Thoughts on The Mushroom at The End of the World

by samh


Aspiring to Matsutake (2020

An element of the second year Developing Ideas in Art and the Environment module on the course I teach on began this semester with an extract from the book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

As we (we, as in all of humanity) face challenges right now, the whole world, generally speaking is in a position of feeling insecure, insecure about jobs, our health, the health of the planet and every aspect of their being.

The Matsutake mushroom is both a valuable, if not the most valuable mushroom in the world, but it is also a ‘weed’ that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. People forage in the chance that they may find a Matsutake, they invest vast amounts of time and energy in their pursuit. The book itself speaks of capitalism, but it was the word ‘precarity’ that made me sit up and listen.

The art world is taking a devastating hit at the moment in terms of job losses, as are many other areas, but as I think about this, I consider the word ‘precarity’, many people have for a while now been offered precarious or ‘hardly there’ contracts and this has nothing to do with the pandemic. There has long been little or no consideration for wellbeing and security, except on paper, to tick boxes of course. The world has been allowed to slide into this slippy situation of precarity and the pandemic has just escalated this disastrous set of events.

Something we hear too often now, and it is worryingly becoming somewhat boring for some is that the planet is also taking a devastating hit at the moment too, human-disturbed is one way of describing it but human violated is probably more accurate. We are far too complacent now and our entire existence is under threat, let alone precarious. Think again of the Matsutake mushroom, the fact that somewhere, far from me, is this unassuming mushroom, it is growing and thriving in the face of such devastation, its existence helps the trees and forests thrive and the thought that someone will find it is exciting, however, when found it will be plucked from its environment and again, human interference is deemed necessary for personal gain. If we continue with this practice, we need to more than make up for it by putting goodness back into the land.



Closer to home, I have found that I have been watching what is on the ground in my garden as we have a new puppy. She tries to eat everything that protrudes from the ground and can do so with the skills of a ninja warrior. In my new ‘noticing’ of things in general, I came across some mushrooms growing and naturally I assume them to be harmful and dug them up (again, for my own personal gain, without a thought as to whether it was the right thing to do for the environment) just in case. They were beautiful specimens; the purple ones are apparently called ‘The Amethyst Deceiver’ and they were growing in all the rough untended areas of the garden. I decided to photograph them as they allowed the light through and cast shadows in a really interesting way. Look at the shadows cast by the tiny mushroom, ‘dream big’ it shouts, This exercise made me think that there are opportunities in places we don’t usually think to look and there is hope that as beings on this planet, our collective health, economy and togetherness will soon thrive again.

‘Cast your shadow wide’