This is a journey of discovery in nature, art, and science. The exhibition “The Language of Mushrooms: The Interspecies Internet,” which opened on August 27 at Contemporary Gallery Kunming, brings us closer to the world of mushrooms in diverse, unimaginable ways, showing us the roles mushrooms play in the natural world, and how mushrooms influence our consciousness, reshape our understanding of life, and the wisdom of interspecies symbiosis.
The exhibition brings us into a mushroom world in which mycology, ecology, sociology, art, and literature are all intertwined. Zang Mu, who expanded the field of mycology in southwest China, and avant-garde composer and artist John Cage, were both pioneers in their respective fields. They both loved to scour the mountain forests for traces of mushrooms, recording their discoveries and insights about mushrooms in the form of field notes or conceptual art. They meet at the opposite ends of science and art, guiding us to listen to “The Language of Mushrooms.” Thirty-four individuals and groups of mycologists, scientific illustrators, artists, photographers, and writers from China, America, Switzerland, France, Canada, and Australia, mushroom allies from a wide range of fields, bring together this multidisciplinary exhibition centered on the mushroom, weaving together a diverse network from species consciousness and living awareness.
We begin this mushroom journey in Yunnan, home to China’s richest collection of wild mushrooms. It was here that Zang Mu, a pioneer of higher fungi research in southwest China, and those who followed after, such as Yang Zhuliang and his research team, made many important discoveries regarding fungal diversity, leaving us with a rich trove of vivid field notes and world-leading mycological research results. Hand in hand with mycological research, scientific illustrators such as Zeng Xiaolian and Yang Jiankun have created intricate and vivid paintings of fungi. The rich natural environment and plethora of mushroom species have led local Yunnan artists Yu Jian, Tang Zhigang, Zeng Xiaofeng, Zi Bai, Li Ji, and Li Rui deep into the kingdom of fungi, where they have found an inexhaustible source of creative energy.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. The main body is the mass of mycelium growing beneath the ground. Mycelium is like the Internet of the forest, linking organisms together. The mushrooms that grow from the mycelium often grow as companions to other species, forming a relationship of interspecies interdependence.
Located on China’s southwestern frontier, Yunnan Province is home to one of the largest concentrations of wild mushroom species in the world. Southwest China is one of 34 recognized biodiversity hotspots around the world. Exhibition artistic director and Contemporary Gallery Kunming Director Nie Rongqing stated that Contemporary Gallery Kunming will draw on the rich natural resources of the local region to establish a global knowledge network for equal dialogue between different fields and species, and that the museum will develop a series of exhibitions and art projects to promote biological diversity. Mutual adaptation and symbiosis among the species and between the species and the environment are only possible in an environment of biological diversity.
This gathering between art and science, which began in Yunnan for the interpretation of the “Language of Mushrooms,” will continuously reach and expand around the globe, weaving a “mycelium network” spreading the wisdom of symbiosis and interspecies connection.
This exhibition was organized by Contemporary Gallery Kunming, co-organized by The Art Newspaper Chinese Edition, and supported by Pro Helvetia Shanghai, Swiss Arts Council, Institut français, and M Art Foundation.
Participants: Stephen Axford & Catherine Marciniak, John Cage, Cao Shuyi, Cheng Xinhao, Wim van Egmond, Anne-Charlotte Finel, Guo Hongwei, Yulia Iosilzon, Li Ji, Li Jikai, Li Rui, Long Pan, Marion Neumann, Rahel Oberhummer, Qiu Xiaofei, Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger, Monica Studer/Christoph van den Berg, Sui Jianguo, Tang Zhigang, Wang Yiyi, Yan Bing, Yan Xiaojing, Yang Jiankun, Trevor Yeung, Yang Zhuliang, Yu Jian, Zang Mu, Zeng Xiaofeng, Zeng Xiaolian, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Zipiao, Zheng Bo, Zhou Yilun, Zi Bai