by Rebecca Elise Cook & Taylor Lillian Busch
Mycelium, mixed media, 2023
Fungi connect and help the world around and below us. Fungi grow underground as root-like filamentous. These filamentous fungi grow with plants to help collect nutrients and water in exchange for carbon from plant photosynthesis. Fungi can work with plants to handle stressful environments that contain hazardous metals by either removing the metals from the environment or aiding in different ways to tolerate metals exposure.
One such environment is the Jackpile Mine in Laguna Pueblo, NM. It was once the largest open-pit uranium mine in the world that has now left behind a toxic legacy of releasing metals like arsenic and uranium that pose serious human and environmental health risks. There are resilient plants and fungi growing at this site. Environmental engineering research is interested in learning from these fungi to determine their role in hazardous metal removal. The knowledge that fungi hold can be applied by engineers and scientists to develop bioremediation methods for communities like Laguna Pueblo.
This sculpture aims to zoom in and zoom out at the same time. You are looking at the microcosm of mycelial networks at the same time as the topographical landforms that live underneath. This piece highlights the far reach of mycelium networks and asks us to consider the hidden world below. This sculpture uses malt extract agar cultured fungal mycelium, wood, laser etched plexiglass, light, and acrylic. After visiting Taylor’s lab and looking at samples, I wanted to highlight the beauty of the back-lit culture plates from Laguna Pueblo. By allowing the audience to make a physical connection with microscopic mycelium, we can reinforce its powerful role in environmental engineering research for large-scale bioremediation.