My fascination with mycelium (the root structure of mushrooms) is compounded by a number of factors: fungi are neither plant nor animal and fungi can clean up ecological disasters. This project invites awareness for the possibility of nonhuman communication and intelligence that is palpable, comprehensible and emotionally impactful to a lay audience. Simply and eloquently, I strive to bring awareness to the moral and ethical weight of our complicity within an Anthropocentric model merely by introducing a paradigm shift that reveals our “Specist” bias in how we view our shared environment as a member of homo sapiens.
Sentience is the ability to perceive one’s environment, and experience sensations such as pain and suffering, or pleasure and comfort.
In the Buddhist cosmology; Every sentient being is part of the cycle of rebirth
Many countries now acknowledge animal sentience, and animals’ ability to experience pain, fear, distress, hunger, and thirst, in their laws, which are designed to protect animals from such suffering. In 1997, the European Union agreed to recognize animals as ‘sentient beings’ under European law. How might Brexit affect sentience?
Species generally acknowledged to be sentient include those with backbones, as well as octopus and squid, and crabs and lobsters. However, recently plants have been shown to exhibit pain, and send distress signals to fellow species when under insect attack.
This work invites people to consider the non-human sentience of fungi.
Animals and fungi share a common ancestor and branched away from plants at some point about 1.1 billion years ago. It was only later that animals and fungi separated on the genealogical tree of life, making mushrooms more closely related to humans than plants.
This interactive installation consists of 5 rectangular containers with living mycelium growing over agar covered armatures.
The agar covered forms vary from geometric to human in nature.
The Human armature: vacuum formed face.
Geometric armatures: vacuum formed 3D primitive forms.
The vacuum formed PETG forms are placed into rectangular Petri-like dishes, nutrient agar is poured over the forms which are then autoclaved, cooled and inoculated with Ganoderma lucidum and Pleurotus ostreatus spores. Over several days the spores knit hypha together forming a mycelial (leather-like) skin over the surface of the agar forms.
Each Mycelium form is connected with electrodes that run into a purpose made circuit for collecting biodata. This biodata is then translated in realtime to MIDI out into digital synthesizers for the installation. For a live performance Control Voltage signals would be sent to analog synthesizers.
Visitors are invited to interact with the sculptures by placing their hands on touchpads that run through the mycelial forms, allowing them to hear and feel their own bio-sonification filtered through the fungi, in turn, the fungi react (or not) to the Human visitors.
As well as sending biodata to MIDI, creating a realtime fungi soundscape, the mycelial biodata sends electrical impulses out that can control visitors through muscle stimulation.
Visitors also send electrical impulses into some of the mycelial sculptures.
How will the mycelium respond to Human interactions? How might the interactions affect the mycelial growth? In turn, how will Human visitors respond to mycelial stimulation? Hearing and feeling the mycelium react to them in the space might create empathy or apathy, even fear.
Empirically, when fully connected and music is being generated, Mycelium consistently generates periodic patterns that are both enigmatic but also very musical.
Mycelium also appears to be particularly sensitive to the presence of people.
As visitors enter the installation are they relaxed, stressed, positive, curious, anxious? How might this affect the living sculptures? As more people enter the space will the Mycelium soundscape sound grow frenetic or more harmonic?
For reasons that I do not fully understand, the Mycelium reacts to the proximity of some people more than others.