and live. South Africa is a very diverse country when it comes to nature and we have many biodiversity ‘hotspots’, which makes protection a serious concern.
Making a list of concerns:
- Land and soil degradation
- Climate change – getting warmer and less annual rainfall
- Human-induced pressure on ecosystems
- Hierarchies of race, class, gender
- Food security
- Water security
Whilst reading The Hidden Life of Trees, I became somewhat uncomfortable and wondered if the writer has not come to a point where he confuses science and his own ideas and imagination. I read that Charles Darwin, after writing about the Earth Worms was also ‘accused’ or ‘inveterate anthropomorphism. In Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennet wrote about Anthropomorphism and I felt I need to revisit these ideas. I quote the below passages from the book (p99)
“In a vital materialism, an anthropomorphic element in perception can uncover a whole world of resonances and resemblances—sounds and sights that echo and bounce far more than would be possible were the universe to have a hierarchical structure. We at first may see only a world in our own image, but what appears next is a swarm of “talented” and vibrant materialities (including the seeing self).”
“A touch of anthropomorphism, then, can catalyze a sensibility that finds a world filled not with ontologically distinct categories of beings (subjects and objects) but with variously composed materialities that form confederations. In revealing similarities across categorical divides and lighting up structural parallels between material forms in “nature” and those in “culture,” anthropomorphism can reveal isomorphism. “
Where I live not many indigenous trees occur and I am very aware of the threat of the alien species, mostly growing on farms in this area, to our natural water supply and flora, where invasive plants are becoming a bigger problem to control. I have learned that Blue Gums (image below) use allelopathy: By releasing chemicals that other plant species don’t like, they displace native species, improving conditions for themselves – in this way eliminating competitors. (https://blog.invasive-species.org/2020/01/21/eucalyptus-the-thirsty-trees-threatening-to-drink-south-africa-dry/). In the area where I live, the biome is seen as one of the most diverse in the world, and called the Cape Floristic Region, with more than 9300 described plant species, of which 67% are endemic to the region.
The natural vegetation, called “Renosterbos “(Rhinoceros bush if directly translated from the Afrikaans language) is also disturbed due to the lands being planted with wheat and used as graze for sheep, and not much natural vegetation is found on our farm. This natural vegetation is mostly grass, bulbs, and shrubs,(many are herbaceous species). We do not have a variety of trees/forests in my area and unfortunately, the invader trees, such as the Eucalyptus from Australia are most prominent on the landscape. I am however interested in the termite hills we find close to indigenous trees, such as the Wild Olive species – I do know that the ants live underground, and need nutrient-rich soils. In these natural areas, I often see foxes, porcupines, shrub hares, small antelope, and obviously more diverse birds. I do wonder about the life underground.
The Anthropocene and how I view the place I live in
I recently listened to a Youtube video, called Creative Practice and the Anthropocene, and made me consider again my thinking of the environment as an artist and maker.
Here on a wheat and sheep farm, I am aware that due to the agricultural practices over many years, the land is disturbed and the soil might not have many natural multispecies living there. It is also known that fungi live in the roots of the wheat plants, but fertilizers and spraying of fungal killers have interfered here. I do like to think that the use of legume rotations (we have medics, a family of the clover) and reduced tillage do play a role in the health of the soil. I have learned that Legumes have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria called rhizobia, which create ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and help the plant. As my reading and research developed I discovered the work of artist Daro Montag. In a way, this artist strengthened my ideas about collaboration with living matter, in my case, The Fungal Kingdom. (see blogpost on Artists I researched)
I became more aware of the vitality of soil and how fungi with mycelium became my way of reconnecting with the earth and become concerned with our dependence on healthy soil. I agree with this artist’s view that we are the soil that has learnt to talk and reflect on our place within the cosmos. Anna Tsing refers to damaged landscapes and environmental disturbance when she writes about the matsutake mushrooms which I believe is also a lesson in collaborative survival and recognition of relationships with other species to the benefit of all life forms. Tsing is an ethnographer and awakened in me to attend to ‘arts of noticing’ and become ‘respons- able ‘to see things as interactive and collaborative when I look to the non human.
