2016 Honorable Mention – Siena McKim
The world that exists under our feet and in our air and spaces is populated by fungal spores looking for a place to start anew. Fungi are everywhere, not just in the soil. They coexist with us without much notice, but they are essential to our modern-day existence. They helped to create fossil fuels, and they are used in medicine. They provide nutrition and are in healthy soil that promotes the growth of the produce we consume. In this painting, I wanted to draw the connection between fungi and our reality, how they exist all around us and support us. Fungi spores are in the food we eat and in the air we breathe. We are one.
I was inspired to do this piece by my life-long passion for walking in the forest and my interest in mushrooms. I have had a bittersweet relationship with mushrooms. Sometimes I loved their taste and other times hated it, but from an early age I knew that they were special because they were neither plant nor animal. Today, I know that they are in a kingdom of their own, being “the second largest group of organisms with 1.5 million species” (Eugenia Bone), and that most mushrooms live off of plants digesting their food with enzymes like animals.
What brought home their importance for me was an article I read last year by BBC journalist, Nic Fleming, called Plants Talk to Each Other Using an Internet of Fungus. It tells how fungi threads, mycelium, are the first internet, a “wood wide web”, because plants connect to this network and communicate through it with their plant neighbors. They share nutrients or introduce toxic chemicals to kill unwanted plants. The article references a study from 1997 by Suzanne Simard that showed older trees donated carbon to shade-bound younger seedlings that would be otherwise short of food. This was done through the mycelium. To me, fungi provide a language to the earth, going where it needs to and communicating with all species of plants to create a fundamental dialect.
A month ago, on a surprisingly rainy southern California day, I took a nature walk. I came across a fallen tree with an array of bright colors on its surface, bark and fungi, saturated by the rain. It spoke to me as an image to paint, a place to start my journey as an abstract artist and to help connect humans and nature back together as one. I wanted to be like fungi, interweaving my art into people’s lives to remind them of our reliance on nature. In my piece, Fungi Internet, I used oil paint to abstract and manipulate the image I photographed of the fallen tree in order to communicate our interwoven life with fungi. All of the colors float around the painting ignoring any boundaries.
- Bone, Eugenia and Schwartzberg, Louie. Fifty Fungi Facts. Los Angles: Moving Art, LLC, 2014. Print.
- Fleming, Nic. “Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus.” BBC Earth, 11 November 2014. Web. 1 January 2016