Fungus Among Us: Final Project Progress

Like the bionts of a lichen (except on a much different timescale), my final project for Fungus class is evolving. Specifically, I’ve changed my mind on how I want to include humans in the Big Lichen Picture. Instead of incorporating humans literally and visualizing the human-fungal symbiosis, I’ve decided to take the eight perspectives laid out in Trevor Goward’s Re-emergence essay and present them as human-relatable analogies.

I’ve found that in my capacity as a temporary theoretical lichenologist, philosophical thought seems a lot less intimidating than usual. By examining the lichen from eight different perspectives, I think we can also shed some light on how to view ourselves and our relationship with the systems that compose our existence. My final project has thus become a series of posters that transpose Trevor’s eight lichen perspectives. I’ll extrapolate on this in my final presentation, but for now, here is some work-in-progress:

poster_wip01

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Humungi

humungi

Last weekend, Mike and I spoke with Derek Woods, a theoretical lichenologist. We discussed how the academic field of biology is not currently designed to answer the basic biological question “what is lichen?” and how theoretical lichenology approaches the question. Our conversation gave me a lot of material to draw from in forming my final project.

To elucidate the various possible ways to perceive lichen (as laid out in Trevor Goward’s [Derek’s mentor/collaborator] “Re-emergence” essay), I want to replace the lichen’s photobiont with humans and imagine the “humungi,” a symbiosis of humans and fungi. Lichens exhibit properties that neither the fungi nor the algae/cyanobacteria exhibit on their own, such as an extended lifespan and the ability to thrive in unfavorable environments. What might humans be capable of if we fully submit to fungal symbiosis?

Elements and Components:

  • Lichen: Fungus and algae/cyanobacteria
  • Human fungal pathogens
  • Biological systems
  • Philosophy
  • Fine Art

Interactions and Actions:

  • Infection
  • Amplification
  • Symbiosis

Mechanism:

  • Drawing
  • Sculpture, 3D printing

Focusing In on Fungi

For Fungus Among Us, I’ve focused my research to lichen. Two aspects of lichen I find interesting are:

  • They are a composite organism, a fungus and a photosynthesizer (algae or cyanobacteria) living together as one. In Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets says “after hundreds of millions of years of evolution, fungal alliances have become part of nature’s body politic. It is time for our species to partake in this ancient mycological wisdom.” What does lichen look like if we substitute the photosynthesizer with a human? Could anything be gained from a living as massive colony of humans and fungi, each dependent on the other?
  • Lichen grows incredibly slowly. Lichenometry is the use of lichen to date exposed rock. This chart (source) says that 3cm of lichen grown on the Colorado Front Range implies a rock that has been exposed for about 500 years. What strategies can I employ to capture the beauty of lichen in a garden if I might not live to see it realized?

I’ve found a few lichenologists online that I will reach out to. I just need to figure out what to ask them! Mike and I have also decided to team up on this part of our research.