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  • Writer's picturewyldeoakeartistry

Sometimes life throws surprises.... fungal style!

Happy New Year to one and all - albeit a little belatedly! Diary date - 21st January 2024: fungal book week 6 ...... and how on earth are we at 3 weeks into the year already? although as so many say January seems to last for months in the post Christmas valley of wet days or freezing conditions! However, the combination of this weather seems to have been rather productive for our experimental book - the rainy days of the first 10-12 days followed by freezing cold in combination with our central heating creating the ideal conditions for mycelial growth within the darkness of our pine Welsh dresser. Throughout the 6 weeks between my last blog and writing this I have been periodically checking on the book whether purely due to accessing the contents of the cupboards or with more purposeful intent. I was therefore aware that the mycelium vegetative growth was inhabiting and changing the form and structure of the hand-made book to the point just before last week's cold spell really hit I felt it would be time to place it in the refrigerator to enabling the fruiting bodies to pin. However, life provides distractions and despite randomly thinking I must do this task memory and actual doing never seemed to coincide - I could blame this on the post-menopausal brain or simply admit that I have been slack in many administrative tasks of late (to the point this week is a 'catching up/kicking butt into gear type week!). Sometimes though things happen for a reason ..... and that cold spell apparently did the job of the refrigerator without either of us being wary of this strange form being situated next to our food! To give context as to why the pinning happened in what 'should have been' in theory a relatively warm living room: our home is a 1930's mid-terrace with concrete floors downstairs and unidentifiable drafts where, despite best efforts to find their source, persistently remain. Moreover, the pine dresser cupboard floor is only about 2 inches off the floor and despite having having carpets and underlay that have improved the insulation the downstairs is undeniably a lot cooler meaning that the cupboard temperatures have clearly dropped enough for pinning to occur. I discovered the growth seen below late on the evening of the 20th January 2024 albeit it too late to take clear photographic images - it was more than a slight surprise and one that created unashamed whoops of delight as where fungal forms are concerned I still seem to react with child-like wonderment and glee despite my academic and artistic studies! This morning I decided to record the following video:


The structure itself I have described in the video but to put the visual aesthetics into text means I describe it as dense and quite weighty (I have forgotten to weigh it and will rectify that in the coming days - my memory as you have gathered is lousy at the moment though hence why I say 'days' rather than being more specific with 'tomorrow'!). There are areas where the book feels as if its made of marshmallows - soft, squidgy but still a definite structure or form but other areas are more solid and unyielding - it is a living organism that appears to create its own juxtapositions of texture, line and shape. There is a softness in shape that is beginning to overcome the linear aspect of the book itself - no longer does it take an architectural harsh line but instead it is becoming, or even has become, more organic as the harshness of human creation is replaced instead by nature's reclamation through decomposition. The colour palette of the form ranges from a soft, slightly warm white through to muted yellow ochres with the delicate greys of the caps which in themselves have differing values from dark to light - there is almost what I would call a beautiful rhythm within the palette as it ebbs and flows in tone and saturation. I want to touch the organism but at the same time pull back from doing so for fear of human bacterial and fungal contamination and hence I satisfy my curiosity instead through olfactory means:


The following photos were also taken before and after removing the bag. I am more than surprised at the manner of the growth and almost the determination to find a gap out of the outer humidity bag, which I am still enclosing the growing form within my studio - it was moved up here after the recording/documentation had taken place. During the uploading process I have decided to split them into two galleries - the within a dark cube that focuses the lens more clearly on the mycelial and fruiting body growth and the second in natural daylight. The clear differences in terms of aesthetic qualities and image sharpness demonstrates, not just to the viewer, but to me as the artistic and photographer of how light, shadows and positioning can affect the documentary outcome thus allowing the organism to be seen as I am seeing it. Moreover, these images I am finding less than satisfactory in terms of the quality of image my camera is producing whether I use my phone camera or my small bridge camera but this may be rectifiable simply by utilising differing lighting options that are available to me.


