Research on interdisciplinary practices
de Costanza Givone
Mycelium is my starting point and inspiration.
The idea behind the research is to look for ways of turning the spotlight away from the product and instead, towards the path, the detours, the encounters, that slow us down and transform our way. I see the process as an infinite becoming, in which fruitful bodies appear in the most unexpected places. Throughout this research, I will define interdisciplinary work practices inspired from the encounter between this underground world and artists who develop a work of proximity to the context.
In October mushrooms began to appear in our space CAMPO, however the dismantling of the summer vegetable garden and the preparation of the soil for winter, led me to observe the subterranean world of beings and roots that live under our feet.
Mycelium, the vegetative apparatus of mushrooms, runs underground in a dense network of connections between plants. The mycelium is the carrier of vitally important nutrients, it transports information, it has a symbiotic relationship with the roots that makes us wonder where the mycelium begins and where the plant ends. The mycelium makes choices on the paths it constructs and, based on the availability of these nutritive elements, defines how much to give to the plants. In its growth process, its body interconnects, without defined limits, with other bodies and is capable of making choices, without having a centralised structure. It seems to act in an "intelligent" way, having neither brain, body nor centre (from the Latin intelligere, from inter and leger: to choose between).
The behaviour of the mycelium is highly inspiring, either because it unveils a highly active underground world or because it makes us to think about other types of 'intelligence' and forms of 'cooperation' and 'communication'.
If the capitalist system has given priority to activities that follow the principle of scalability, meaning that, it requires the elements of a project to be indifferent to the indeterminacy of the encounter, to allow an easy expansion, through the multiplication of the elements. On the other side, mycelium privileges the encounter, the unique synergy created by the meeting of two or more different identities.
The mycelium is, in this work, the mentor, the inspirer of practices, sometimes already known, other times new, but all with the aim to propose alternatives to the hierarchical system of decision and creation, searching for a cooperative way of work. I say cooperative and not collective, because I believe in the importance of the coexistence of unique individualities, and the richness of the communication between different identities, “differences do not oppose, they connect” ( Poetique de la relation, Edouard Glissant, 1990), as in a polyphonic song where the music born from the unicity of each singer’s line.
Back on the surface, Stefano Mancuso (La rivoluzione delle piante, 2017), biologist, wrote about the qualities that have allowed trees to survive, adopting systems opposite to animals: where animals flee, trees stay, animals consume Oxigênio, trees produce it, animals eat food, plants produce food, etc...
One of the characteristics that Mancuso points out, is the absence of a decisional centre and of specialised organs for each function, trees breathe with all their body, see with all their body, feed with all their body and I would ad, thanks to the cooperation of the connection created by micellar networks. So plants cannot be killed hitting one unique organ, as happens with animals. Plants distribute the vital functions throughout the body and out of it, and this allows them to resist external attacks without moving. If we take out the possibility of moving, any highly centralised organism will be much more fragile than cooperative and flexible organisms where decisions are shared. On the other hand, centralisation guarantees speed in the decision-making process, but is this still what we are looking for? Speed or resilience?
Faced with a changing context, plants cannot move like animals, but they can adapt to changes. All this is possible not only thanks to the morphology of the plant but also thanks to the network that the plant has with its neighbours (for instance, through the links created by the mycelium, which is able to "warn" the plant in case of danger and distribute nutritious substances from the strongest to the weakest). I believe, that in nowadays changing world, this skills are extremely inspiring.
In this project I try to deconstruct the dialectic structure where the subject (human being) studies / manipulates / uses the object (environment / other) in a hierarchic logic, placing himself in a privileged place and not considering the complex network of connections that makes him part of a whole. I try to establish a dialogue with the natural world through listening and communication practices based on the idea that our body-Oikos (home to the innumerable population of fungi and bacteria that inhabit it) is part of a matrioska that is the world ecosystem (ecology, from greek oikos and logos: study of life as a set of binomials contained within each other).
I’m working with a series of practices that can be inscribed in these 4 large families:
1) Mushroom hunting or looking for spontaneous plants
The mushrooms, mycelium fruit and reproductive system, appear at our feet revealing a forgotten underground world. The practice of “mushrooms hunting” from a metaphorical point of view, is the first phase of getting to know a place, a phase of more intimate reflection where the focus is on what is hidden, it is a solitary or collective moment, where we are together in a state of listening and observation.
2) Growing roots
The practices I propose have a dialectical progression of observation and action, of intimacy and sharing. “Growing roots" is the phase in which the mycelium expand in the ground and start knowing the characteristics of the soil. Observation becomes more active, and prepares the phase of action; it is a tactile and sensorial observation of the environment and of the living that inhabit it.
A mycorrhiza (from Greek mykes: mushroom, rhiza: root) is the symbiotic association between a green plant and a fungus. This is the phase of encounter between two different identity, which, on one hand, recognise their differences and the importance of these differences to survive, on other hand, start a mutualist association in which the limit of their body expand in the body of the other. As a practice, it is one of the more challenging phase, because it asks for a great change in our way of thinking. This encounter needs time and care over time. This is the time of plants, opposed to the time of animals. It is the time to exchange information and nutrients. This is the practice of creating a space and situation where no one is the leader and everybody is responsible for the manifestation of this encounter.
The mushroom is the manifestation of the underground life. It could be poisoned, good to eat or hallucinogenic. It is the symbol of the creation in a certain time and space, it is never a final product, but a manifestation of the path and the encounters that happened underground. We share the mushrooms to expand our network.
This space will be one of the manifestation of the research, reflexion and practices will be shared here.
Stefano Mancuso, Plant revolution, Giunti editore, 2017
Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life, 2020
Anne Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, (2015)
Edouard Glissant, Poetique de la relation, (1990)
Paul Stamets, Fantastic Fungi, (2022)