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Growing a book - from a book!

OK so now I have your interest - what on earth am I on about? ..... quite simply growing a fungal book from a fungal book albeit one that had its very early origins in a simple oyster mushroom growing kit. That first purchased kit was grown out of necessity due to a knee injury earlier in the year that negating my favoured stop-start walking study trips that are utilised in both this artistic practice and my MA studies. However, Chelsea Flower Show on TV showed the Caley Bros book kits wherein you could grow oyster mushrooms through a book thus inflicting upon said book fungal decay in order to satisfy human appetites! The mycelial takeover of a book is not something that sat comfortably -particularly any on my own shelves or that required purchase with the exception of those no longer fit for reading. However, if I was to utilise such a book, whether purchased or decrepit, I also wanted it to be relevant and hence chose a cheap pamphlet style whose subject was edible mushrooms thus creating not un-subtle irony as edible mushrooms devour an edible mushroom tome! A tutor swiftly suggested instead I used my own work which fortunately at the time consisted of often very loose studies on decaying lions mane, loose studies of fungi or conceptual acrylic painted pieces but the aforementioned gourmet oyster kit was also on its second flush with mycelial growth appearing on the caps as they decayed thus creating opportunities for both books to be explored. One was consequentially grown using that purchased kit and the other simply using using the mycelium covered oyster mushrooms that were sliced and placed between the edible mushroom books pages:

This video created a photographic documentary of the growing of both books but it was also the final resolution of the journaling, in my MA blog, of several daily diary videos. Little artistic responses were worked, due to personal circumstances, but the books created the foundation and inspiration for the works seen in both my Portfolio and MA exhibition portfolio pages on this site - and will continue to be highly influential. But what of that growing a fungal book from a fungal book question? the second book seen in this video, i.e. the edible mushroom pamphlet produced a small unexpected flush which due to not being seen in sufficient time again started to shown signs of mycelium growth on its caps: its decay had started before I had chance to witness its continued growth! This was also literally the week of the first MA assessment deadline .... the pressure was on although I had an agreed extension. Nonetheless the idea started to form whether this second book and the fungal fruiting bodies could be utilised to create a third book? would the mycelium continue to grow? what about contaminants within my studio and through my handling? would the book be incorporated within the book? .... and simply is it worth a try but what have I got to loose? My questioning ultimately gave me something that although the resulting artistic works are both MA and artistic practice pieces the book was primarily for study purposes this exploration would also solve an ethical issue: that of what to do with the purchased book as I was unsure of its eco-credentials in terms of inks and biodegradability of papers and so felt uneasy about its composting within my garden but nor did I want to simply discard it in the bin. Another issue was what paper do I use? the simple answer to that came during the inevitable post-course clear-up of any workroom and working out what MA/art practice pieces I wanted to keep and preserve for future reference, what is marketable and what is simply irrelevant or work I would prefer not to be reminded of (we all have them!). The pieces of work chosen were a selection of spore prints and mixed media responses on mixed media paper - it seemed appropriate to use paper with evidence of fungi already present: this also adds an element of will any of the fungal detritus impact upon the growth of the fungi itself?

On 11th August 2023, and as before, the book was simply made by tearing the papers to a reasonable size and loosely binding with string before placing in a home-made humidity plastic bag with two breathable plasters over sliced holes for required ventilation. The bag and its contents now reside in the same cupboard used with the original two books although at the point of writing its humidity and temperature must be checked.

20th August 2023: the bottom two photos attempt to demonstrate the progress thus far. As I have discovered before photographic documentation through plastic bags is not easy but there is mycelial growth on the front cover and also some evidence when peering between the pages although I have not been able to capture this on camera. I have also seen evidence of contamination on the edges of the fungal book (seen below during original documentation) that was placed between other pages - bearing in mind that the mold itself will be fungal with the contaminants either being airborne or more likely from my hands during the preparatory stages. I will be keeping a close eye on this contamination and have been aware of it for a few days but its growth may have already halted as the mycelium from the oyster mushrooms takes over - this is a watch this space type of moment! I will start doing now regular updates to this blog and check in with the fungi/book every few days ... it will be interesting to document its growth once more but also knowing this is practice-centric and my responses can lack academia if I require (an unusual situation for me!). What do I plan to do with this? not a clue at this point - I just first want to see how much mycelial growth can be achieved and whether any fruiting bodies start to emerge and if they do at that point visual responses (artistic) will start combined with possibly daily video diaries again albeit once I can post here or share to our YouTube channel which at the point of writing is in its infancy.

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Aug 22, 2023

What a fascinating study and the photographs in the video are wonderful! It will be interesting to follow the progress of this latest "book".


Lynn McLaughlin
Lynn McLaughlin
Aug 21, 2023

Pretty amazing. Great work.

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