Fungi Cosmology: dialogue between art and science

Pro Helvetia South America, Art+
Picture of table with several leaves,. On top of them are fungi, tree trunks and petri dishes
Fungi analysis during trip to the Amazon (Brazil), photo by Rodrigo Valle

A long-term project, revolving around the fungi kingdom, “Fungi Cosmology” explores a transdisciplinary dialogue between art and science in different countries.

Bringing together science and arts professionals from Brazil, Chile, and Switzerland, the research includes lectures, workshops, and expeditions, with study focuses in Manaus [Brazil], Tierra del Fuego [Chile], and the Alps [Switzerland].

The first destination was the Brazilian Amazon, in March of 2023, including a field trip to Manaus City, ecological reserves, and Cuieiras River. The second, in March 2024, is to the Chilian Patagonia. And the last one, in the second half of 2024, to Vevey [Switzerland].

During these encounters, the diverse group of artists, scientists, and curators build common methodologies and strengthen processes, studies, and possible discoveries.


“It has been a super challenging project because there are thousands of complexities due to the time difference, different languages, and contexts. So, it is like a constant physical and mental exercise, but also exciting.”

María Luisa Murillo, project’s co-creator

“But it’s incredible that we have this perspective of working in three years, of long-term exchanges, and the possibility of not knowing the final product.”

Lilian Fraiji, co-creator

Read María Luisa and Lilian’s full interview in our Guide to Residencies in South America


Participants

Artists

Portrait of artist v, white man with short hair and beard, He's smiling and holding a bookmark on the right hand

Jorgge Menna Barreto (Brazil)

Brazilian artist and educator, whose practice and research have been dedicated to site-specific art for over 20 years. In 2014, he worked on a postdoctoral research project at Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, Brazil, where he collaborated with a biologist and an agronomist to study relations between site-specific art and agroecology, centring around agroforestry. In 2020 he completed a second postdoctoral research fellowship at Liverpool John Moores University, England, which led to the work he presented at the Liverpool Biennial in 2021. Menna Barreto approaches site-specificity from a critical and South American perspective.

Portrait of artist Seba Calfuqueo, looking sideways, with long dark hair

Seba Calfuqueo (Chile)

Visual Artist and Curator at Espacio 218. They live and work in Santiago de Chile. They are part of the Mapuche collective Rangiñtulewfü and Yene Revista. Of Mapuche Origin, their work recurs to their cultural heritage as a starting point in order to propose a critical reflection on the social, cultural, and political status of the Mapuche subject within contemporary Chilean society. Their work includes installation, ceramics, performance and video, with the aim of exploring the cultural similarities and differences between the crossing of indigenous and Western ways of thinking, as well as their stereotypes. Their goal is also to make the issues regarding feminism and queer theory visible.

Black and White Portrait of artist Valentina Seratti, white woman with long straight hair

Valentina Serrati (Chile)

Artist and teacher with a BA in Arts from the Catholic University of Chile and an MA in Digital Media and Culture of Technologies from Goldsmiths University, London, UK. Her artistic practice encompasses performance, video art and video installation. In 2019, she founded PRISMA, an inter-institutional platform dedicated to the visibility of projects in the convergence of art, science and technology with a special interest in nature.

Profile portrait of artist Maya Minder

Maya Minder (Switzerland)

Artist, curator and chef working in the field of Eatart. Mynder was born in Zürich in 1983, she studied Art history at the University of Zürich and MA Fine Arts at Zurich University of Arts and she is founder of the Open Science Lab at ZW Zurich. She uses storytelling, performance and installation as a way to unite people around a table of shared meals. Cooking together to staying together. As a specialist in the lacto-fermentation, she works with bacteria, fungi, plants and algae while applying biological knowledge into her kitchen, into film making, craft and material research. She uses wild fermentation as a metaphor for human agitation of processing raw nature into cooked culture. Following queer feminist movements, she takes art science and storytelling to combine them with her practice as an artist.