As a keen gardener, I have always made my own compost and see this humus as life-giving in my garden. Later when I started making spore prints with mushrooms I foraged around our house, I placed them in my vegetable patch, hoping to spread spores and create mycelium networks and also to see this as my way to imagine a way to collaborating with the Fungal Kingdom as a new way of survival in our damaged environment.
Considering using field notes:
I plan to use my phone camera to take pictures if and when I find mushrooms/fungi/lichens around me.
It is summer now, but since we had good rains from late November into December, I have been finding mushrooms around our garden. I have no knowledge of the genus but can use my images to search this. I am intrigued by how a mushroom seemingly just pops up at a given moment, and if you are lucky, you witness this living thing. My husband has fond memories as a child foraging mushrooms with his mom. This took me to mushrooms that have intrigued me for a long time, namely a mushroom that lives in the desert here in Southern Africa – we know it by the name Kalahari truffle. I made contact with a supplier/forager, but according to him, these truffles will only be available during March/April 2022. It is also linked to the rainy season.
Example of field notes: Sightings listed during Summer
- 29 November 2021 small ones in upcycled wine barrel planter, among the Hydrangeas
- 3 December 2021 white ones on the grass patch in the front garden
- 7 December 2021 I found small ones in the veggie garden, see images below
- 22 December 2021 rocks around Yzerfontein, mostly yellow and orange lichen found
- 30 December 2021 lichens in the stonewall outside our farmhouse, Riebeeck West
- 7 January 2022, lichens on the rocks at Jacobsbay walk along the beach
- 9 January 2022, lichens on decaying fynbos plants on the beach walk in Jacobsbay (Xanthoria parientina)
- 19 January 2022, mushrooms in the veggie patch inside the upcycled wine barrel, among the Hydrangeas.
Wild foraging and collecting of mushrooms
I hope that this can start by April 2022. I enjoy walking and have always seen this as part of my practice. I consider how the Fungal Kingdom would be seen as a subject within this walking and connecting with nature. Looking at how I can interact with Fungi, I contacted a local supplier (online) for mushroom cultivation and ordered (250) wooden dowels that carry the fungus for Reishi mushrooms. With this method I will be using a log from a local Karee tree, inserting the dowels into the log, placing it outside and leaving the fungus to colonize. I found a log from a local tree feller whom I searched on social media and was so happy to find lichen growing on it. I am supposed to wet the log at least once a week and the growth can be expected roughly within a year when mushrooms should grow from the surface of the log.
The found log became an inspiration for a painting as I waited for the weather to cool down before I could insert the dowels. I worked with oil paint and added impasto medium to the paint to create a textured effect for the tree.
In terms of my own local landscape, I learned that we have at least 94 edible species in South Africa which start to appear in late Summer, in the summer rainfall areas. In a book on local foraging, I found valuable information on what is locally called ‘veldkos’ and which forms part of an interesting cultural history of the indigenous black tribes in Southern Africa. This interesting history refers to the oldest tribe, the San people as hunter-food gatherers, who lived in Southern Africa as the principal inhabitants for at least 11 000 years. Fox & Young (1982:232-235) write about the different Fungi found to be part of the diet of many of the tribes. Here in the Western Cape Province where I live, the Boletus edulis is found and can weigh up to 2.5kg and measure up to 30cm in diameter.
The painting of the log with lichen inspired me to go back to a self portrait and do more work on it.
