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Gallery of Greater Victoria exhibit Symbiosis explores artists’ musings about ‘fascinating world’ of mushrooms

The exhibit, starting April 1, is multi-disciplinary, including painting, photographs, science, bio-materials, discussion and even music
Nature Morte (2014), oil. This piece by Rick Leong, artist and assistant professor at University of Victoria, is one of many to be featured at the Symbiosis exhibit. (Courtesy of Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)

Calling all mushroom lovers: a new exhibit, Symbiosis - Exploring Forest Ecologies and Musings About Mushrooms, runs April 1 to Oct. 29 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

The exhibit will explore the fascinating world of mushrooms - and their symbiotic relationship with other plants - through painting, photographs, bio-materials, discussion and even music.

It’s a topic co-curators Jaimie Isaac and Mel Granley are passionate about.

“I grew up having a grandfather that was a mycologist so I always heard stories about mushrooms,” said Isaac. “What fascinated me as well was Alice and Wonderland and the caterpillar that sat ambiguously on the mushroom and spoke in poetic phrases and presented an ambiguity that I was really interested in when I was a kid.”

Mushrooms play an important role in cultures, whether in cooking, industrial and environmental design, science, medicine and health.

They’ve been trending into the mainstream particularly in the last decade, with the “magic mushroom” psychedelic compound, psilocybin, in clinical trials for use as a potential treatment for mental illness, plus a surge of beverage companies touting to have coffee’s next replacement with mushroom teas.

The body of work at Symbiosis will touch into many disciplines that have driven cultural curiosity with mushrooms for generations. For instance, U.S-based designer and artist Helen Chen works with living matter and creates bio materials, and the exhibit will feature her bio-plastics made out of turkey tail (a mushroom) and bacterial cellulose.

“She’s amazing,” Granley said. “We have photographs of what the materials looked like two years ago versus what they’ve turned into now. We have the actual physical material at the gallery and it’s this bio-plastic that’s degraded over time.”

There is also a big focus in the exhibit on how mushrooms interact with forests and ecosystems, hence the exhibit name Symbiosis.

“Mel and I, we’re really thinking about the important and essential relationships between trees and fungi … we’re really looking at nature as a beautiful representation of relationship and reciprocity. That’s what we thought about when we were thinking about the message behind the name Symbiosis.”

Symbiosis will feature works from 16 contemporary artists, including locals Sarah Jim, Rick Leong, Bradley Nyeck, Colton Hash and Rande Cook. There will also be international featured artists, including from New York and Finland.

“I think what we’re really interested in with the world of mushrooms and forest ecology are the interdisciplinary and intersections of how people are thinking about mushrooms. Some [artists] are really playful and they work with fascinations and the mushroom form, some are working with the spiritual aspect of experiences in relation to the forest, other works are dealing with the environmental protection and conservation and history and experiences as land defenders, and some are working with the mushrooming culture,” Isaac said. Mushrooming refers to foraging for wild mushrooms.

A free open house at the gallery runs on April 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include a panel discussion with some of the artists, a gallery tour with Isaac and Granley, and something one doesn’t get to hear every day: live mushroom music.

Nanotopia are demonstrating live how forests and fungi communicate with a live quadraphonic modular synthesis. They will make music with electrodes attached to mycelia and connect the electronic bio rhythms through a computer and then through a synthesizer.

The curators say that different programmings will run both inside and outside the gallery walls throughout the exhibit, like mushroom forays (which tend to sell out quickly) and panel talks.

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Brad Necyk, Of Dreaming (2022-2023). (Film still, courtesy of the artist)

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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