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Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

As I prepare to write, placing my pen onto an unblemished white page, it strikes me that this serves well as a metaphor for us as a nation. Having said farewell to old friends, we awoke on Saturday 1st February to a fresh page, facing the future as an independent country. Having been a part of Europe for most of my life, it was somewhat discombobulating, and I awoke with a heavy heart. However, if you believe in divine auspices, Saturday dawned bright and clear with blue skies, sunshine for the first time in weeks and a soft wind carrying the promise of Spring. It’s a meteorological combination that always lifts my spirits and, whilst standing in the garden soaking it all up, my eyes were drawn to the glistening white heads of snowdrops popping up everywhere and I recalled that they are a symbol of hope.

The disquiet of our separation from Europe is put into perspective when we consider the existential crisis facing our planet and the urgent need for us to pull together to reduce our carbon footprint and to slow climate change. In my first blog for Amanda, I talked about the ‘interconnectedness of nature’ and how plants communicate with each other through mycelium, the fungal network that exists beneath our feet. This subterranean artery, crucial to the survival of all plant-matter, intertwines with neighbouring root systems to provide water and nutrients. Scientists, biologists, economists, business leaders and artists are increasingly devising ground-breaking ways to work with nature, rather than against it, and the multifarious properties of fungi are far reaching and surprising. Fungi are, of course, a superfood, they are incorporated into medicines and vaccines to heal us and boost our immune systems and they are used in skin products. But did you know that mycelium can be grown into an eco-friendly building material? Also, with minimal environmental impact, it can be used in household furnishings and clothing and can be turned into a compostable form of packaging.

Exploring and showcasing this diversity, Francesca Gavin has curated a fascinating and fun new exhibition at Somerset House, London considering mushrooms across a variety of genres, including art, science, architecture and design. ‘Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi’ is a free exhibition and is on until 26 April. It is well worth a visit, particularly as, alongside key artists such as Cy Twombly, Seana Gavin, Alex Morrison and the incredible botanical artworks of Beatrix Potter, you will find seven of Amanda’s sculptures.

The exhibition has been widely and positively reviewed, and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review presenter, Tom Sutcliffe, praised Amanda’s work as ‘just the most beautiful things…’ created with an ‘almost scientific exactitude.’

The show is held across three rooms and I was particularly drawn to the final space, devoted to design and innovation. Here, I entered my name into a growth algorithm producing a mycelium-inspired font and left it slowly forming and growing on the screen. I’m sure I heard someone say, ‘oh look, that’s a Sarah….’. I have also made a mental note to leave instructions in my Will for the ultimate green burial. My body can be disposed of in Jae Rhim Lee’s decomposable Infinity Burial Suit. To be consumed by mushrooms and delivered back to nature ‘sans toxins’ seems a fitting end for a gardener!

Outside Somerset House - Amanda Cobbett, top creative person, Hilary Shaw, top salesperson, Sarah Copping, top assistant and blogger (watch this space)!

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