Over the course of 6 months we have been seeking to redevelop and redesign WOA through the development of a new direction within my work: that of a definitive focus on the fungal kingdom rather than its use as a metaphor for human social issues.
My own usage of fungal forms in this manner meant I fell into a line of enquiry which was based on 'what can fungi do for us' rather than 'what we can do for them' which has formed considerable frustration throughout research over the summer months. The more I have come to understand fungi the more I understand their innate ability to survive all the great extinction events of the Earth thus far and to live in the most extreme environments. My research has revealed how fungi are the common ancestor of all life on land and through lichens gave us the very soil on which we depend but also continues to live amongst us and even on our bodies.
What I found incredibly fascinating is how misaligned fungi are - they are often not deemed aesthetically pleasing to the human eye and due to folklore and mythology strike both curiosity or fear. Ultimately they are known to be the great decomposers of the planet and can enable death to come visiting or indeed they can be incredibly delicious - as I am all to aware! They are also able to solve many of the issues that we, as a species, have and are creating and hence my concern over our usage - an underlying question to all research has been whether we are harnessing or enslaving yet another of Earth's resources? this is a question that is hard to ignore as no matter how much I read it continues to beat beneath the words - an unforgiving metronome with a question that I am coming to the realisation will have no answer, at least not in my lifetime. However, this question has forced me to examine my own biases, morals and ethics particularly due to localised foraging for fungal forms that can create spore prints and potential ink. Field trips have also revealed many new species to us both which prior to my research neither of us would have noticed. However, concerns over trampling in the natural environment as I document our finds through photography have then translated into whether in fact I should be picking from within our local urban environment: picking does not harm the fungal species, nor the amount of species but persistent trampling by many research has revealed can mean a reduction in fruiting body (the mushrooms themselves) production by up to 30% in future years. I have made it a rule to only forage the few rather than the many to enable the spreading of fungal spores with little trampling but this still created questions over my actual usage as ultimately this is for both research and economic purpose i.e. the creation of both exhibition and marketable works of art. Much of my issue with human usage is the capitalisation of yet another of Earth's resources by not just commercial foragers but both national and global conglomerates and hence the aforementioned underlying question: are fungi considered living, intelligent organisms by these sectors or are they merely commercial enterprises? are they respected as equals to us - 'others' that have moral values or are they mere commodities to be exploited for financial gain?
Unfortunately, my personal bias against the monetising of fungi is being now offset by the knowledge, gained through extensive reading, that fungi do ultimately solve many human-created issues including that of pollution, biodegradable packaging and biodegradable textiles and also medicines: it would be hypocritical of me to not adjust my thinking here as ultimately I have been living with a rare disease for over 24 years and I am very much aware that the advances within the scientific field and the research involved that may or may not be related to the fungal kingdom is potentially why I am still here to write this blog. Furthermore, personal believes combined with academic understanding leads me to finally accept that without fungi the damage we, as a species, are doing to this planet may continue past the point of reversibility - as it is we are very close and hence we need to, or perhaps don't have any options left, but to turn to the very organism that gave us life, as stated above.
At this point I could easily thrown in quotes by individuals but I am unsure if I want to do this within this blog as here I merely seeking to explain my thinking, why and how my work has developed to the point of re-working the style of the website and our portfolio within the last few days. Furthermore, much of my research has been within the framework of my Masters degree academia but this degree is practice based and hence is intrinsically intertwined - the practice feeding into the post-graduate work and vice versa. However, where the MA has impacted is this complete focus on mycological matters - it has enabled me to develop an interest that is now not just my artistic work but a lifelong personal passion.