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The progressive, poetic and psychedelic wonder of mushrooms

a drawing of a mushroom

Beatrix Potter, Hygrophorus puniceus, pencil and watercolour, 7.10.1894,

Somerset House is putting its exhibition celebrating the remarkable mushroom – and all the progressive, poetic and psychedelic wonder it evokes – online for you to enjoy at home

Did you know that before she was famous for her drawings and stories about bunnies and squirrels etc, Beatrix Potter produced exquisite, scientifically accurate drawings of flora, fauna, and mushrooms?

Today Ms Potter’s drawings form a significant contribution to the study of natural history and are still used by researchers. Her foray into this world of late Victorian botany and natural science can be explored in the collection of the Armitt Museum in Ambleside to whom she bequeathed many of her mycological drawings.

The Potter illustrations are just one of the pleasingly peculiar discoveries to be found in the soon to be launched online Somerset House exhibition Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, which prior to lockdown was enlightening visitors about the dark but not so dank world of mushrooms – and mushroom art.

The show, which opened in January, celebrates the remarkable mushroom, and all the progressive, poetic and psychedelic wonder it evokes by travelling from sober illustration to psychedelic art projections. And apart from a healthy selection of Potter’s watercolours, of which she produced over 300 before she made her name with children’s books, there are many mildewed marvels to explore.

a photo of a mushroom with ochre coloured bell

Amanda Cobbett, ‘Fungi’ © Andrew Montgomery

 a painting of three young women seated next to a woodland in autumnal hues

Graham Little, ‘Untitled (Wood)’ 2019, courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London

a repeating fabric print with mushroom motifs

4. Alex Morrison, ‘Mushroom Motif’ (Black and Ochre), 2017, courtesy of the artist, care of L’inconnue Gallery,Montreal

a photo of a series of suspended lampshades

Sebastian Cox & Ninela Ivanova, Mycelium + Timber © Petr Krejci Photography

Acclaimed conceptual artist Carsten Höller’s spinning, solar-powered mushrooms, Pilzkoffer (Mushroom Suitcase), sees small casts of the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom revolving on mechanical stands inside a suitcase, powered by the solar energy supplied from above.

Seana Gavin’s hand-cut collages of mushroom-human hybrids are similarly trippy, offering imaginative anthropomorphic mushroom characters and exotic otherworlds (she has also hosted a collage making masterclass, which is currently live online).

A specially-commissioned mycelium-based chair from one of Britain’s leading designers, Tom Dixon, is offered as a way of transforming design and manufacture in the future, mycelium (an underground fungal mass – mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mycelium) is used as a sustainable material for shoes from Belgian shoe designer Kristel Peters and for pendant light shades from Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova.

And if you’re in the mood for more sober reflections, there’s the decomposable mushroom burial suit by Jae Rhim Lee, whose fashionable shroud is designed to reduce the damaging environmental impact of the funeral industry.

Returning to the mind-altering mysticism surrounding mushrooms, Adham Faramawy’s film whose title ‘My fingers distended as honey dripped from your lips and we danced in a circular motion’ probably gives you an idea of its contents, it’s a psychedelic 360 degree foray of rave dancing and animated mushrooms now shown as a full feature from May 13 – 19 as part of Somerset House’s weekly Pause series.

a ceramic artwork consisting of a swirl with mushrooms growing from it

Hamish Pearch, ‘Cochlea Brick Tuft’, courtesy of the artist

collage using a mushroom and a woman's arms, lips and eyes

Seana Gavin, ‘Mindful Mushroom’, courtesy of the artist

an embrodered artwork featuring magic mushrooms

Perks & Mini, ‘Frog Life’, courtesy of the artist

a photo of a high shoes made from mushroom

Kristel Peters, ‘Mycoschoen’, courtesy of the artist

Curated by Francesca Gavin, and forming part of Somerset House’s cultural programme exploring sustainability, here is an exhibition that lends itself well to the virtual world, offering an alternative view at a time when many of us are beginning to rethink society’s relationship with the planet.

The virtual tour is released on May 18 as part of International Museum Day and is part of a summer-long digital programme, found at www.somersethouse.org.uk


Somerset House

London, Greater London

One of the city’s most spectacular and well-loved spaces, Somerset House is a new kind of arts centre in the heart of London, designed for today’s audiences, artists and creatives – an inspirational community where contemporary culture is imagined, created and experienced. Our distinctive and dynamic year-round programme spans the…

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