Myco-Rise: An Edible Mushroom Sculpture Experiment

Long Island City, New York | 2018 - Present

The practice of “regenerative agriculture” advocates for designs that inherently benefit ecological health, community integration, and food security. Myco-Rise applies these regenerative agriculture principles to creative design, creating art that improves its local ecosystem, engages the surrounding community, and produces edible food. The project is an experimental sculptural installation that artistically explores open questions about standard mushroom farming practices. The project consists of four biodegradable sculptures that are gradually decompose from weather exposure and fungal decomposition to form blooming towers of harvestable mushrooms. Over time, the pieces will fully biodegrade, feeding the underlying soil with mycelium-rich organic material.

Project Partners

Smiling Hogshead Ranch

An urban farm collective whose mission is to create a culture that empowers and connects our communities through ecology, education and collaboration. Smiling Hogshead Ranch is hosting this project within their Long Island City community farm.

Hour Children

A NYC-based non-profit seeking to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration by helping incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children successfully rejoin the community, reunify with their families, and build healthy, independent, and secure lives. Youth artists from Hour Children’s Teen Scene participated in the design and build for some of the sculptures.

Burning Man Global Art

The Burning Man movement supports community-driven, inclusive, and interactive art as a vital component for a thriving culture. The Myco-Rise sculptural experiment is one of twenty-one international recipients of the 2018 Burning Man Global Arts Grants, funding the project’s installation.

Art as Citizen Science

The Myco-Rise sculptures use a traditional “totem” method of gourmet mushroom growing that layers hardwood disks with mushroom spawn. This method is a lengthy process that can take up to a year from inoculation to harvest, so mushroom farmers typically cannot risk experimentation that might reduce or fail to produce yields. Myco-Rise is a unique opportunity for the artistic community to take that risk, with the potential for introducing new production methods and establishing a role for art in science-based agricultural experimentation.

Experiment One

Hypothesis: A biodegradable papier-mâché skin for the totems will offer the same protective characteristics as the industry standard of using polyethylene bags.

Testing: All four sculptures have fully biodegradable skins using a simple papier-mâché (flour, water, and paper products). As a control for the experiment, a fifth totem is not sculpted, but is just protected using the standard method of a polyethylene bag.

Measurement: The sculptures and the control are being monitored to determine the durability of papier-mâché as an artistic medium in agricultural settings, the ability of different mushroom species to consume and biodegrade the skin, and the impact on harvests in comparison to standard practices.

Experiment Two

Hypothesis: Shorter disks will fruit earlier than taller disks.

Testing: Commercial growers typically use 12” hardwood disks, but it is hypothesized that mushroom spawn will “run” through shorter disks more quickly, accelerating the production cycle. All four sculptures have different disk sections consisting of 12”, 6”, and 3” cuts, as well as a cavity packed with mushroom spawn and sawdust.

Measurement: Sections of each sculpture are being individually monitored for evidence of mycelium running and fruiting, to determine if shorter disks achieve earlier yields.