Fungi (especially mushrooms and the mycelium that forms them) provide alternative ways to conceive of survival and apocalypse. They are, as Paul Stamets writes, "the interface organisms between life and death." Fungi can remediate polluted landscapes, turn ants into zombies, decompose plastics and the dead, aid in cancer recovery, form compostable walls of buildings, pass through the blood-brain barrier, guide us into hallucinogenic and spiritual territories, facilitate conversations between trees, make it rain, and perhaps help us reconsider how we might relate to the natural world and to one another, how social change might happen.
In the context of the School of Apocalypse, and in light of these political and ecological times that call for new modes of thinking and being, the Mycological Research Playgroup* proposed that we lose our minds. We conducted an experiment in collaborative and experiential learning and research, and in concurrent creative practice and production (loosely defined). This group was open to all inspired by the mycological realm, including artists, writers, foragers, foresters, activists, scientists, philosophers, farmers, and those interested in the capacities of fungi in medicine, mycorestoration, mycofabrication, myth, etc. It was a call to come together, to redefine what it might be to learn with and from one another, and to see what comes of this quest.
Biweekly meetings consisted of discussing texts, watching films, foraging for mushrooms, brewing teas, carrying out small-scale mycoremediation projects, etc. This working group was intentionally open-ended, and content and approach will be decided by the collective. We documented what we learned each week as a record of our communal exploration, an anthology of the research playgroup.
This group was coordinated by Chloe Zimmerman.
* The concept of a “research playgroup” takes its inspiration from the Matsutake Worlds Research Group. In The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, anthropologist Anna Tsing writes about the research playgroup she formed with other academics who “convened to explore an anthropology of always-in-process collaboration.” The participants, each with a unique area of expertise, conduct ongoing research on the matsutake mushroom (sometimes together, sometimes tangentially, and sometimes alone) while publishing independent work."