Author: bodie robinson | A & C Writer
Ever heard of rad mushroom art? Now you have.
Imagine the state of the Earth about 65 million years ago following the second mass extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs. A behemoth asteroid impacted the Earth, leaving a crater that is now known as the Gulf of Mexico. This impact flung all sorts of debris into the atmosphere, extinguishing the light of the sun. No sun, no photosynthesis. Massive atmospheric clouds, darkness, indefinite winter, and the bodies of both animal and plant species littered the planet’s surface and ocean floor. Over 75 per cent of species on Earth were quickly eradicated. For the majority of life on Earth, this extinction event meant either certain death, or, at the very best, extremely uncertain and volatile living conditions, except for one kingdom in the evolutionary tree—that is, fungi.
Now, fast forward 65 million years up until last Wednesday, when Regina’s own Greg Allen opened his art installation—entitled Mycelium Matrix—at The Fifth Parallel.
The preceding paragraph is the setting, which inspired Allen’s art pieces currently showcased in the university’s art gallery. Fungi, being decomposers that do not require sunlight to thrive, met the mass extinction with favour and quickly became Earth’s “alpha species.” Allen’s Mycelium Matrix is a depiction of this peculiar era from the planet’s long and arduous history. As Allen describes it, it was a time “shrouded in darkness,” yet one in which mushrooms and other fungi were allowed to thrive and grow much, much larger than what we’re used to today. In this regard, Allen’s paintings show a “world of regeneration,” which evoke “a sense of vibrant life during a time of darkness and death.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Allen this weekend. We spoke about his emergence as an artist, his interest in mycology (the study of fungi), his fascination with and awe of nature, and the many artists and scientists who inspired his Mycelium Matrix painting series. Allen admitted to me that he had always been the black sheep, had always been the natural artist among his peers and family while he was growing up.
He also told me about the summers in his childhood, which he spent in northern Saskatchewan. There, he would develop his profound interest and admiration for nature: exploring the forest floor, investigating marine life, and, of course, watching the mushrooms. Allen also told me that it was during this time he discovered the “micro- universes” that are omnipresent in plant and animal life.
One such tiny universe that has fascinated Allen for a long time is mycelium, the thread-like superorganism that forms underground from which fungal bodies sprout.
One of Allen’s greatest inspirations, a prominent mycologist named Paul Stamets (look him up!), has called mycelium a “neurological network of nature.” That is, mycelium acts and looks like a sort of brain, which has a profound impact on its host environment.
Stamets declares, “The mycelium stays in constant molecular communication with its environment, devising diverse enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.”
Allen’s Mycelium Matrix pieces depict the lively neurological networks of mycelium and the vibrant mushrooms themselves. For me, Allen’s paintings are Alex Grey meets Doze Green meets the psychedelic mushroom. In addition to being visually striking, each painting being an iridescent fungal “micro-universe” on its own, Allen also told me that he hopes his art leaves the spectator with a certain impression about mushrooms themselves. He hopes that his art inspires people to investigate the Fungus kingdom, one of the oldest and most peculiar kingdoms of the evolutionary tree.
Mushrooms should not be laughed about or scoffed at. Mushrooms are not just interesting to psychedelic users in search of some mystical gnosis. No, Allen objects, mushrooms are more than that. They are deeply complex, sophisticated, and seemingly intelligent creatures, which convey the inimitable wonders of nature.
Greg Allen’s Mycelium Matrix art installation can be viewed at The Fifth Parallel art gallery until June 3. You can also see his work on his website:
www.gregallen411.com. And on his Instagram: wolfkitten