I note that the fruiting bodies have clear evidence of being pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom) through the early signs of small grey/fawn caps on the stipes at the bottom of the structure and the early evidence of the formation of external gills creating visual texture that I continue to resist touching. Previous research has informed me through exploration with my senses, whether taste (I cooked the first mushrooms harvested from a kit), smell, sight and touch how these fledgling gills feel - they are soft, almost feather-like at maturity but at this stage just tiny ridges that I have refrained from pressing to see dense and firm they are for fear of damaging their structure and growth. The caps, that same earlier research revealed, often feel slightly damp and silk-like, or perhaps even velvety to the gentle touch of a finger and I recall also a density, a firmness as you explored their surface. The eyes and fingers work together to understand what they are seeing and feeling but although that taste occurred during later research the mind and my narrative within my work had evolved as I respected the right to unhindered growth and the natural cycle of life even if that life was artificially created and the structures were grown for academic and artistic research and understanding. I still felt, and continue to feel, an ethical duty of care towards a growing organism but this now means I am asking the question once more of where my ethics lie in its eventual death? the conundrums I felt during academia continue to plague me forcing me to question my work once more. I find myself wanting to read further around my subject once more whether generally or on a deeper academic level in order to resolve or perhaps question my ethical values but also deepen my understanding of my subject and artistic narrative. As I write I am starting to see how the fruiting bodies that have broken free of the confines of the bag may become a metaphor for the beginnings of a new chapter after a period of reflection and rest - is this the beginning of new artistic and academic growth? I find myself back in the liminal space I resided within at the beginning of post graduate studies and hence all I can say at this point in time is watch this space!



What I do find fascinating at this stage in oyster mushroom fungal growth is the coral like structure and branches giving an impression that this structure could just as easily have been plucked from the sea bed. I would be intrigued to be able to monitor this fungal form from its first visual signs of growth within the wider natural environment to the maturity seen on this deciduous living tree below which I photographed just before Christmas 2023 - I just don't live quite close enough to able to visit daily to be able to achieve this. However, back to the form which as I study my own photographs I find incredible beautiful, slightly horrifying and fascinating all at once - the horrifying due to the fungal world's association with death and decay. Fungi have an almost iconic association with all that is in fact morbid - they represent decay and death due to the the saprophytic and/or parasitic species. However, I find it interesting that there are saprophytes that evolved the the ability to be non-pathogenic to living hosts with pleurotus ostreatus falling into this category as seen with considerable clarity on the images below. I only wish at the time of taking the images I had a longer zoom or telephoto lens at my disposal to aid their clarity - I would love to be able to see the detail of the forms and in particular how they attached to the tree itself as this was and is my first time I have seen them in their natural environment (which seems a little ridiculous considering my studies!).



What seeing this fungal fruiting body growth in both nature, in combination with the fact that I have grown this species from a kit form during the final course of my MA, is leading to a growing understanding that the growth pattern on this new book is unusual and likely to be due to the environmental conditions including the restrictions of the plastic bags. Furthermore, even if I was not aware of the species the fruiting bodies have clear evidence of being pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom) through the early signs of small grey/fawn caps on the stipes at the bottom of the structure and the early evidence of the formation of external gills creating visual texture that I continue to resist touching. Previous research has informed me through exploration with my senses, whether taste (I cooked the first mushrooms harvested from a kit), smell, sight and touch how these fledgling gills feel - they are soft, almost feather-like at maturity but at this stage just tiny ridges that I have refrained from pressing to see dense and firm they are for fear of damaging their structure and growth. The caps, that same earlier research revealed, often feel slightly damp and silk-like, or perhaps even velvety to the gentle touch of a finger and I recall also a density, a firmness as you explored their surface. The eyes and fingers work together to understand what they are seeing and feeling but although that taste occurred during later research the mind and my narrative within my work had evolved as I respected the right to unhindered growth and the natural cycle of life even if that life was artificially created and the structures were grown for academic and artistic research and understanding. I still felt, and continue to feel, an ethical duty of care towards a growing organism but this now means I am asking the question once more of where my ethics lie in its eventual death? the conundrums I felt during academia continue to plague me forcing me to question my work once more. Edit: 24th January 2024 - the fungal form has been within my studio since the 21st albeit partially enclosed within the outer bag with no further video or photographic documentation taking place. I have been spraying the form with clear water once a day but there are now early signs of drying out appearing. Henceforth, I am now aware of the need to increasing my care regime by firstly ensuring the bag is fully covering the form to increase its humidity levels enabling me to increase the spraying as required. I am going to keep a close eye on it over the next 24 hours and if I feel it is appropriate and required will return it to the darkness of the cupboard.



I will update or write a new blog as new growth appears or if there are further changes to the form whether negatively or positively.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

De Lucca, A. J. (2007) 'Harmful fungi in both agriculture and medicine' In: Revista Iberoamericana De Micologia 24 (1) pp.3–13.

Phillips, R. (2006) Mushrooms A comprehensive guide with over 1,250 detailed photographs of mushrooms and other fungi. London: Macmillan.

Saprotroph - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (s.d.) At: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/saprotroph (Accessed 24/01/2024).

Trust, W. (s.d.) Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) – British Fungi. At: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/fungi-and-lichens/oyster-mushroom/ (Accessed 24/01/2024).

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