Finally, the harvested oyster mushrooms (pleurotus ostreatus) were removed from the back of the fridge where they had been sitting for almost a month - a little more dried out than I would have liked but with some evidence of mycelial growth. A combination of printed research papers, copies of blogs and academic assignment feedbacks made up the 'book' and simply bound with string. Appropriately, an image of 'Field Magic Commune' by Alison Gill (2021) became, albeit unintentionally, the front cover. The fruiting bodies were simply torn, or broken up and placed between the soaked pages as with its previous versions.
However, here is where the unexpected occurred: just as I placed this new book within a suitable zip lock bag I remembered my wish to dissect the last book which had been left sitting in our plastic greenhouse and all but abandoned to its fate of any insects who have made their home in this man-made environment including the resident small slug previously observed. The structure was slimy, firm, squishy, soft, textural - descriptive terms that seem at odds with each other but the textures themselves creating unexpected juxtapositions that played with the senses. It intrigued me but repulsed me - I had intended to use gloves, not knowing what the fungi is or was, or what other organism may be penetrating this former book but I also wanted to experience it sensorially, not just with my eyes but with my touch and smell but for obvious reasons negating taste! It's smell was familar - mushrooms but with a rancid acidity although not as strong as I think I had expected: I wanted to inhale it repeatedly but health and safety tapped invisibly on my shoulder reminding me of the unknown fungal or bacterial inhabitants with questionable toxicity - was this structure friend or foe?
But here I make the decision to include larger imagery and please note they may not be watermarked but they are still copyrighted to me, as the artist, so may only be used with my express permission please. The photographs were taken to really show the incredible textures and colours of the uppermost surface of the book with mycelium being clearly visible next to remains of failed stipes and species of unknown taxonomy - I question what is the green growth I see? but daftly I barely noticed it at the time as my focus was on the photography itself although I also didn't want to physically touch it either. The holes I believe are where the harvested clusters of fruiting bodies once were but could also be due to further slug damage - a small resident was found during the pulling and cutting a part of the book. I regret not looking closer and examining this surface this afternoon but I am also aware of some time constraints that have imposed themselves unexpectedly today. I find myself, as I write this, wanting to see the images full size on my laptop screen and to sit and explore them physically with my soft pastels within a more abstracted style than I have been working with of late but there is something about this surface that captures my attention - it is alive, not dead and decaying as I had expected, but regenerating and continuing to change.
However, I wanted to explore within the structure itself and was quickly reminded that this was already a book created by a book, created from a book! The earliest version failed producing no mature caps but instead had been grown from slivers of earlier fruiting body caps before being incorporated in this next version. Many of the pages appeared just stuck together with damp but closer examination revealed mycelial growth that literally knitted and meshed them together. Distinct, soft white and wonderfully marshmallowy areas of mycelium revealed themselves to me as I cut and gently pulled the structure apart with its growth clearly visible - reaching out, exploring and growing. The back of the book repulsed me the most - its slimy qualities just revolting the senses to the point I could barely bare to touch it ..... even now as I write my skin is crawling at the memory. I cannot even describe why I feel this way other than the wetness of the humidity in the greenhouse in combination with being sat on a plastic bag had combined to create physical qualities that may appeal to other living creatures, but not to this human one but interestingly these two sheets had also not decayed or had any growth upon them. There was little microbial deterioration to the back of the book and as I write I question why - I need to look back and see if I documented the types of papers used and study the photographs more closely. This is the point I clearly saw that the structure was and is a living organism but its fate lay now in my hands - torn and destroyed at my own hands which as I write I realise leaves me feeling appalled with myself and uncomfortable with my own Anthropocentric arrogance. However, from its creation I understood its growth lay, at least in part, under my own curation and control - there is a word here, an academic term, that is the most appropriate but frustratingly, after just a few short months away from study my brain is searching for it frustratingly which almost answers a question: do I want to continue with academia? with further reading and research? there is no doubt now as the knowledge gained by consistently looking up strange and complex terminology broadened my fungal (mycological), societal, philosophical and scientific knowledge that surrounds my chosen subject and which in turn impacts upon my artistic practice.
However, firstly a decision on what to do with the structure that now lay in pieces on my garden bench - the white mycelium almost imploring me to include it in this new book. Henceforth, any distinct, marshmallow looking mycelial pieces were placed betweenand alongside the drying fruiting bodies and the wet pages. The book was then placed in a suitable zip log bag with a second one added for the protection of my cupboard contents. A point of note is that the ziplock itself is not fully working and therefore enables 'breathing' of the bag but regular checks will also take place. The cupboard itself is the same I have used for each book and upon checking the humidity is running at 67% at 7.50 pm and 14.9 degrees Celcius - the room itself does have the benefit of central heating although in the current cost of living crisis like everyone else this is kept within affordable usage and hence it will be interesting to see how much the cooler winter months impact upon any mycelial growth that may occur. I will be endeavouring to leave the book until it is more covered, if in fact growth occurs, with mycelium before removing it from its location to encourage pinning of fruiting bodies - but here I add I am aware this is far from guaranteed and this is a 'if' not a 'when' growth occurs.
What happened to the rest of the deconstructed book? I did not feel that this is a recyclable structure in terms of paper but nor is it compostable due to the toxins and contaminants of the artistic work and printed materials. Henceforth, and more than a little unceremoniously, it has all been gathered together including as many small bits as possible and bunged back in its originating humidity bag and put back in the greenhouse. There is a method in this madness however - there is mycelial growth on those pages and tomorrow I will be finding an opaque bag or box in which to put this apparently discarded bag in order to see whether in fact new growth may occur? I add a question mark to a statement as I am curious to see whether the obliterated book structure may regenerate or further contaminants found on the garden bench top may cause its final decay and death. The books are now no longer one but two becoming bioart and fungal installations in their own right - they are no longer experiementations and explorations but living art that seek to continue and deepen a sustainability element to our artistic practice. I am not just recycling the papers, but the books themselves plus the bags used are those that would otherwise have been discarded.
I will update this blog as growth occurs or changes become apparent including firstly to weigh and measure the size of the cupboard installed book tomorrow. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Field Magic Commune (2021) (s.d.) At: https://www.alisongill.com/portfolio/field-magic-commune/ (Accessed 11/12/2023).