Breathe Together ∞ Aspergillus Tubingensis / The Things We Made Next

Last autumn I was commissioned by Assembly for the Future to make a speculative design for The Things We Made Next, a travelling exhibition that visited Alice Springs, Castlemaine and Melbourne as part of Melbourne Design Week. Five designers were asked to respond to an archive of multi-artform ‘despatches’ produced by The Things We Did Next, a gathering of artists, thinkers and cultural operators collectively exploring and describing the year 2029.

My contribution picked up on the F-UN-GUS despatch from File-Set #3, and consists of a commemorative mushroom altar kit celebrating the 7th anniversary of the First Nations Treaties within Continent 7, formerly known as Australia. It includes various ceremonial objects in glazed stoneware ceramics, a hybrid kangaroo grass pestle/aspergillum for grinding or sprinkling, a screen-printed altar cloth featuring Aspergillus tubingensis & other notable local fungi, along with ancillary items like quartz crystal from Mt Isa, pu-er tea, cedarwood and micro-plastic waste. These may be used for festive DIY eukaryotic rituals involving offerings of soil, salt, dried mushrooms and plastic waste, sharing of tea, and burning tree sap or wood fungus. 

Aspergillus tubingensis was named by an Italian biologist-priest in 1729 for its microscopic resemblance to the aspergillum (holy water sprinkler). In 2029 – exactly 300 years later – this particular fungus, which incidentally forms part of the microbial community in fermented pu-er tea – is widely revered for the crucial role it plays in helping to clear our oceans of microplastics. The altar cloth also features depictions of Laccocephalum mylittae (whose underground sclerotium is eaten raw or roasted), Cyttaria gunnii (spherical, edible fruiting bodies), Phellinus sp. (bracket fungus smoked for sore throats), Podaxis pistillaris (Stalked Puffball, a desert fungus used to darken old men’s whiskers), and the toxic phosphorescent ‘ghost fungus’.

In Alice the show first came together remotely at RAFT Artspace; I then had the pleasure of activating my work in person at Castlemaine’s McPhee Broadway Theatre. The exhibition also appeared in the form of large-scale street posters displayed around Melbourne & Castlemaine as part of Melbourne Design Week 2021.

Posters in Mechanics Lane, Castlemaine

Made on Gadigal land with the invaluable assistance & expertise of Susie Nelson (drawing), Leila Khazma (ceramics) and Alba Stephen (screenprinting). Thanks also to Alex Kelly, Elliat Rich & David Pledger for their superlative curatorial care.

The kit is presently being reproduced by Cloudship Press in a very small edition of multiples, get in touch if you’d like to be in the loop.

Photos by Zoe Scoglio

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