What if mushrooms can help us grow new economies of care?

How Helen Chen's ‘Fruiting Bodies’ harnesses fungal futures for our collaborative survival.

Internet of Mycelium (IoM) | Image courtesy of Helen Chen

As Louie Schwartzberg’s popular 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi reveals, mushrooms are one such non-human life form with invisible yet far reaching and impressive powers. Mycelium, a fungal colony that runs web-like through soil, is vital to ecosystems. It connects plants and trees within a forest, absorbing and distributing nutrients to the surrounding environment and even cleaning petroleum and pesticides from the ground.

Helen Chen, a design student in the Products of Design masters program at New York’s School of Visual Arts set out to explore how mycelium can act as a nurturing and protective infrastructure for the polluted wastelands that we have all too often abandoned of our care. Seeking to place mushrooms and humans as collaborative partners, she created Internet of Mycelium (IoM) as an holistic and affordable approach to regenerating urban soil systems.

Mycoremediation Kit | Image courtesy of Helen Chen

Individuals are mailed a mycoremediation kit, filled with vials of mushroom spores that have been customized to the particular needs of your soil. IoM also provides on-site soil sampling and post-remediation consulting for best land maintenance practices. The entire mycoremediation project takes 12-15 weeks from start to finish, and includes an online soil lab to help share soil health data and knowledge in communities. The kit is also equipped with an interactive ceremonial ritual that invites people to grow mushrooms at home and make offerings to fungi as they break down man-made waste.

How it Moves us, Forward

Chen’s project emerged from her interest in environmental disaster responses that are radical, accessible and community empowering. By grounding her inquiry in deep respect for nature’s wondrous abilities, she saw an opportunity to develop a more collaborative partnership between species. Her experimental approach relies on a thoughtful and engaged activation between humans and fungi. It requires inter-species communication that is nurtured through observation and care. It can only bear fruit with attentiveness. Chen proves if we look beyond the narrow view of human-centered systems and tend to our collective biomes and metabolisms, we can unlock a deeper aliveness for human and non-human life in our communities.

Fruiting Bodies: Fungal Futures for Collaborative Survival | Image courtesy of Helen Chen

Where We Can Go From Here

We hope Chen’s work can inspire an approach to innovation that empowers individuals and communities to develop their own care-based economies. Imagine if municipalities and governments distributed GIY (grow-it-yourself) fungi kits to empower communities in collective soil health and waste reduction. Imagine if fungi were to spawn a new kind of 3D printer, where waste becomes food. Scientists have already proven pure lab-grown mycelium can generate a natural adhesive material that, when baked holds an equivalent strength to PVC. Why not offer an affordable culture kit and kiln where fungus could break down everything from plastics to pantyhose and continuously mold itself into new products.

We invite you to explore new ways of nurturing a more wondrous and thoughtful relationship to the living world.

More Fodder for Fungal Futures

Why the Hidden World of Fungi is Essential to Life on Earth | The Guardian
Entangled Life | Penguin Random House
Is Fungus the Material of the Future? | Smithsonian Magazine
A Fungal Future | Micropia Museum

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