This month, Peter McCoy and Radical Mycology are being featured in an international art-ecology exhibition at Le Commun in Geneva, Switzerland as a part of a month-long exhibition series entitled La Sémiosphère du Commun.
Over the course of three weeks, Peter held several workshops and presentations on his unique approach to working with and teaching about fungi and also worked in collaboration with filmmaker Marion Neumann and artist collaboratory Utopiana founder Anna Barseghian to design several installation components that were inspired by ideas presented in Peter’s book. Though the project just opened the other day, it has already some great local press in a few places so far. For all the details, check the video and images below and see the event’s full description at the bottom.
The impetus behind the whole exhibition series was to remediate the wooden bricks that make up the floor of the gallery. After denial from the government (which owns the building), the idea spawned into a larger series of questions about how to engage with fungi and other organisms to not just heal the environment, but learn from and recognize our relationship to it.
The five main components were a mini-mushroom lab where liquid inoculum (culture) and spawn are produced, a mock oil spill, mycorediation of household waste, mycorediation of used cigarette filters, mycorediation of “bricks,” and a fruiting environment for mushroom growing. Click on the image for the full resolution panorama.
In the mushroom lab, grains were inoculated on three separate dates, each 3 days apart, to demonstrate how quickly mushroom mycelium grows.
Following up on Peter’s novel approach to growing mushrooms on cigarette filters to degrade the chemicals they contain, part of the workshop series taught participants how to repeat the methodology Peter developed at home.
Dozens of small vials were made.
Oil-soaked cardboard mixed with used coffee grounds, and mushroom mycelium. Over the coming weeks, the mycelium will digest the chemicals into simpler and (likely) less-toxic byproducts.
Mimicking an oil spill, used motor oil was mixed with soil to then be remedaited by a mushrooms (the Pearl Oyster [Pleurotus ostreatus]). Pasteurized straw and mushroom mycelium were added and the timer set to see how long it would take for the mushroom to take over the substrate.
There were a ton of other amazing projects and exhibits as a part of the exhibition. Here, an open-source theramin is hooked up to pads of moss from various polluted sites, with their differing conductivity being translated into down sampled frequency generators.
An employee from CERN demonstrated his hand-made emission detector hooked up to an iPad. As electrons, alpha, beta, or gamma particles are detected, the signal is translated into an audio signal with the Korg synthesizer (upper right).
Soil and water cultures from a lake in Romania polluted by a nearby aluminum processing facility.
The project entitled « The Semiosphere of the Commun » emerges from the very space of Le Commun. We learned that in 2006 the Building Services entrusted the engineering-environment-safety company Ecoservices SA to carry out tests for pollutants potentially present at the BAC. In parallel, the STEB (Service de toxicologie de L’environnement bâti du Canton de Genève – the Service of Toxicology Service of the Built Environment, Geneva Canton) measured the quality of air in a number of spaces of the building. The laboratories tested the samples taken from the floors and the false ceilings for presence of heavy metals, PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and asbestos, and found an important level of hydrocarbon pollution in all surface samples taken from the wooden and screed floors, dating back and inherited from the industrial period of the building. The PAHs were also present and even released in more or less important quantities depending on temperature variations. Heavy metals were occasionally present in excess. The tests showed presence of asbestos in the glue used to fix the wooden floors on the ground floor as well as in the ceiling panels. The detected asbestos is non-porous and does not present a health hazard as long as it remains untouched. In conclusion, Ecoservices SA considers the site to be contaminated, but without danger for medium term occupants.
In its activities Utopiana is interested in questions and alternative methods of decontamination. In 2015 and as an interventionist artistic gesture, we submitted an in situ project to the Geneva authorities, which consisted in the partial decontamination of the floor of Le Commun by a remedial action thanks to mushrooms and phytomining.
We consider this situation to be an opportunity to enlarge the fields of knowledge so as to address more deeply the question of the environment. In fact, we want to conceive differently the very idea of the environment (Umwelt) so that it integrates different theoretical, institutional, and political factors and takes into account various pragmatic engagements.
Other than the knowledge of ecological processes, the solution to these problems also requires understanding of human behaviour because the semiotic aspects of the human-nature relationships that are important in this context and in others are not yet sufficiently understood or considered.
The scaffold that has been erected from the space of Le Commun presents itself as a “relational biosphere” which attempts to weave new frames uniting “two cultures”: the humanities and the arts on the one hand, and the technical and natural sciences on the other. Or, more generally – the union of the cultural fields and those dealing with natural phenomena. In order for us to understand and to act in the current ecological situation, we propose to consider human culture as a sphere of continuous interplay of signs – as a semiosphere, as an open entity which constantly influences and is being influenced – and to underline the importance of the processes of symbiosis at the interior and exterior limits of this semiosphere. Just as much as the biosphere is necessary for the existence of different terrestrial species, the semiosphere precedes the existence of meanings that populate it. Thus, Le Commun interlocks the real, physical space and the social, virtual one.
We must understand the similar dynamics that manifest themselves on all levels of the living (semiosphere, biosphere, Umwelt) in order to understand the rupture that man has created in his environment through the production and accumulations of materials that no longer partake in the recycling of elements of our ecosystem.
The concept of the semiosphere is considered in its relational capacity for a future of the ecology of thought, of subjectivity, of desire, of power, of affect – in short, of modes of existence.