Samantha Jones

REAL Barrow Artist in Residence

On The Field

This artist’s residency has been one of live research and development at Art Gene and Allotment Soup – to explore, experiment, discuss and collaborate in growing furniture from the living root system of fungi, mycelium. Mycelium is a network of fungal threads that connect to form a sustainable and eco-friendly bio fabrication material when grown within a substrate, allowing it to colonise and obtain its nourishment.

This is a living process, which needs the correct nourishment, time, environment, climate, and air to breath. Each element is symbiotically connected to enable the mycelium network to flourish or fail; in itself, its production reflects the precariousness of natural/human ecosystems.

Concept development

During the initial R&D test period, as resident artist I began to spend time with the different people who work on, also known by volunteers as ‘The Field’, to understand it’s ephemeral and seasonal nature: observing, talking, working, and listening.

Over this period, it became apparent that there was not only a natural system growing on the field, but also a human system of people working on it in tandem, together, and caring for each other: Art Gene staff, allotment holders and migrant volunteers, on their way, hopefully to their new permanent home. All were making their mark on the field and sharing a communal understanding of the work needed care for it, without sharing a common language. So I began to create a ‘language of the field’, translating words commonly used when growing food into codex to be used both functionally and also to grow and embed within the living furniture as a testament of the people who have become part it, until, like all things natural, the furniture degrades and is put back into the soil to nourish it.

 

Preparing the materials used to cast living furniture

We began by sterilising the substrate and adding Reishi mushroom grain spawns to it, then gave it time, darkness and a comfortable temperature (21-25 degrees) with approx. 89 % humidity to enable it to colonise the material, so it became ready to cast into moulds. We chose Reishi mushroom due to its virulent mycelium growth, combined with a substrate of oak wood chip (Reishi grows on wood in the wild) and hemp shiv (a composite building material).

 

Casting process phase 1: Together we cast small individual bowls to test the response of the bio-material and we waited, letting them grow for around 1 week and baking them for 2 hours at 200 degrees Celsius to end the colonisation cycle and to stop the fungi from fruiting.

 

Casting process phase 2: To test words embedded into the substrate, communally we cast a larger bowl with the word ‘Walney’ cut out of plasticene and wrapped in cling film (so as not to contaminate the substrate). We let it colonise within the mould for around 2 weeks and again baked it to end the growth process.

 

Casting process phase 3: We developed a mould for a table consisting of an aerated lid, to allow for air circulation, and it was communally cast with the words ‘ON THE FIELD’ placed within it. This was grown for 3 weeks within a darkened polytunnel and removed from its mould to begin stopping the colonisation cycle – it is on the field today to begin to cure, through exposing it to light, air and warmth. Please do not touch it yet!

 

Casting process phase 4: Through workshops during the residency, we have cast multiple small bowls with residents. These continue to grow, as do larger bowls with ‘Share’ and ‘Field’ written within them. We have also designed and tested casting stool tops with the words ‘Sea’, ‘Land‘, and ’Gift’ in both English and Amharic/Aramaic?, just one of the many languages spoken in Eritrea where some of the volunteers on Allotment Soup are from.

 

Further research and production: Cube stool moulds have been built and will be cast over the coming months with a little further R&D to test for structural integrity and potential contamination once an internal wooden structure is added. ‘On The Field’ codex will continue to grow (to include Eritrea’s languages – Tigrinya, Tigre, Kunama, Bilen, Nara, Saho, Afar, and Beja) and its words will be grown with these cube stools. Reishi mushrooms are also currently being grown through to fruiting stage for harvest, with the intention to create products, such as tea to share with volunteers once the Field’s furniture is complete.

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