While the Boletus genus of mushrooms is the best to find in our area, others in the same broader family are the Bay bolete (Imleria badia), a symbiont of pine (Pinus) and similar in flavour to Boletus edulis. These mushrooms all form associations with a coniferous tree, (Pinus radiate) here in South Africa, and in the Western Cape, which is a winter rainfall area it fruits from mid-autumn until mid-winter. An interesting fact I learned about this fungus is that it doesn’t always grow mycorrhizae with trees and can switch to saprobic tendencies, meaning they feed on decaying matter, like leaves. Amazing abilities to adapt! This reminds me of Sheldrake writing about how fungi adapt to changing environments, a lesson we as humans need to learn. Does it talk to me about an agency to arrange and re-arrange? Interesting is that my friends with whom I forage have been going to the same spot for a few years, in order to find these ones in the image below.
It seems the Kalahari truffles (called Kalahari tuber or PfeiliiTerfezia Claveryi), of which 3 are known here in South Africa, are a family of at least 36 species found between the sandy areas of the Northern Cape that stretches to the Mediterranean. The traditional Khoisan mythology tells that the truffles are regarded as eggs of the “lightning bird’, as they appear after the rainstorms in the Summer.
This is an underground fungus and its fruit bodies crack the ground the way one would find them. It has the texture of soft cheese but is considered inferior in flavour to that of the Mediterranean truffle. The Khoisan people of the Kalahari desert have used these truffles for centuries and it is hunted by men and women. Women are the firewood collectors and this is when they keep an eye out for these truffles, which mostly grow in patches and are not covered by more than three inches of sand. It is eaten raw or cooked (can be boiled, roasted over a fire, or even buried in hot ashes to cook) Earliest documentation of the use of truffle for food date back as early as 300 years BC in the North African cradles of civilization. I can imagine the Pharaohs having it served at their royal feasts! Here in South Africa in the Kalahari, these truffles only fruit in years with well-distributed rainfall in the area. Having been brought up in South Africa and visiting the Kalahari regularly, I can relate very well to the smell of the Kalahari after rain, and this is how many people describe the smell of the truffle. The native language terms for these truffles include mahupu, n’xaba, dcoodcoo, kuutse, tkabba, mahupu, omtumbula, hawan.
I am now more aware of my own engagement with the landscape – I walk regularly and started to forage mushrooms as well. I ask questions about indigenous and endemic – where do particular fungi originate from, I become aware that as trees were brought into our country during colonial times and are still ongoing, this changes the landscape of not only the natural environment but that of fungi to be found. Fungi from relationships with particular trees and as Tsing writes, we do disturb these landscapes. Our holiday at the seaside brought me into contact with lichens. I took many photos and brought some samples of fallen branches with lichen home to draw and study.
Material exploration of mushrooms and conceptualization of ideas
Nature is a concept we have shaped over millennia of images, texts, compositions, constructions, garments, and performances. The trees, the rocks, the air, and the water simply are. They don’t care about us, our desires, spirituality, pasts, and even futures. Nature is in our heads. It is a concept inescapably defined by our histories, our desires, our spirituality, our pasts, and even our futures. It is therefore not a surprise that encountering plants always entails a process of negotiation between one’s own cultural background, race, gender, beliefs, and values. Our coming to terms with the vegetal world is always inescapably mediated by tools or contexts, even when we claim to be objective.
I have now learned that our human bodies are hosts to hundreds of different fungi, which is again an important part of our microbiomes. in this case our body becomes the habitat for this community of micro-organisms. These fungi live all over our bodies. Sheldrake writes so eloquently, (p211): “For as long as fungi have existed, they have been bringing about a ‘change from the roots’.” He sees us humans as the latecomers to this story.
Exploring mushrooms by considering human-nature collaboration
I would call this part practical research-based work. I bought a ‘starter pack’ (7 May 2022) to grow my own oyster-type mushroom. The idea was that if circumstances were fine I could have my first edible mushrooms within 5-8 days. I also shared the process on social media – mostly with images showing the daily growth and sharing process. The ‘log’, or the host, was made with woodchips and bark and tightly sealed in a plastic bag. It is covered with mycelium and the bulging growth was visible. After soaking it in water for about 15 minutes I made a small cut where I saw some bulging, which is the growth. The growing process started on 10 May 2022.