Scientists

Portrait of biologist Juli Simon, white person with brown straight hair, holding a mushroom in front of the nose

Juli Simon (Brazil)

Brazilian Biologist graduated from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), in Florianópolis, SC, with a Master’s degree in Mycology from the National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA), in Manaus, AM. Since 2012, Juli has been studying, learning and teaching mycology-related subjects. As a mushroom enthusiast, they are always interested in discussing all kinds of fungi matters. They are also a music lover, studying and playing the transversal flute and percussion. They believe mushrooms are the key to a better understanding of life and death, interconnectedness and learning to be in the present by embracing the ephemeral. Think fungi for love’s sake.

Portrait of scientist Patricia Silva Flores. She's smiling, wearing glasses and has grey straight hair

Patricia Silva Flores (Chile)

Fungal and mycorrhizal ecologist from Punta Arenas, Chile. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the Universidad Católica del Maule in Talca, Chile; Director of Communications at the International Society of Mycorrhiza (IMS), co-founder and active member of the South American Mycorrhizal Research Network and Associate Scientist at SPUN initiative (Society for the Protection of Underground Networks). Currently, Patricia has three lines of action: (1) Research on fundamental scientific questions about mycorrhizal ecology, and applications of mycorrhizal fungi and mycorrhizal symbiosis in restoration ecology and silvicultural/agronomical contexts. (2) Undergrad and grad students formation on fungal and mycorrhizal ecology and applications, through lectures, internships direction and thesis direction. (3) Scientific outreach, focused mostly (not only) on fungal and mycorrhizal science outreach.

Portrait of scientist Martina Peters, white woman with brown hair, she's wearing her hair back and has her arms on the hips

Martina Peter (Switzerland)

Interested in diverse aspects of the symbiotic interaction between forest trees and fungi, the so-called ectomycorrhizal symbiosis, Martina is studying the neutral and functional diversities of mycorrhizal fungi in forests and their role in forest ecosystems in a changing environment. In particular, the impact of drought and nitrogen deposition on the community structure and function of mycorrhizal fungi is in her research focus. She is also interested in how forest fungi adapt to their environment and lifestyle. Martina is mostly using molecular markers to study the communities and populations of mycorrhizal fungi and both gene expression and enzymatic assays for functional studies.

Portrait of scientist Benjamin Dauphin, white man with short brown hair

Benjamin Dauphin (Switzerland)

Passionate about evolutionary biology and how organisms interact with their environment, Benjamin has, in particular, a keen interest in studying local adaptation of populations in forest and alpine ecosystems. How and why the tree of life maintained complex mating systems is also a facet of biology that fascinates him. Using genomic tools and high-resolution environmental descriptors, he dedicates his research activities to improving our understanding of (co-)adaptation processes in plant-fungi symbiotic partners.

Curators

Portrait of curator María Luisa Murillo, white woman with curly dark hair

María Luisa Murillo (Chile)

Artist, curator and cultural manager (Santiago de Chile, 1979) living in Santiago and Magallanes. She holds a degree in Arts from the Universidad Católica de Chile. Since 2015 she is the director of the Alberto Baeriswyl House-Museum in Tierra del Fuego and is head of the CAB Art, Science and Humanities Residency Programme, where she links the dialogue between art and science through meaningful collective experiences of knowledge transmission, exploration and creation in the southern territory and Tierra del Fuego. As an artist and curator her focus of study is memory, identity and the inhabitation of human and nonhuman entities.

Portrait of curator Lilian Fraiji, white woman with long brown hair

Lilian Fraiji (Brazil) 

Curator and producer based in Manaus, Amazon, Brazil. She is the co-founder of Labverde, a platform dedicated to developing multidisciplinary content involving art, science and ecology. She has collaborated on projects such as the New Curators Program, which focused on young curators, presented in São Paulo and Recife; and “Terra Brasilis”, an exhibition of Brazilian art showcased in Europalia Brussels. Fraiji has also curated several art projects such as Invisible Landscape (Stand4 Gallery – NYC – 2018), “How to Talk with Trees” (Galeria Z42-Rio de Janeiro-2019), “Irreversível” (Paiol da Cultura Manaus -2019), “Embodied by Forest” (Ecoartspace, USA -2021 ). Currently, she coordinates Labsonora, an art research focus on sound and activism; and Speculative Ecologies, an International Art Residence aiming to promote Art and Ecology in the Amazon.

