I See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass 

Exhibition by Georgette Brown

I See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass | Georgette Brown | Blue Oyster, Ōtepoti 

20.02.22 | written by Robyn Maree Pickens

As Selah Saterstrom writes in Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics (2017), “Being an effective reader is contingent upon the quality of presence with which one positions oneself in the constant stream of information and texts.”1 Saterstrom’s context spans the practice of reading tarot cards and the act of writing, while mine is Georgette Brown’s exhibition, I See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass at Blue Oyster Art Project Space. Reading Saterstrom’s text prompted me to consider the “quality of presence” we bring to reading exhibitions and writing about them. What kind of multi-sensorial, somatic listening does I See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass invite? I watched a time-lapse YouTube video of an earthstar mushroom expanding and bursting into six fragments as ki2 rises from the earth and thought this might constellate certain interrelated conceptual, psychic, and formal presences in Brown’s exhibition.
I was looking for the colour orange / I was looking for the colour blue / I was looking for the colour purple, Georgette Brown, 2021, detail. Stained glass.
The earthstar rises as the fruiting body of the mycelium below ground to sporulate (release spores) before decomposing to nourish the soil and ki’s other living inhabitants. To these life cycles and the changing seasons in temperate climates, humans (among other sentient beings perhaps) attach affective states or emotions, such as grief and regeneration (to winter and spring respectively). Events and emotions frequently diverge from neat cycles however, and the somatic listening of this reader to Brown’s exhibition suggests that grief and the potential of healing are in parallel rather than cyclical dialogue. At the same time, these events and affective states depend on the interconnected life processes of many other living beings for regeneration. In other words, many humans still (consciously or unconsciously) figure their emotional lives against the ongoing regeneration of other (currently imperilled) earth beings.

The intensity of grief and the search for healing manifest in the video A Bug’s Life (2021), which layers a poetic text over close-up portraits of different kinds of vibrant fruiting bodies, including the earthstar mushroom. With elements of A Bug’s Life made in collaboration with Brown’s siblings Cello Forrester (sound, text) and Hazzie Forrester (editing), the first-person text addresses a malleable second-person “you.” The “you” primarily oscillates between the artist’s parent and an earthstar mushroom. This multifaceted “you” synchs with the many personalities of the mushroom — as fungus, mycelium, and fruiting body.
I See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass, Georgette Brown, 2022, installation view.
There is rarely only one place to begin perceiving and reading an exhibition. The video, A Bug’s Life is installed in the back gallery space, yet to this listener it seems to hold the full tonal range of I See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass. In addition to the melancholic strains of Cello Forrester’s soundtrack3 that permeate the whole gallery, the video’s psychic themes and formal enquiries fruit as a painting, three stained-glass pieces, and three metal and fabric sculptures in the front gallery. One of the most compelling relationships between the different bodies of works is the unexpected connection Brown forges between mycelium and glass. The former, which exists in decomposing materials, at the tip of living tree roots, and in soil is primarily visible as the above-ground reproductive organ of the mycelium (as a mushroom), while the latter is fabricated by humans from sand. Yet Brown brings them together as embodiments of grief and regeneration. Both mycelium and glass shapeshift form (or are shapeshifted in the case of glass) and undergo metamorphosis. While there is no naturally occurring “broken” in the life actions of mycelium (ki regenerates kiself), broken glass can be mended and let light shine through. Grief and healing coalesce in the stained-glass work, I was looking for the colour orange / I was looking for the colour blue / I was looking for the colour purple (2021) installed in the front window. 
Fashion Fungi; 1, 2, and 3, Georgette Brown, 2021. Fabric, metal, buttons, wire mesh.
With the title recycled from the poetic text in A Bug’s Life, this work formally reconfigures the nourishing activities of mycelium as silver metal that solders the shards of coloured and clear glass together. Mycelium, which resembles a tangle of sentient threads (hyphae) is reimagined here as silver metal solders — regenerating broken glass into a new whole. The listener could have easily begun with this work, a circular portal suspended from the ceiling that lets in additional light. It could be one end of the kaleidoscope and the circular video work the other. In between the lenses there is a human in the painting, The Only Way Out of This is Through (2021) but there is also a little pig embraced by this sinuous person and, little werewere-kōkako (blue mushrooms) springing up through the cracks in the mosaicked tiles in the painting and as intentional beings in the stained-glass work Werewere-kōkako Amid Moss (2021). Listening to the presence of these nonhuman beings (including fantastical sculptural mushrooms) alongside human grief and hope for regeneration suggests to this reader that we do well to tend to the grief and flourishing of all beings as we tend to our own.

Georgette BrownI See Mycelium / I Hear the Sound of Breaking Glass, 2022. 11 December 2021–19 February 2022 at Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Ōtepoti. 

All photographs by Bunty Bou, courtesy of Blue Oyster Art Project Space.

Article image: Werewere-kōkako Amid Moss, Georgette Brown, 2021. Glass, metal. 

    1.  Selah Saterstrom, Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics (Berkeley, California: Essay Press, 2017), vii.

    2.  Following Potawatomi botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, I use ki as the singular pronoun for animate, sentient nonhuman beings, such as the earth, ocean, trees, animals, and insects (kin is the plural pronoun). See Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013), 459.

    3.  If sound was to take cinematic form it would evoke Björk in The Juniper Tree (1990) for this listener.

ISSN 2744-7952

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