For the next 7 days, I sprayed the growing medium with small mushrooms blooming, regularly with water, not allowing it to dry out. Soon the mushrooms started showing and the growth over the next 8 days was an exciting and wonderous process to follow. I shared images daily on my social media and had good interactions during this process with followers. My experience of this growing process made me aware of how many people are interested in mushrooms, not just as food. Comments on the beauty and captivating process were good to read and interact around.
On 16 May we prepared to cook our first homegrown mushrooms:
By now I was also starting to get a vision of sharing and documenting more of my learning and experiments, with an exhibition of some sorts, in mind. I have prepared some growing medium with coffee, rice and wheat, as well as with paper. I feel it is important to state that this was a moment when I realised I need to continue with this project into level 3. I share a work of artist, Cornelia Parker, with the idea of it being a reminder of these thoughts I had and not to lose my dreams and momentum. This installation is part of a current exhibition at Tate, which started on 18 May 2022 which I saw on IG) This greenhouse has been painted on the inside with chalk from the White cliffs of Dover, and is titled, Island. I learn that this artist is always working in collaboration.
Inspired by the growth of the above mushrooms did a mushroom study with charcoal and soft pastels and wanted to spray water onto the work. When I started cultivating my own oyster mushrooms, I had to spray a mist of water regularly into the growing mushrooms, to create a type of high moist environment which encouraged the flowering and fast growth.
In Part four, Paint as Material and at Parts of a painting, I started looking at making acrylic skins and in this way exploring the paint as a material in its own right to articulate surface and that begins to describe form. I also think of the choice of material I do have to work from and feel strong to develop my own mycelium and create forms/objects. During these ‘brainstorming’ times to think about my making, I became more aware of the relationships I think about, namely between that of nature and my own art-making, about arriving and leaving, life and death, life and culture as well as the real and the imagined or fictional. Looking at this making opened my ideas to how I could use a surface to grow mushroom on and that could be part of a body of work for this part of my course
Merlin Sheldrake continued to be influencing my thinking and making. I have started to follow his YouTube channel and I learned that he has used a copy of his book to be devoured by Oyster Mushrooms.
Documenting the artwork with growing mushrooms
I do believe my process of growing mushrooms at home, opened the way to cultivating my own relationship with fungi. I experimented to use coffee grounds, and wood shavings as growing mediums and explored more cultivating, by growing other species of edible mushrooms over the next weeks.
The log was inserted with the reishi dowels and placed in a shady and wet place outside my studio.
This led to exploring my own work to be used as a ground for the mushrooms to grow on. I had to add other growing mediums onto the sterilised straw. In the conversations between Annette and me, it became clear we wanted to place our collaboration objects back into nature after the planned exhibition comes to an end. The outcome could be to explore it as a place/space where we could later have the works decay and or consider each other’s environment when bringing the separate works into one. We live in diverse areas and it would be interesting to see how this can develop. It is becoming really warm in my area and even my veggie patch outside my studio looks less and less like the place you would search for a mushroom, but I do believe the mycelium is doing its work underground. In Europe, it is a cold season. On 11 June 2022, I placed a small printed copy of the collaborative work between me and Annette Holtkamp (to be used in our online exhibition) on a growing medium inside a plastic container. I kept it dark for the mycelium to flower and started spraying it regularly with water. I made small incisions where I could see some growth in the mycelium trying to come through the artwork.
On 12 June the first Oyster mushrooms started to push through the work.
On 13 June one could see the caps of a second variety starting to flower in a light brown colour, and they turned darker over the next days.
On 20 June these mushrooms were harvested and ready for eating. We made a risotto dish and added the fried mushrooms. I kept the work on the medium to see how this will develop over time. The work was kept wet and moist and soon started to become very fragile.
