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Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi celebrates the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism

Perks & Mini, ‘Frog Life’, courtesy of the artist
Perks & Mini, ‘Frog Life’, courtesy of the artist

Launching its 2020 season, Somerset House will invite visitors to explore the fascinating world of mushrooms in a new exhibition from curator and writer, Francesca Gavin. Through the work of 35 artists, designers and musicians, Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi celebrates the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism, the ideas it inspires in the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic, and the powerful promise it offers to reimagine society’s relationship with the planet, inspiring new thinking around design and architecture. An extensive events programme from leading artists and experts accompanies the exhibition, spanning design, sustainability, health and beauty.

Artist List: Adham Faramawy, Alex Morrison, Amanda Cobbett, Andrea Zucchini, Aniela Hoitink, Annie Ratti, Beatrix Potter, Carsten Höller, Cody Hudson, Cy Twombly, Daniel David Freeman, David Fenster, Donlon Books, Graham Little, Hamish Pearch, Hannah Collins, Haroon Mirza, Jae Rhim Lee, Jason Evans, Jeremy Shaw, John Cage, Kristel Peters, Lara Ögel, Laurence Owen, Lois Long, Mae-ling Lokko, Perks and Mini, Salvatore Arancio, Seana Gavin, Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova, Simon Popper, Stephan Doitschinoff, The Mycological Twist, Tom Dixon.

Alex Morrison, ‘Mushroom Motif’ (Black and Ochre), 2017, courtesy of the artist, care of L’inconnue Gallery, Montreal
Alex Morrison, ‘Mushroom Motif’ (Black and Ochre), 2017, courtesy of the artist, care of L’inconnue Gallery, Montreal

New works announced:

Specially commissioned mycelium-based chair from one of Britain’s leading designers, Tom Dixon

Solar-powered Mushroom Suitcase from acclaimed conceptual artist, Carsten Höller

Decomposable mushroom burial suit by Jae Rhim Lee designed to reduce the damaging environmental impact of the funeral industry

Large-scale mushroom-based floral installation from the London Flower School featuring mushrooms grown at Somerset House

New generative tool and custom typeface commission inspired by fungi created by designers Pentagram in collaboration with 3D artist Rosie Emery and creative studio Counterpoint

Hack the Root © Mae-ling Lokko
Hack the Root © Mae-ling Lokko

Events highlights include:

TABLE, a mushroom-inspired pop-up dining experience at Somerset House from acclaimed chef and Spring restaurant founder Skye Gyngell with specially curated, biodynamic 3-course meals

Exclusive seminar from integrative medicine pioneer Dr Andrew Weil on the medicinal and health benefits of mushrooms, presented by Beauty and Wellness Partner, Origins

Mushrooms Gallery Late featuring mushroom workshops, short films, and a special performance inspired by the stinkhorn mushroom from artist Siôn Parkinson with Sam Annand, featuring a spectacular ‘mushroom dress’ created by designer Matty Bovan

Screening of critically acclaimed documentary Magic Medicine exploring how magic mushrooms may provide a solution in treating depression

Mushrooms brings together work from leading international artists and designers, renowned for their use of the mushroom motif, to explore three themes: Mycophilia; Magic Mushrooms; and Fungi Futures. Across three rooms, transformed by award-winning designers Pentagram, visitors encounter a spectacular range of interdisciplinary works, spanning sculpture, hand-cut collage, painting, drawing, photography and film, all featuring the magnificent fungi. The incredible versatility of mushrooms is further celebrated in new, conceptual pieces from designers working across architecture, furniture and fashion, all pushing the boundaries of design through the use of mycelium and bio-based materials in their work.

Seana Gavin, ‘Mindful Mushroom’, courtesy of the artist
Seana Gavin, ‘Mindful Mushroom’, courtesy of the artist

Immersing visitors in the incredible kingdom of fungi, the exhibition opens with a celebration of mushrooms exploring the theme of Mycophilia, with mushroom-inspired works that both inform current scientific understanding of the organism and capture artistic responses to it. Highlights include selected watercolours from the renowned author Beatrix Potter, whose collection of over 300 scientific illustrations of mushrooms and fungi, lesser-known by her readers, form a significant contribution to the study of natural history and is still used by mycologists today. Acclaimed artist Carsten Höller presents a striking example of his use of the mushroom motif in Pilzkoffer (Mushroom Suitcase) 2008 which sees small casts of the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom revolving on mechanical stands, powered by a hanging lightbulb above. The seminal American artist Cy Twombly explores the relation between the natural world and human
history in his quasi-scientific portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974). Formed of lithographic prints with collaged sheets of paper and photographs, the series captures Twombly’s characteristic expressive, graphic style, uniting logic and chaos in the human quest for knowledge.

