Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Unearthing the mysteries of the mushroom
I truly had a “SensoriuM” revelation on this amazing mushroom walk, given by Alexis Williams. I was so impressed with Sensorium's mission – to bring to fellow SensoriuM followers the chance to discover through our senses, both the physical and taste experience which we either ignore or know very little about. Natalie, an engaging performance artist whose work involves space and place discovery and her partner Eric – a rock climber during summer and winter (ice climbing mountaineer too) arranged the car pooling up to Montreal’s Morgan Arboretum in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. It was exceptionally well organized. The couple’s commitment to what they do (no one pays them) is palatable. I truly admire their spirit and innovative sharing approach that allows others the opportunity for holistic and stimulating discovery at every SensoriuM event.
This particular outing introduced us (we numbered over 20 eager scouts strong) to mushroom maven and guru gal herself – the awesome Alexis Williams.
Although Alexis claims she isn’t a scientist, but rather a passionate forger, grower, eater and artist focused on mushrooms, her vast knowledge thoroughly impressed us as did her primordial instincts, eagle eye and astounding fact retention regarding the complexities of the oft misunderstood and underappreciated world of the mysterious mushroom. She started by showing us her foraging tools: a basket, a special knife, an axe, her portable mushroom guide, and more. She explained us the many ways different species multiply and how they live off trees, sometimes even eating the bark, and their role in creating the very soil we walk on.
In fact, as we tread through the Arboretum’s Climax Forest in the grey fall wet weather – yes, it was a rainy day, she pointed out that the leaves we were walking on would disappear as compost, thanks to the mushrooms manner of decomposing that which falls on the ground. It was a day of colour with the fall leaves and the mushrooms; the hours flew by.She encouraged us to find mushrooms, and that we did. It was an interactive adventure that each of us took as we went on our discovery journey finding mushrooms with Alexis leading the way - eyes peeled to the ground or looking waist-high as we witnessed tree trunks rising tall and those that had fallen.
I had no idea that the world is populated with 5million different kinds of mushrooms and that there are 13 sex genders to mushrooms. On this walk, we had a “taste” of such mushroom mania; a myriad of mushrooms that delighted our senses. They provided a feast for the eyes; we also touched them, and smelled them and stood in wonder at the brilliant hues, even the dark brown brilliant ones. I loved the turkey tail mushroom with their fanning feature enhanced by rippling lines hued in turquoise. The inky capped one that left within two short days an inky trail at its life end was petite but impressive. In fact, Alexis has used its ink to dye her stockings. She was wearing one such pair with its brown stripes – thanks to this inky little mushroom. The disco lemonade mushroom with its brilliant tiny yellow spots clinging to down-on-the-ground tree trunks was an Alexis' favourite.
Then there were the puff ball ones. We had fun playing with them. They emitted a surprising smoky plume from their tops as we squeezed them. A row of black deadman’s fingers brazenly poked up from a log – each one seemed to be “giving us the finger” and the sky above. Far more regal was the artist conch mushroom; it was most impressive as it robustly juts out from trees. Alexis had etched a wonderful series of tiny criss-cross patterns in the one she owns. She explained that she can use it as a slow cooker by burrowing a hole in it, and that inside its layers is fluff.
There was the honey mushroom, the spongy coral mushroom and so many more – some not edible – others were.
As we reluctantly headed back to the chalet to enjoy the home brewed chaga mushroom tea (the big mushroom soaking in the big pot), we were most happy. We had gone on a magical mushroom tour set me on my own private journey to discover more next time I tread the forest floor.
Below is a marvellous sampling of the prints Alexis makes from the mushrooms she photographs and turns into art. She’s an intrepid mushroom collector who utilizes every spore to grow more mushrooms; she makes complete use of these fascinating ‘creatures’. Their secrets will come out of hiding with Alexis at the helm.
Definition of a climax forest:
Climax vegetation is the vegetation which establishes itself on a given site for given climatic conditions in the absence of major disturbance after a long time. Tropical evergreen forest is an example of climax vegetation, as are temperate forests, tundra, savannas, grassland etcetera...
The SensoriuM is a collaborative artistic platform founded by multimedia and performance artist Natalie Doonan in Montreal, Canada in 2011. Le / The SensoriuM is an alternative tourism bureau of sorts that re-conceptualizes consumption through active participation in the production of social space. Le / TheSensoriuM presents participatory art performances with the aim of generating conversation. Through tours and tastings led by artists, participants are engaged viscerally, creating spaces for discussion. Tours and tastings are two major forms through which stories about place proliferate and Le / The SensoriuM offers chances to unsettle staid narratives. This approach to collective learning through walking and eating is a new take on an old theme. For example, Aristotle founded the Lyceum, a school of philosophy, in Athens circa 335 BCE. It is said that on the grounds of this property, he established the first zoo and the first botanical gardens. These became the field for his famous investigations in the natural sciences. In the mornings, Aristotle walked and exchanged knowledge with his students through discussion and debate in the gardens. This was continued through lunch, as they ate together. Aristotle’s ambling academy became known as ‘the peripatetic school,’ drawing from the Greek for ‘walking about.’ Today, the city becomes the field for peripatetic and culinary investigations.
The purpose of Le / The SensoriuM is thus to activate public space through physical occupation and through open, ongoing exchange. As authors Jody Emel and Jennifer Wolch say: "Our political project is the creation of many forms of shared space.”
For more information on the SensoriuM go to: http://www.lesensorium.com
or email / firstname.lastname@example.org