Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor
Visitors to this year’s Supercrawl festival likely left with strong memories of “Macro dose”, an installation featuring sonic vibrations and three towering, lit-up mushrooms sprouting from mattresses. Sean Procyk, the artist behind it all, peeled back the many layers of this exhibit.
“I had this idea of doing a surreal experience for viewers, so kind of like giant mushrooms in an Alice in Wonderland type setting. There was a big challenge in how I was going to have these giant mushrooms growing out of the street, so a lot of time was spent thinking about what kind of object I would want mushrooms to grow out of without it being arbitrary,” said Procyk.
Mattresses turned out to be Procyk’s missing puzzle piece. He was inspired by the displacement of Hamilton residents, which has been partly due to an influx of newcomers, development projects and overall gentrification. After a neighbour mentioned seeing several mattresses on their street, Procyk reflected on how mattresses are often left behind when people relocate. He paired this idea with his interest in mycology.
“I started thinking about how mushrooms grow off of the refuse of the forest. Then I began imagining giant mushrooms feeding off of the refuse of human society, mattresses being part of the refuse. Then I thought about how, in the field of mycology, when you try to grow a particular type of mushroom species on some kind of substrate like grains or straw, which is the food that they feed off of, the term they use is you want to colonize the substrate. So there is a bit of a tie-in . . . I was just pulling language from that field and imagining colonizing these mattress with a particular kind of mushroom,” said Procyk.
As part of his interest in autonomous food production, Procyk grows his own oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Through this process, he learned that the “colonization” in mycology refers to sterilizing a growing medium, such as straw, inoculating it with the preferred mycelium and growing a monoculture. Sterilization removes all undesirable microbes and bacteria, improving the chances that the preferred mycelial culture will prevail. Through “Macro dose”, Procyk cleverly connected colonization in mycology to the colonization that still occurs across North America and the rest of the world.
To build “Macro dose”, Procyk collected, soaked and shaped Black Locust wood into mushroom caps in his very own backyard. The use of this particular tree was deliberate. As Procyk said, Black Locust has an extremely high rot resistance, burns efficiently at high temperatures, and could be a renewable source of heat energy. Unfortunately, it has been labelled an invasive species in Canada. Procyk suspects that this is because Black Locust’s growth patterns make it suboptimal for mass wood production.
“All this said, it brings to light the question of who makes decisions about what species are labelled invasive and what species are given privilege. In the lumber industry . . . it appears as it is those that support capitalist process that are given priority,” explained Procyk.
The relationships between the elements of “Macro dose” and real-world concepts complete a dreamlike narrative. For example, knowing that the resin of Black Locust glows a subtle green under UV light, Procyk made his mushroom caps glow an eerie green to represent this “invasive” species.
To further elevate his installation, Procyk used speakers to release sonic vibrations that created an absorbing audio-tactile experience for visitors. The green lights of the mushroom caps subtly dimmed in and out in response to carefully programmed frequency changes in sound.
“I prefer to create a soundscape that is more abstracted, something that is not too literal and is more about the experience of listening. So, I work with frequencies on the lower end, those tend to be more subtle . . . and immersive, they move through your body . . . and it is quite [a] soothing effect,” said Procyk.
With a dedication to his self-sufficient process, Procyk worked with themes of displacement and colonization to take Supercrawl visitors to an alternate universe.