Alex Morrison’s colourful oil painting on canvas Mushroom Motif pays homage to William Morris’ approach to textile and graphics, whilst Graham Little’s Untitled (Wood) 2019 transports audiences to a quiet autumnal woodland. Antique copies of Alice in Wonderland display various interpretations of the notorious caterpillar seated atop a mushroom from illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and John Tenniel, in a scene now widely recognised as a key depiction of the mushroom as a door to another world.

This mysticism that surrounds the mushroom is further explored in Magic Mushrooms as artists delve into the themes of psychedelia, poetry and spirituality. Hailed as one of the great music pioneers of the 20th century, John Cage was also fascinated with fungi, co-founding the New York Mycological Society. Cage’s long-term interest in the subject resulted in Mushroom Book, a limited-edition publication which offers deep insight into his passion for mushrooms, published in collaboration with mycologist Alexander H Smith and artist Lois Long. Visitors can delve into the book’s framed pages, featuring Cage’s poetry and hand-written notes alongside Long’s beautiful mushroom illustrations.

Fellow mushroom devotees include Amanda Cobbett, who following the launch of her latest collection at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019, captures the mesmerising beauty of the mushroom in her three-dimensional, papier-mâché and machine-embroidered sculptures, each one completely unique. Adham Faramawy’s experimental piece My fingers distended as honey dripped from your lips and we danced in a circular motion is similarly hypnotic as it captures dancers in 360° video, whilst animations of a fungus emerge and ultimately metabolise the work. Further highlights include RA graduate Hamish Pearch’s realistic sculptures of sprouting fungi reflecting on the continuous lifecycle of decay and re-invention, hand-cut collage from Seana Gavin, whose imaginative anthropomorphic mushroom characters and architectural structures transport visitors to a fungi-filled world, whilst cult Australian art and fashion label Perks & Mini similarly bring a feeling of playfulness in an irreverent, graphic handmade hanging textile.

Designers working across architecture, furniture and fashion explore the powerful potential of the mushroom in the final theme, Fungi Futures, pushing the boundaries of design in their use of bio-based materials to create pioneering processes and products. This is demonstrated by one of Britain’s leading designers, Tom Dixon, who invites people to experience the strength of mushrooms with his specially commissioned chair formed of mycelium, the mass of fine branching tubes (called hyphae) that form the main structure of a fungus. Belgian shoe designer Kristel Peters explores possibilities for the development of sustainable shoe design using mycelium, whilst Aniela Hoitink offers unique insight into her practice of developing sustainable materials, displaying her experimental textiles and alternative clothing prototypes. Jae Rhim Lee similarly challenges the ecological impact of human consumption in her reimagining of the funeral industry. Presenting an example of her decomposable mushroom burial suit, Lee combines art, design and fashion to reflect on the human relationship with the world and invites visitors to consider their impact on the environment after death.

Architectural historian and building-material technologist, Mae-ling Lokko, demonstrates the incredible versatility of mushrooms in her ground-breaking project which upcycles agro-waste into new building-materials. The potential of mushroom-based materials is also evident in the use of mycelium, which is moulded into furniture pieces including ceiling pendant lights from Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova. Formed of mycelium and green wood waste harvested from their woodland in Kent, each light shade is grown in the Sebastian Cox Studio’s laboratory in south east London, to create beautiful and environmentally friendly pieces for the home.

As part of the ongoing Edible Utopia educational food-growing project, which looks at growing food in the underused and hidden parts of Somerset House, the site’s historic coalholes have been transformed into fungi chambers, where mushrooms are grown using waste coffee grounds collected from on-site restaurants, creating a closed-loop ecosystem. To mark the opening of the Mushrooms exhibition, the homegrown produce will be showcased in new special dishes from Somerset House’s Bryn Williams restaurant and Hej café, for diners to savour throughout the season.

somersethouse.org.uk/mushrooms #TheArtofMushrooms
31st Jan- April 26th

About the Curator
Francesca Gavin is a curator and writer based in London. She is an editor-at-large at Kaleidoscope, Art Editor of Twin and contributing editor at Good Trouble, Beauty Papers and Semaine.com. She was the co-curator of the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta11 and has curated exhibitions internationally including at the Palais de Tokyo, Site Sheffield and Mu. Gavin has written six books including Watch This Space, The Book of Hearts, 100 New Artists and Hell Bound: New Gothic Art, and contributes to numerous publications including The Financial Times, Dazed, wallpaper*, Mousse, AnOther and Newsweek. She has a monthly radio show Rough Version on NTS Radio on art and music. @roughversion

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