MYCO-RISE: An Edible Mushroom Sculpture Experiment
(LIC, New York ◦ 2018-2019)

Concept

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 decomposing from weather exposure and fungal decomposition, forming blooming towers of harvestable mushrooms. Over time, the pieces will fully biodegrade, feeding the underlying soil with mycelium-rich organic material.


Proposal Rendering Completed Sculptures

Original proposal rendering and completed sculptures.



Partnerships


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 Arts
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 Grant, funding the project’s installation.



Lead artist Brian Soliwoda and youth artists from Hour Children during the sculpture builds.



Myco-Rise: 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.

Preliminary Results: The papier-mâché skin has proven much more durable than anticipated. The exoskeleton did not begin to biodegrade until September 2018, more than 3 months after the initial installation. The sculptures exhibited superficial molds on the surfaces of the sculptures that could be washed away with soap and water. The strong integrity of the papier-mâché also had the unexpected effect of increasing carbon dioxide levels within the sculpture, resulting in the first mushroom flushes appearing from the ground at the base of the sculptures. The skins of all sculptures were scored in November to vent the carbon dioxide.

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.

Preliminary Results: Sculptures inoculated with yellow oyster mushroom bloomed twice in October and December of 2018. The PoHu mushroom tower bloomed once in December. The lion's mane tower has not yet fruited. Initial blooms were concentrated at the base of the sculpture due to high carbon dioxide levels inside the totems (due to the papier-mâché skin, as noted above). After scoring the skins, a second bloom of yellow oyster mushrooms appeared throughout the first 2 feet of the sculpture (at the intersections of the thickest discs).

Biodegrading sculptures with early mushroom blooms in fall 2018.


Winter sculpture conditions and mushrooms harvested from the sculpture being used by local chef.


Future of the Project

The Myco-Rise installation period and formal experiment monitoring will end in June 2019. Please watch our calendar for volunteer opportunities to maintain, observe, and learn more about the sculptures before the installation conclusion.

Please also join us for our Fungi Festival celebrating the exhibition closing on June 22nd! this gathering will unite many of the artists, gardeners, and mushroom fans that have been involved with or following the project, so watch for additional details in our calendar.

The final experimental results will be posted to this page in July. Smiling Hogshead Ranch will be keeping the mushroom towers active as ongoing productive totems, so you will still be able to visit the ranch after the exhibition period's end to watch their gradual biodegradation process!