I continued to keep the work on the growing medium with the intention to grow more mushrooms into the paper. This caused the work to become wet and hopefully also get spores onto the surface. I understand this work to be a long-term process of growth and eventually decay.
The following insert is a follow-up of Merlin Sheldrake I found on his YouTube channel. I have now come upon applications where the vibration of plants is translated to sound/music. I do like what Sheldrake has created as seen in the video below.
He wrote that the video and recording of the book being digested were made by the sound ecologist Michael Prime (Youtube: ‘Carbon Ladder’). The electrodes record the bioelectric activity of the fungus alongside its galvanic response (a machine resembling a lie detector). These data streams control a tunable oscillator. Michael Prime uses filters to shape the raw oscillator signal, but the fluctuations in pitch and rhythm we hear are a real-time sonic representation of the activity of the fungus as it eats the book. Grocycle.com inoculated and incubated the books.
By early January spore making has shown over the next two days to not work out….I find almost no marks on the paper and canvas. I therefore resorted to using cyanotype printing and prepped a few paper supports.
I decided to show the process of printing these images
I then rinsed the print in cold water for at least 5 minutes- oxidation has taken place and the blue colours appear.
A local artist commented on a post on Instagram about these prints that the blurriness of the prints makes them moody and mystical. I do like this interpretation! Could there be an opportunity to think about these forms in terms of how a viewer would experience them if I imagined them in a gallery/exhibition space?
Exploring the study material with mark-making led to the following work
My own homegrown Oyster mushrooms brought the possibility to work with the material and I would say the spores I collected in the image below are much more the outflow of my collaboration with this living organism. I used aluminium foil to make prints of the spore, mainly for further explorations of cultivating more oyster mushrooms.
By now I could imagine spore prints as a continuous making process to consider in this project. I have come to understand that mushrooms have different colour spore prints, varying in colours from dark brown/black, purple, to pinkish, cream and white. I was never really interested in specifically working with edible mushrooms, my interest was mostly aesthetic and noticing places where they occur. From Mycology I did learn to observe the form of fungi with much more care.
FORAGING DURING THE WINTER OF 2022
More opportunities to come in contact with wild mushrooms came when our winter rains started to fall by July 2022. I had by now made friends with a foraging couple who was willing to take me along on foraging expeditions in forests in nearby villages. I do believe this opportunity brought me closer to understanding the fungi as being a collaborative material – all of a sudden I was with the fungi, seeing them in their habitat, crawling down in mossy or leafy undergrowth trying to spot them. I learned that they pop up overnight after good rains, and started finding them outside my house on short walks around the dam, in front of our home, or foraging for edible ones in the pine forests. I was thankful that by now I had an idea of the root of these fungi, explored mycelium in my making, and could now enjoy these fruits, visually and physically (eating and documenting images). I started using an Application on my phone to help with identifying and documenting the Fungi I saw. This made me aware of the place where mushrooms grow – the natural habitat it needs to survive in became a new awareness.
More spore print-making opportunities arose from my direct contact with fungi and I learned that spores were a good way to identify mushrooms. I started wondering about my walking connecting with foraging and if I could see it as an embodiment of the land as well as that the land has productive femininity.
Below is a work where I used a mushroom as a print repeatedly on a small round canvas.
I then did some painting into it with the Shaggy Ink Cap Ink
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 surface where the prints now hold 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.
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.
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 looked at them as traces of material imprints left behind on the paper and now 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. It makes me question representation and looks at an animist way of working with the nonhuman. I think about how it would look underground before mycelium starts to flower 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 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, traces of moments of happenings. I think I could consider how nature acts a metaphors 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 of the sky (space) above, the same space I cannot see with my naked eyes.
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”. Cleary Goethe sees the art in the spores left behind on the paper surface, the making of art, a selfportrait, 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 thebook, Sweet Science, Romantic Materialsim 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 very effective if one needs to capture these spores: to put them on sterilised aluminium foil and later scrape it off with a sterilised blade.
