Symbiote

Symbiote

As the year begins to unwind to new life in a new season there are those keeping a close eye on the awakening from winter slumber since great change is already primed for motion. A new mayor is learning to spar with an upstate governor to go to alternate bat for the less well to do. A president may be open to making a few more new friends after a five year hiatus filled with frustration or at least a few new enemies. And so tentative partnerships form in thought and crime “By Leaves or play of sunlight” to still the #heartbleed.

To still the #heartbleed.
To still the #heartbleed.

That last bit being the title of a new show at the Horticultural Institute of John Cage’s Mushroom Book, tagged as “artist and naturalist” where philosopher springs to mind.

By leaves or play of light | John Cage: Artist and Naturalist
By leaves or play of light | John Cage: Artist and Naturalist
John Cage collecting mushrooms, Grenoble, France, 1972.
John Cage collecting mushrooms, Grenoble, France, 1972.

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Artist...
Artist…
... Naturalist
… Naturalist

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It turns out the Mushroom Book is the fruit of a group effort of three individuals. The mycologist Alexander H. Smith provided botanical descriptions and the artist Lois Long created beautiful illustrations which together with an eclectic bricolage by John Cage “created a literary and visual representation of mushroom foraging.” The creative efforts are displayed at the Horticultural Institute in such a way so as to illustrate different possible configurations in which these materials may interact. The exhibition curated by Chris Murtha of The Horticultural Society of New York, largely comprised of material courtesy of the John Cage Trust at Bard College and presented by the New York Mycological Society, also includes black and white photographs by James Klosty, a score and a drawing by John Cage.

Lois Long and John Cage inspect a print with the publisher.
Lois Long and John Cage inspect a print with the publisher.
See the material interact.
See the material interact.
Lois Long and John Cage at work.
Lois Long and John Cage at work.

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Floored by the illustrations contributed by Lois Long they exude a magick pull with forms that evoke fine lines and plump form. They communicate the fruitiness of what “edible” mushrooms are thought to be. Why the season of Morchella for instance might turn buddhist wanderers into manic foragers, yet at the same time secretive individuals religiously discriminative about their current immediate associates.

Color Lithographs by Lois Long.
Color Lithographs by Lois Long.

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The context for this book is obviously quite unique, extending beyond the deep collaboration among this professional trio. There is art and composition featured from outside the orbit of this trio as well as experiments in perhaps creating an “edible book” with several fungal pages. Cage also sought to layer his found bits of contextual knowledge in ink on the map of the United States.

Shadows cast into the interpretative sphere...
Shadows cast into the interpretative sphere…
... seeking to remain.
… seeking to remain.
Scores remain unsettling on the page...
Scores remain unsettling on the page…
... obscure crops in Peace and War...
… obscure crops in Peace and War…
... littering the map pervasive encounter.
… littering the map pervasive encounter.

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Mushroom...
Mushroom…
... a view to live by.
… a view to live by.
... mushroom.
… mushroom.
Feelings evoked...
Feeling evoked…
The scientific reasoning courtesy of the mycologist Alexander H. Smith on why the season now inches closer towards madness.
The scientific reasoning courtesy of the mycologist Alexander H. Smith on why the season now inches closer towards madness.

A day of foraging in Inwood Hill Park turns up those few species that winter and grow slow. Bark like.


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Two weeks later spring begins to awaken in Prospect Park. With a riot of color and a lazy sheen the debate on invasive species meets consensus – “if it can survive in Brooklyn, it’s Brooklynite.”





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As we leave we see even a queen bumblebee find her way to introspection – assuming the position for temporary poverty under glass.

Assuming the position - temporary poverty under glass.
Assuming the position – temporary poverty under glass.

Mycelia

Mycelia

Spend the day with a gaggle of Mycologists and the perspective shifts immensely. Van Cortlandt Park is still crunchy underfoot with an icy snow cover and the crew assured me we wouldn’t find any large specimen and therefore shift our focus to fungi which don’t quite fit the mold. We found lots of shelf-like mushrooms hanging off the side of logs and then those that spread across the surface of rotten twigs. We couldn’t have trudged through the woods more than three city blocks yet uncovered hundreds of oddly shaped colorful spongy life forms. Together we would walk perhaps no more than twenty paces before fanning out and then re-congregating with our finds stuck to pieces of bark or on twigs, each ushering the rattling off of a different latin incantation establishing their particular genus. Identifying characteristics such as whether they had spikes or pores, were hard like wood or soft like jelly, what colors they sported – sometimes determined by dousing them with a few drops of ammonia, sat on a shelf or had a stem – the latter which inspired much excitement in the group this early in the season. All in all with so little distance covered, the scale of having experienced this macro world for a few hours on this brisk sunny day established a serene sense of being quite apart from the rush and bustle of a hurried world.




A newly identified species around these parts.
A newly identified species around these parts.