Portrait of curator Irène Hediger, white woman with blond short hair. She's smiling and wearing a T-shirt with the drawing of a solar system

Irène Hediger (Switzerland)

Head of the artists-in-labs program (AIL), Department of Cultural Analysis at the Zurich University of the Arts. She curates and promotes inter- and transdisciplinary exchange and practices at the interface of art, science and technology in the fields of environmental science, astrophysics, biology, neuroscience and medicine. In 2009, she initiated the international artists-in-labs Residency Exchange program. Hediger has curated numerous exhibitions and accompanying programs on contemporary art, science and technology such as: “Quantum of Disorder, (in)visible transitions, Displacements – Art, Science and the DNA of the Ibex, Propositions for A Poetic Ecosystem and Interfacing New Heavens”. She holds a degree in Business Administration, Group- and Organizational Dynamics (DAGG) and a MAS in Cultural Management, University of Basel.

Portrait of curator Margaux Schwab. She's looking forward, smiling, with her arms crossed

Margaux Schwab (Switzerland)

Lives and works between Berlin, Germany, and Vevey, Switzerland. She is a cultural producer and curator working at the intersection of art, ecology and hospitality, prioritizing spaces outside the gallery context. In 2016, she founded Foodculture days, a knowledge-sharing platform around food ecologies and politics. Foodculture days serves as a catalyst for discussions and actions through environmental and social claims, employing a biennale format that hosts a multitude of creative and culinary interventions in Vevey. The Swiss-Mexican curator focuses her research on notions of hospitality, conviviality, and access to the arts. Valorizing kitchens, marketplaces, fields and gardens as potent spaces for transmission of knowledge and know-how, Schwab is interested in how art can reconnect us with these territories in a sensible way.

Trip to the Amazon (Brazil)

From 13 to 23 March 2023, the group visited Manaus (Amazonas) and entered the forest through trails and boat trips to get to know the main ecosystems of the region: Igapó, Terra Firme, and Várzea.

Overhead image of Amazon Forest, with river in the middle
Trip to the Amazon ©️Rodrigo Valle

They conducted different experiments. For example, on a two-hour hike in the forest, they found 103 different species of Fungi, large, small, colourful, invisible, smelly, tasty, soft, disgusting, and bioluminescent.

“Rather than focusing on a single scientific research goal, an additional layer of ethnographic and linguistic studies provided insight on the practices and belief systems of indigenous people, who to this day consider themselves as the protectors of the Amazon Forest,”

wrote artist Maya Minder (Switzerland) and biologist Juli Simon (Brazil) in a text recounting the fiel trip to the Brazilian Amazon.
Group gatherer around table to work on fungi
Group work during trip to the Amazon ©️Rodrigo Valle

And, just before heading back to Switzerland, two participants, curator Irène Hediger, from the Artists in Labs program at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), and scientist Martina Peter, shared their experiences:

Martina: For me there were kind of two aspects, the scientific work but also what we do with it being in a transdisciplinary environment. The interesting thing was the approach we took, which we would have never taken if we were only a scientific group. For example, the discussions not only about science or research or fungi themselves, but also about connections, exchange.

Irène: This was very nice. And it’s also about listening a lot, because the artists are used to kind of getting it out there, scientists are used to going for the information. But then we were having another level of reflection.

Martina: And for me, as a scientist, I’ve always been convinced that a reality, the environment, they are independent of who is going to observe them. That’s all about science. And there we were thinking: maybe, yes, your perspective can also have an influence on the outcome. It kind of moved me. And this is really something that I take back from this transdisciplinary view on things.

Irène: And that’s also, I think, the beauty of it: how to expect the unexpected. Because we are so used to working in our disciplines, to speaking to our peers, we’re used to a certain system, a certain process. And this can really open up new ways of looking at what you’re doing.

And now we have come to some discussions on how to approach the territory. It’s always about being very sensitive to the environment you’re interacting with.

Martina: From the science side, we actually decided to do the analysis and leave the samples in place. Normally, we would take them back, to analyse them in the same laboratory. But, for this project, we thought it would be better to leave the samples where they came from. And, of course, in collaboration with everybody, sharing the data together.