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.
My spore print collection is growing, below is a collection as on 19 July 2022. Because spore prints are real matter, it can come off the paper easily – I sprayed fixative over it. 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.
An artist friend who is a ceramic sculptor contacted me after he saw my work on my social media feed and suggested we look into making sculptures together and explore growing mushrooms out of it. I need to continue growing my own mycelium for this project. We will meet up in late August 2022 to discuss how we can continue. In the meantime, I looked at woodshavings from my husband’s carpentry machines as possible substrates. I will be 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 they 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 on 16th July 2022. I used spores I have been keeping in a sugary water solution, then mixed some of it with the paper and filled three bottles. These were 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. 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.
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.
Considering ideas for painting and developing resolved pieces
Painting a mushroom using the organic form I made with foam as an inspiration. I would like to make use of the ideas from the Veiled mushroom and create a net effect around this shape. 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 – 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 length of the skirt ranges from between 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!
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!
Later a friend shared a mushroom she found on a foraging walk – I learned this is a White Basket Fungus ( Ileodictyon cibarium)
Thinking 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.
I wonder about 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’….Bringing this idea visually to mind is what influenced most of my making.
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 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 Gargosian site, 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. I would have thought to only keep one, or at least not work in series.
On the ArtForum Website I read about these works:
“In 1968–69, as veils, time-lines or both, they were the subject of a very beautiful group of paintings, including the huge Veil of Orpheus, traversed by slow-moving horizontal lines. Because of Twombly’s subtly modulated underpaintings, the overall effect in both Veil of Orpheus and Untitled 1969 is not of gaps in space or emptiness, but of a dense, almost tactile field. The background suggests modalities of light and movement and evokes the sky and sea. In Untitled 1969, two thin lines extend, dilate and slowly occupy a huge space. Twombly has given this space a sensuous materiality through intricate brushwork. The lines look scratched or etched into the paint, and express a kind of arrested physicality. In the Veil of Orpheus, besides the meaning of veil discussed by Suzanne Delehanty,13 one feels that Twombly associated the word with the notion of layers or levels of materiality: a veil of matter, or a veil separating oneself from matter. This is also suggested by the fact that the word first appears in the collages where the trailing pencil lines are of different pressures or weights. Veil of Orpheus and Untitled 1969 are compelling images of layers or “veils” of light, and of immeasurability.”
In an online thesis, Anchored in Chalk: The fall and rise of Cy Twombly(M O Russo, MA Thesis, 2021) I read the following ideas around the use of the veiled painting where it refers to music and the work is a visual representation of time. I then listen to the, La Voile d’Orphee, Avant-Garde and French composer, Pierre Henry, whose music did influence Twombly whilst busy with the Veil of Orpheus and the series which is called his Treatise group. This composer 1953, composed La Voile d’Orphée, and this arrangement opens with the sound of a piece of fabric being torn. He manipulated the music with the use of slow speed, which gives the impression that time has stopped. Looking at the above work of Twombly, if each mark on canvas also suspends a moment of time and space and movement, then Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) not only illustrates the lines on the canvas but also the representation of the time Twombly spent working on the canvas. On the Gargosian website I read the commentary of Isabelle Dervaux: “When Twombly referred to Pierre Henry’s musical composition The Veil of Orpheus as a source for Treatise on the Veil, he said that he had been struck by the very long sound of the tearing of a piece of cloth that opens Henry’s piece. To him, this seemingly unending sound materialized the concept of duration. I think Twombly tried to do the same thing in this painting. This is why the length of the canvas is so important—essential really to the meaning of the work. The lines and the scribbled notations evoke rhythm, sequence, and duration—which all connect the painting to music.” (https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2014/10/28/treatise-veil-cy-twombly-morgan/)
I went back to mark-making and small gestural lines – I looked for little spaces in between to find connections that would speak back to me. I do like the use of cut-out to show these spaces in between, but still, there is coherence or a sense of belonging to the bigger form/shape and I could make imprints of the first marks with thick layers of acrylic and medium. The choice of the colour pink relates to the colours Twombly uses effectively and reminds me of Abstract Expressionism.
