[-empyre-] And one more: Welcome to Ben Kinsley

Ben Kinsley benjamin.kinsley at gmail.com
Tue Nov 28 11:47:17 AEDT 2017

Hello all,

I've been following along with the past month's discussions, waiting for my
chance to talk about mushrooms. If anyone knows me personally, this won't
come as much of a surprise... I'm always finding ways to lead conversations
towards fungi ;) I've become quite obsessed with the mushroom world over
the past few years. This all began in upstate NY, in the Adirondacks, where
my wife and I go each summer. In the Adirondacks, there's a tradition to
collect an "Artist Conk" fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) on hikes, and make a
commemorative etching onto its surface, writing the date, place, names of
participants, sometimes drawings of memorable sights, and put these on a
shelf in your cabin. Our neighbor has a whole wall full of these, and we
discovered 2 in our cabin dating from 1935 and 1937. So we began taking up
this folk tradition, and quite quickly began to encounter so many different
kinds of mushrooms in the forests. In our need to know more about how to
accurately identify "Artist conks" (look-alike species don't hold a etching
permanently like Ganoderma applanatum), we joined the New York Mycological
Society in NYC where we lived from 2013-2017. As it turns out, the New York
Mycological Society was co-founded by John Cage, who was an avid mushroom
hunter and renowned mycologist in his own right. In fact, he was perhaps as
experimental in his approach to mycology as he was with his music, and we
know of a few more choice edible species due to his (sometimes nearly
deadly) experiments with mycophagy (the practice of eating fungi
-especially mushrooms collected in the wild). Cage once explained his
dual-obsessions by pointing out that "music" is next to "mushroom" in most
dictionaries, however after spending most of my free time since 2013
foraging for mushrooms, I understand the kinship between his interest in
silence and mushrooms -- both require deep and slow observation, and you
begin to notice so many things that were once hidden in plain sight. In
fact, the first time we went foraging with the NYMS, I couldn't find a
thing. Then, after adjusting to the process of looking, mushrooms were all
around me! We came home from Central Park with a basket full of wild
edibles, and cooked a delicious brunch. From this point onward I was hooked.

I bring up mushrooms for a few reasons:

Perhaps foremost, is the relatively new knowledge we have about the
mycoremediation possibilities with a variety of fungi. Oyster mushrooms,
for instance, have been proven to be able to clean up oil spills (as well
as retain their nutritional edibility!).

Certain mushrooms are considered to be hyper-accumulators of heavy metals.
These mushrooms should not be eaten, but can be collected, thus picking the
heavy metals from the soil of radioactive sites.

Certain species of mushrooms are highly medicinal. Turkey Tail, Enoki,
Maitake, Reishi, and Chaga have proven anti-caner and immune-enhancing
effects. Shitake has antiviral and cholesterol-reducing effects. Lion's
Mane is believed to stimulate nerve growth. Cordyceps are known to improve
respiratory health and increase oxygen uptake, among other properties (It
has been recommended to me to take cordyceps to help with elevation
sickness, as I adjust to the Colorado elevation). There is also active
research being done with Bird's Nest fungi and its possible effects to
fight pancreatic cancer.

There is research being done (again) with psilocybin being administered to
terminal-cancer patients in an effort to relieve anxiety and "existential

Newly published research on cordycepts have shown that when they infect an
ant, the fungus actually infiltrates and surrounds muscle fibers throughout
the ant’s body, and takes over all functions *except for* the brain -
essentially puppeteering the ant! (It was previously thought that the
fungus took over the brain).

Paul Stamets is a leading mycologist, and you can learn a bit more about
all of this here:
(and if you can deal with Joe Rogan):

I've been thinking a lot about how much of this knowledge is ancient -
embedded in folklore, traditional medicine, and in the culinary customs of
so many cultures. Ötzi, the 5000 year old Ice Man, was found carrying two
mushrooms - the Birch Polypore (which has antibiotic and styptic
properties) and a Tinder Conk (which was used as tinder and as a way to
transport fire, through smoldering embers). It seems that in the United
States, we have inherited a mycophobia (perhaps from the British?).
Whereas, the traditions of foraging, and using wild mushrooms for food and
medicine is much more alive in places like China, Japan, Russia, and
eastern Europe. However, the world of mushrooms is complex, and mycological
knowledge from North America does not necessarily translate to another
continent. Some of my favorite fall edible mushrooms (on the east coast)
are Brick Tops (Hypholoma sublateritium), but when I was living in Germany
recently, I learned that this same species is considered to be poisonous in

I had another fascinating experience recently. While foraging in the
Adirondacks in the spring with our Finnish friend, we came across a nice
patch of perfect False Morels (Gyromitra esculenta). From the experts in
the mycological society, we know them to be deadly poisonous. From growing
up in Finland, our friend knows them to be the choicest of all edible
mushrooms (if prepared correctly by par-boiling them in an open-air kitchen
for a long time, and discarding the water before cooking). We had a bit of
a disagreement, and did a lot of research, and decided (perhaps against our
better judgement) to cook them, following the Finnish FDA guidelines. We
did so, and had one of the most delicious meals I can remember! However,
this was a bit of a risk, as we don't fully know if this species is
identical to the species that is eaten in Finland (it is one of the few
countries where it is legal to sell these mushrooms on the market), or if
the toxicity levels are different based on continent, elevation, etc. It is
also said that the toxins build up in your system over time, and if you eat
too many of these, too often, it can kill you. Friends from Finland and
Latvia know, from tradition, how to cook these mushrooms, and also that you
should not eat them very often. In fact, many times, while foraging with
the New York Mycological Society, amateurs visiting from other countries
were able to teach us, and our expert mycologist leaders, something new
about the edibility, use, or medicinal value of a certain mushroom species.