Irène: The scientists were very close, discussing everything. It wasn’t so much with the artists. I mean, it’s a very different way of working, scientists always work in groups. But these are discussions that I think we’re starting to have in the arts, because there are so many people contributing in the end.

Check out an episode of the podcast “Escafandro” in which journalist Tomás Chiaverini describes the trip (in Portuguese):


Trip to the Patagonia (Chile)

One year after exploring the tropical atmosphere of the Brazilian Amazon, the group set out to quite a different scenery. The second field trip happened at the end of March 2024 in Tierra del Fuego, in the Chilian Patagonia.

Image of shore, rocks and person over the rocks
Tierra del Fuego. Photo by Julie Simon

They were hosted by CAB (Alberto Baeriswyl House-Museum), an artistic residency and habitable museum located in the main building gof the old wood factory Puerto Yartou.

In this southernmost part of the American continent, the professionals gathered to conduct investigations and exchange knowledge and practices.

Collage of pictures of fingi, moss and microscope analysis
Field trip to the Patagonia. Photos by Julie Simon and Maya Minder

“The power of the diversity of voices required us to create a new sensitive practice, an approach that operated between the margins of doing and thinking, of reason and emotion, of consciousness and dreaming. A collective process that was only possible through transversal communication and the sharing of beliefs and knowledge on a common basis of values.”

Lilian Fraiji
Group of people sitting on the stairs in front of a house
The team of Fungi Cosmology in front of CAB (Alberto Baeriswyl House-Museum) in Tierra del Fuego

“Embarking on a journey through Patagonia as part of a collaborative
Art-Science project unveiled the profound connections between artistic expression and scientific inquiry. In this innovative endeavour, we sought to integrate creative perspectives with empirical and methodological investigation, enriching our understanding of this captivating landscape.”

Benjamin Dauphin
Two images from a shore
Tierra del Fuego

Just before arriving in Patagonia, they also participated in the 1st Art and Science Encounter in Punta Arenas (Chile), where the “Fungi Cosmology” project was presented.

“The biggest goal/achivement for me was to create a sense of group and build trust between each other in order to ask difficult questions. This objective was reached and I feel the time that was offer to us to exchange freely and have deeper discussions was precious and well organised (walk, free time, talks). The Art and Science encounter was a huge add-on to the program, it shaped my understanding of how Chile is dealing with the past and how Art and Science (on their own and combined) are addressing it. My experience overall was great and I appreciate the work your team did for us.”

Margaux Schwab

About “Fungi Cosmology”

Fungi Cosmology is a project co-created by LabVerde (Brazil), CAB Patagonia (Chile), artists-in-labs program (CH), foodculturedays (CH). 

Curated by Lilian Fraiji, María Luisa Murillo, Irène Hediger and Margaux Schwab.

Artists
– Jorgge Menna Barreto (Brazil)
– Maya Minder (Switzerland)
– Seba Calfuqueo (Chile) 
– Valentina Serrati (Chile) 

Scientists
– Juli Simon (Brazil)
– Patricia Silva Flores (Chile)
– Martina Peter (Switzerland)
– Benjamin Dauphin (Switzerland)

Supported by: 
– Pro Helvetia
Swissnex

Partnerships: 
– The National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA)
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL)
Magallanes University
Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK)

An original idea by LabVerde and CAB Patagonia.

Fungi Kingdom

Scientists have abundant evidence that fungi did not originate from plants and that they actually share a common ancestor with animals, being relatively close to them but with such differences that they elevate fungi to the status of a Kingdom.

Fungi are key organisms in the world around us, as they build a vast network of interactions with diverse living organisms. Their existence is deeply intertwined with plants, bacteria, animals (including humans), among multiple other life forms and substances, thus emerging an ecosystemic network among all living organisms on the planet.

Studies have shown that under forests and woods, there is fungal mycelium that could be forming a complex underground network of roots and fungi, potentially connecting trees and plants. It has been proposed to call it Wood Wide Web and is hypothesised to be a complex collaborative network of symbiosis in the soil, where fungi would combine with tree roots to form mycorrhizal networks. It has been proposed, with as yet little scientific support, that this intricate structure would connect individual plants, potentially transferring nutrients between participants. All this, however, opens up the debate not only about the role of fungi in an ecosystem but also about the way we interpret life.