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, decalcomanina, as I laid a clear paper over a painter surface, used my hands, even feet, to create suction and then pulling 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 made one work on a wooden board, which was gessoed. I worked with layering by doing 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 my comment was that the detail in the work is “really interesting as it reminds of fungi or organism, but also a Monet, but with new materials.
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 create 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 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.
A local artist also posted work on Instagram and I enjoyed her explorations 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 the 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 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 trough. Now it is a matter of keeping the mushrooms moist 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
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. 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 the 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 and my collaboration partner:
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 colored pencils. During July
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.
It seems in cultures studied, like Mexico and North Africa, these mushrooms were seen as sacred.
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 exhitibion.
More visuals of Fungi I would like to see on my foraging.
By now I have started using a sketchbook for smaller drawings/paintings and developing ideas. Below are some images from my sketchbook, as well as inspirations I found in found images:
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 develop 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 suggest a light aluminium and I am awaiting my sheet.
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 to draw in to 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.
I add a layer by burning holes in Velour paper
The cutouts 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 have a conversation around this idea of materialising the invisible.
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, which a fellow student shared on her social media.
I could see the above works in another material hanging as an installation with the other works around this same explorations. I started investigating aluminium materials I could source as the next layer. I have ordered thin aluminium and will be developing this work. (July 2022)
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 light and shadows in these works. This is a tough material to work with, I needed special tools to create the holes and an engineer friend partnered to make tools in his workshop which I could apply for the making process. 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.
Other drawings developed: here charcoal and white acrylic mixed media work was done working with music and trying to improvise the movement of mycelium. My choice with the music is very fragile paper, with the hope to have it light and airy as final works.
Starting the second work
The work was made on Velour paper and 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 wonder about relationships about nourishment, connections, love and how we value resources 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
I became more intrigued by the fragile form of the veiled mushrooms and continued to search how I could use paint to express the experience of awe I had when viewing these fungi.
I stayed with velour paper and worked 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 vertical work, placed inside a box type frame, after a flat effect for the viewer to enjoy the material exploration.
This lead to layering paper with straw in between and creating a visual idea of mycelium
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.
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 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.
As part of Project 4, Painting without Paint in Part Four of the course I tried to find natural pigments as close to where I live. I could consider using plants such as beetroot, red cabbage, spinach leaves, onion, and the spice turmeric. On a local weaver’s website, I found images of using natural dyes from lichen, ferns, and other leaves. I also started following ‘botanical colors’, a group of artists, on Instagram after a lovely image was shown of dyes they made from the Velvet-footed mushroom (Tapilnella atrotomentosa)- it is possible to order dyes from them, they share recipes and books on this topic.
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 to paintings on plywood.
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
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 as ways to reimagine my own relationship with all things. Annette experienced that like lichens are formed through 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 xxcm 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 like 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.
On Saturday 26 March 2022 I joined a tutor led Zoom meeting on ‘Using the Analytic of Making: Developing a way of speaking about works in progress. We looked at four of Berman’s Twelve Tendencies and I think there was good learning I could bring back to my reflection about my making. I was particularly interested in Rationalisation and Expansion, the rest was Clarification and Ennoblement.
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 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, 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.
Looking at images of magic mushrooms (Guzman, G. 2012)
What am I 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 answers in any way).
It is important for my work to consider questions like What sort of world do you the viewer want to live in?
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 where I want to go from here. I could develop more work, re-work others and plan new work. I value my blog even more now when I look back at completing this course.
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
New Phytologist(2010)185: 543–553www.newphytologist.org
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)
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.