Survival Strategies: Mycorrhiza and Extancy

I guest-edited this issue of Sluice, drawing on scientific research and a renewed cultural interest in fungi as a lens to consider artist-run ecosystems.

Some commissioned articles are available online:

Victory Against the Matrix by Maria Bustillos

A Thousand Tiny Sexes or None? by Stella Sandford

My editorial is below.


Editorial:

Throughout the summer of this year, 2019, the title of the Venice Biennale eminded us that we are living in cursed and interesting times. I would say that we are in fact living in strange times and, to continue a Douglas Adams quote, strange places too.

To my mind nothing can sum up the duality of our strange times and our strange places like the title of a 2013 essay by the American writer Ursula K. Heise: From the Blue Planet to Google Earth. With a touch of Le Guin and an insightful view on the nature of a vastly connected society, Heise sets the social and ecological both into correspondence and at odds, she evokes the inconceivable complexity of the natural world and the power of tendencies of ownership and Objectivism in contemporary life in one agile swing. As it currently stands, as a society, we are making a mockery of both our political institutions and our custodianship of the planet. Ambivalently, time intersects these catastrophes; both are in flux.

This edition of Sluice looks to nature to ask what can be learnt from naturally occurring politics and ecosystems. Mycorrhiza are precise moments of interaction that make complex natural networks, they are the symbiotic, and sometimes mutualistic relationships that exist between fungi and plants. ‘Myco’ meaning fungi and ‘rhiza’ meaning root. They describe the existence of a fungus in the root system of a plant and are proven to contribute to plant and ecosystem health; they assist with the sharing of resources; they sustain entire forests; they help balance the chemistry and biology of the land; and they help organisms communicate, to ready themselves against threats, pest, diseases. Mycorrhizal networks are commonly referred to as the ‘wood wide web’. They are the original underground network. To be extant is to survive, to remain in contradistinction to extinction but it also has a second, archaic definition of ‘to stand above’.

Far from this magazine to assert political models based on fungi (if they were a card-dispensing party they would probably be broadly described as Socialists) but it does offer a platform and a framework to think certain DIY artistic practices in tandem with profiles of their most useful and social characteristics. Through the topics mapped in these pages – network, sex, deeptime*, hibernation and breakdown – symmetries between global artist run projects, academic thought, and the natural skein of connectivity beneath our feet will be drawn.

From the questionable binary division of sex in natural history through to poetic ruminations on rebirth, hopefully this issue will offer some structure, through its questioning, of the strange place in which we find ourselves. It aims to be transdisciplinary, working over rather than between or around disciplines, and set out a diverse textual topography.

* I borrowed this phrase from the subtitle of Robert MacFarlane’s latest book, Underland. It is used to describe geological, epochal time, that can be traced back to – with mycorrhizal fungi co-species working – arguably the dawn of plants (and soil) on earth. It might also be used, in some distant time, to look back on, measure, and map the anthropocene.

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