MycoMythologies

Cultural Centre Tobačna 001, Tobačna ulica 1, Ljubljana
22 October – 03 December 2021

In her work, Saša Spačal primarily explores the entanglement of nature and culture, focusing on how all changes are embedded in an infinite number of micro and macro feedback loops, driven by the metabolism of microorganisms, which are invisible to the human eye.

In this instance, with the ongoing series MycoMythologies (2020–) that so far consists of two biotechnological installations, a video essay, and a performative workshop, she ventures underground to explore the fungal mycelium, which is the vegetative part of fungi that not only interconnects individual trees by transferring water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals between them but also constitutes their communication system.

The installations narrate stories that are taking place in two nodes of the currently dysfunctional world techno-mycelium network. MycoMythologies: Rupture is a biomimetic myocentric network with a central node in a microscope connected to a computer vision program. While the surrounding mythmaking screens show the extraction of mushrooms from their environment, the microscope sifts through the mycelial nets. With every motion detection in the hypha, the computer vision triggers a sound and different voices repeating the phrase “We can’t return to normal because the normal that we had was precisely the problem.” The movement of a speck of nutrient simultaneously causes a change in the circulation of images, which is performed by the network’s algorithm in the same way that the mycelium decides where to send nutrients.

If the first installation can be understood as an indicator of a networked world in crisis, with voices calling for change, new stories, and new ways of thinking, MycoMythologies: Patterning already develops proposals and methods to overcome pressing circumstances by establishing a dialogue with the mushroom ecosystem. This biotechnological audio-visual installation shows a growing fungal colony of a lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), which the artist has contaminated with her own microbiome of bacteria, fungi, and archaea derived from blood, sweat, and tears. The artist renders and sonifies the growth of the human-animal hybrid landscapes in real time. Using a microscope and computer vision, three screens show the process of mapping based on changes in the colour and texture of the colonies and, after the microscopic maps are processed, gathers them in the database of the Atlas of Collaborative Contamination. With this installation, the artist shows the material interconnectedness of the living and the non-living world and offers us contamination as a possibility for a productive exchange between different forms of life.

The video essay MycoMythologies: Infrastructures for Each Other combines human and mycelial components as well as algorithms to reflect on interspecies infrastructures as supporting elements of an ecosystem. Whether they are the achievements of humanity or of other living entities, they are interlinked either because of physical contact or because the designs of our devices and objects are often derived from biological creations.

In her series MycoMythologies, Spačal uses the method of narrating myths, which are not just stories, but are always connected to practices, rituals, and repetitions. She uses them because they can be embedded with ethical considerations. The series thus acts as a testing ground for change, allowing us to go beyond the techno-deterministic predictions and end-of-the-world scenarios of the Anthropocene. In addition to concepts such as inclusion, empathy, and care for the Other, the artist further introduces a polyphony of voices that serve as a metaphor for the fact that there is no clear and simple solution to the current circumstance.

Colophon

Saša Spačal:
MycoMythologies, 2020-
Two biotechnological installations, a video essay, and a performative workshop

Production: Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana & Projekt Atol Institute
Exhibition curator & text: Alenka Trebušak
Programming, computer vision: Matic Potočnik
Sound, software design: Pim Boreel, Saša Spačal
Microbiology, technical support: Mirjan Švagelj
Video footage: Tilen Sepič
Voice: Polona Torkar
Song: Kaitlin Bryson, Saša Spačal
StyleGAN: Kaitlin Bryson, Matea Friend
Mycelium micrographs, technical support: Toby Kiers Laboratory (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Suppport: Projekt Atol, MGML, KID Kibla, PIFcamp, Zone2Source, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Toby Kiers Laboratory (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Design: Ajdin Bašić
Realisation of the exhibition: Technical Service MGML
The exhibition was made possible by: City of Ljubljana and Ministry of Culture of Republic of Slovenia

Bio

Saša Spačal is a postmedia artist working at the intersection of living systems research, contemporary and sound art. Her work focuses primarily on the posthuman condition, where human beings exist and act as one of many elements in the ecosystem and not as sovereigns. Therefore abandoning the Cartesian system of classification and accepting the fact that the field of technology has expanded not only from hardware to software but also to wetware resulting in hybrid phenomena inscribed in mechanical, digital and organic logic.
Her work was exhibited and performed at venues and festivals such as Ars Electronica Festival (AT), Prix Cube Exhibition (FR), Transmediale Festival (DE), Athens Digital Arts Festival (GR), Perm Museum of Contemporary Art (RUS), Onassis Cultural Center Athens (GR), Chronos Art Center (CHN), Eyebeam (USA), Cynetart Festival (DE), National Art Museum of China (CHN), Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova (SI), Kapelica Gallery (SI), Device_art (CRO), Art Laboratory Berlin (DE), Kiblix Festival (SI), Gallery of Contemporary Art Celje (SI), Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina (SRB), Lisboa Soa Festival (PT), Sonica Festival (SI). She was awarded Prix Ars Electronica Honorary Mention, nominated for Prix Cube and New Technology Art Award.

Saša Spačal