Placing the Toadstool on the Pedestal in the Name of Art

9. Graham Little, ‘Untitled (Wood)’ 2019, courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London

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From culinary to medicinal, psychedelic or nuclear, our relationship with the humbly versatile mushroom has certainly been nothing if not colourful over the years…

Shadowing the development of civilisation from as far back as the anthropological cradle, its longstanding cultural legacy has seen the funghi play both heroine and villainess at any one point in time. What’s more, its depiction in fantasy and folklore (as well as the documented use of mushrooms in the practice of ceremonial rites and rituals) has only helped to divide our judgement – making the verdict on these majestic lifeforms more layered and complex. 

“Cochlea Brick Tuft” by Hamish Pearch – Courtesy of the Artist

Now, a new exhibition being held at Somerset House aims to bring this discussion to the forefront; celebrating our long-term relationship with the shroom by looking to the future as well as shining light on the past. Curated by London writer Francesca Gavin, Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Funghi is putting the toadstool on the pedestal, with a wide array of work from over 35 artists, designers and musicians. 

Spread throughout three large rooms, and compartmentalised under the titles of Mycophilia, Magic Mushrooms and Funghi Futures, expect the unexpected here – with a diverse range of multidisciplinary work that encompasses everything from sculpture, hand-cut collage, painting, drawing, photography and film. Add to this a number of new conceptual pieces from notable designers working in architecture, fashion and furniture design and you have all the foraged ingredients for one of the most unique shows to tour the capital city this summer. 

‘Mushroom Motif’ Alex Morrison – Courtesy of the Artist

Featured artists include Takashi Murakami, Haroon Mirza, Hannah Collins and Graham Little – as well as designers Tom Dixon and Mae-ling Lokko, and cult Australian clothing designers Perks and Mini

Fans of Beatrix Potter’s celebrated children’s stories might be surprised to learn that the author was also a dedicated conservationist and lover of funghi – with a selection of her watercolours that put the mushroom as the muse. Also on display here is American artist Cy Twombly’s line drawings, Seana Gavin’s innovative work with collage, composer John Cage’s eclectic limited edition Mushroom Book, lifelike sculptures by Hamish Pearch, and an experimental visual piece utilising animation and 360° video by Adham Faramawy. 

‘Hygrophorus Puniceus’ Beatrix Potter – Pencil and Watercolour (Courtesy of the Artist)

Pushing the conventional limits of design too are a number of noteworthy artists that are rethinking tomorrow in playful and inventive new ways. Take British designer Tom Dixon for example; who has demonstrated the remarkable resilience and strength of the mushroom in his construction of a specially commissioned chair produced from mycelium, the thread-like branching that is formed naturally from strands of funghi. 

‘Mycoschoen’ Kristel Peters – Courtesy of the Artist

South Korean artist Jae Rhim Lee quite literally takes this to a whole new depth, with a decomposable burial suit made out of mushrooms… prompting us to reimagine the western world’s vastly unsustainable funeral methods from an ecological standpoint. 

‘Mindful Mushroom’ Seana Gavin – Courtesy of the Artist

Incorporating everything we have learned to love (or loathe) about the humble mushroom – whether scientific or spiritual, savoury or sacred, this exhibition plants this most versatile fungus on the centre stage, and dinner will never be quite the same again. 

Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Funghi

Now Showing Until 13th September 2020

Somerset House (The Charles Russell Speechlys Terrace Room Series)

Article written by Sonny Arifien @sonnyandhispen

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