This brings me to another observation: While fungi is an entirely separate
kingdom from plants, mycology is a relatively young, and often ignored
science. Most universities do not have mycology departments, and many
biology departments do not offer a single mycology class. It is estimated
that there are around 5 million species of fungi on the planet (estimated
to outnumber plants by at least 6 to 1), yet only 75,000 species have been
scientifically identified. Fairly recently, it has been discovered that 30%
of healthy soil is fungal mass, and live mycelium cultures have been found
growing under the ocean floor. *There's so much we don't know!*

This reminds me of a text I read in the book *A Year With Swollen
Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary*. On page 357 Eno published a letter he wrote
to Tom Sutcliffe (in response to a text Sutcliffe wrote in response to
Eno's controversial "Turner Prize" speech from 1995). The portion of
interest to me is this:

"[...Morse Peckham's...] theory is that art exists to rehearse us in
various forms of cognitive uncertainty. He sees ‘science’ in its most
general sense in the same way as you described it - as an attempt to make
the world more comprehensible, to be able to make better generalizations
and predictions about things. He says that we are good at this, but it has
a price: we become overcertain of our generalizations and simply ignore the
times when they don’t apply. We lust for certainty so much that we ignore
that which reminds us how uncertain we are. He suggests that this is what
art is for: to confront us with mysteries, things that we don’t properly
understand, we know we don’t understand, but we nonetheless find ourselves
excited and stimulated by. This linkage of uncertainty with pleasure is the
key to his theory - a way of training ourselves to enjoy exploring, to act
without complete information, to improvise."

I think this is very much akin to the way Cage was thinking about
mushrooms, as well as how Anna Tsing frames her observations about
Matsutake mushrooms in her great book "The Mushroom at the End of the World
On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins." In it, she talks a lot
about the Matsutake growing solely in places of human disturbance... and
that once rural Japanese villages were abandoned for city life, the coveted
Matsutake mushrooms disappeared. It is often talked about, in mushroom
clubs, how most of the good mushrooms are found along the trails, near
human disturbance (and not in the middle of the forest).

I think this is incredibly ripe territory for creative exploration. How
might we use mushrooms as material and also as metaphor? Perhaps all the
information we need in order to de-contaminate ourselves and our planet is
already embedded within our folk knowledge? I plan to explore these ideas,
especially in collaboration with mushrooms, in future projects. I'm not
exactly sure how that's going to take form, however I have done a couple of
things recently:

Here's a essay I wrote on the relationship between art and mushrooms:

and here's a project I did, in collaboration with Christopher Kennedy (also
a member of the Environmental Performance Agency), which took the form of a
guided walk/meditation/wander through Central Park in search of fungi,
stories, and sound:

Ben Kinsley
Assistant Professor of New Media/Time-Based Art
Department of Visual and Performing Arts
University of Colorado Colorado Springs


On Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 2:19 PM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> And one more guest for Week 4
> Ben Kinsley’s projects have ranged from choreographing a neighborhood
> intervention into Google Street View, directing surprise theatrical
> performances inside the homes of strangers, organizing a paranormal concert
> series, staging a royal protest, investigating feline utopia, collecting
> insult humor from around the world, and planting a buried treasure in the
> streets of Mexico City (yet to be found). His work has been exhibited
> internationally at venues such as: Queens Museum, NYC; Cleveland Museum of
> Art; Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland; Bureau for Open Culture;
> Mattress Factory Museum, Pittsburgh; Flux Space, Philadelphia; Katonah
> Museum of Art, NY; Green on Red Gallery, Dublin; Centro di Cultura
> Contemporanea Strozzina, Florence; La Galería de Comercio, Mexico City;
> Catalyst Arts, Belfast; and ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art, Karlsruhe. He
> has participated in a number of artist residency programs including:
> Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; Bemis Center for Contemporary
> Arts; Skaftfell Art Center, Iceland; Askeaton Contemporary Arts, Ireland;
> and Platform, Finland.
> Ben is an avid mushroom hunter, an amateur mycologist, and has published
> essays on mushrooms and art on Temporary Art Review and in the New York
> Mycological Society newsletter. He is an Assistant Professor of New
> Media/Time-Based Art at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
> Renate Ferro
> Visiting Associate Professor
> Director of Undergraduate Studies
> Department of Art
> Tjaden Hall 306
> rferro at cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20171127/a1ac0ce0/attachment.html>

More information about the empyre mailing list