Since last month’s premiere of HBO’s television adaptation of video game The Last of Us, there’s been a seemingly endless fascination with fungi and how they might prove to bring about a deadly pandemic. (The Wall Street Journal’s science section even reported out an article about the topic.) And in the art world, mushrooms have seen a rise since the 2017 publication of anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: The Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, as explored in an issue dedicated to Bio Art by Art in America.
It would come as no surprise, then, that one of the standout presentations at Zona Maco in Mexico City, which opened to VIPs on Wednesday, was given over to mushrooms.
Tulum-based gallery Suma has turned its booth over to a collaborative exhibition dedicated to all things fungi. Titled “Decay & Renewal,” it features work by Maria Monteys, Claudio Sodi, and artist collective Interspecifics.
For its contribution, Interspecifics has programmed a machine to create cellular depictions of the structures of fungus; the machine was doing a “live” demonstration on Wednesday afternoon. Sodi, for his part, has presented a series of six abstract paintings that he left out to rot. After several months, he froze the results in time with resin.
Monteys’s black-and-yellow sculptures from which fungal flowers, or colonies of mushrooms, emerge are especially strong. Creating these haunting works requires a rather laborious process. First, Monteys makes a mold, as any sculptor might. These molds take a variety of shapes: some are shaped like traditional vases, while others more abstract and expressive in form.
To them she adds the mushrooms and a sawdust substrate, which the fungi feed on, until they cover the entire mold with their mycelium root structure. Once this is complete, she takes them into a lab setting to further stimulate the fungi with oxygen and humidity until the mushrooms are as big as she wants them to be. Then she effectively kills the mushrooms by dehydrating them.
Monteys, who is based in Mexico City and was on hand at the preview, said she sees the works as being “co-authored” with the mushrooms, who, in their own natural way, dictate the final form.
After Monteys has dehydrated the fungi, she coats the sculptures in a bio-resin made from the seeds of trees that she said is 100 percent biodegradable. Prior to their death, the mushrooms cover the sculpture in all white. As they die, and after the layer of resin, they take on their final foreboding coloration.
If The Last of Us presents a frightening dystopia filled with fungi, Monteys’s art suggests that we shouldn’t be all that afraid of mushrooms, which can often be beautiful.