If the ‘60s was the decade of flower power, the 2020s might be the decade of mushroom power. A huge explosion of interest in the stories told by fungi has been accompanied by an equally huge explosion in creative ways of telling them and delving into the cultural, social, and human impacts mushrooms have on the world at large through their far-reaching cultural effects and presence. Let’s take a quick dive into the practices of some contemporary makers who draw inspiration from the nature and qualities of the mushroom kingdom:
In works like Hakuna Matata and Reproductive Logistics, Nour Mobarek uses expansive gardens of sound, stone, living mushrooms, garbage, paper, paint, and other found materials to stimulatingly address and synthesize tongue-in-cheek themes like “Intersensory deferral / displacement”,“Hybridity”, “Michael Crichton”, “Trip to Petra”, “The sound of form and the form of sound”, “Kill your studio assistants”, and “Family history / daddy issues”. For Mobarak, mycelial networks can illustrate the intermixing and liminal nature of her multilingual father’s words, which mingle with things like the observations of strangers she interviews on the street to create a twisted landscape and an ecosystem of numerous selves blending into a deafening but melodic chorus. By blending surfaces and depths in a single space (in one case burying speakers loudly playing the looped sounds of objects bouncing off the floor in the soil at one of her installation sites), the artist pushers her audience to place themselves within interwoven levels of meaning that spread across cultures, species, and voices.
LUKE AND JODY HUDSON-POWELL
These interdisciplinary artists are just two of the many members of Pentagram, a team of 22 designers working across spheres as diverse as architecture, entertainment, healthcare, publishing, and tech to elevate and enrich peoples’ aesthetic experience of their environment. Not only does the collaborative and interdependent spirit of Pentagram evoke the unruly fungal reproduction process of sporogenesis, it also leads to the creation of tools like the Hudson-Powells’ HYPHA. HYPHA is an interactive tool that uses algorithms to mimic the growth and fruiting patterns of mushrooms, translating user input into constantly mutating letterforms and typography which can then be 3-D printed into sculptural objects. Recently shown at Somerset House’s Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi exhibition in London, it quite literally brings the essence of fungal evolution into the hands of the public.
Murakami is a multimedia artist commonly known for high-profile collaborations which include partnerships with musicians like Pharrell Williams and Billie Eilish. Often working alongside fashion giants like Louis Vuitton to make visually striking designs immersed in ‘high art’ and ‘lowbrow’ aesthetics simultaneously, his body of work fuses the style of anime with a semi-abstract pop art sensibility. This giant of the international contemporary art scene sees mushrooms as a link to multiple layers of aesthetic history and his japanese heritage, frequently returning to this motif as a way of straddling artistic eras and historical influences. Having produced an entire collection of lithographs devoted to the strange world of fungi over the course of his career, it’s safe to say that Takashi Murakami, much like his peers, has a deep appreciation for the elegance and unique character of the mushroom.