“Cloth is the body’s first architecture; it protects, conceals and reveals; it carries our weight, swaddles us at birth and covers us in sleep and in death.” – Ann Hamilton
We hope this note finds you well!
The discovery of radioactivity with the work of Marie Curie and her peers at the beginning of the twentieth century triggered considerable scientific and technological advancements. In parallel, less known histories of legal, social and emotional resilience have been unfolding while vulnerable social groups struggled and are still struggling to survive. After the radiation caused Marie Curie’s physical decline many others followed into the radioactive forest, each of them providing lessons for the ones that survived. In 1928 the Radium Girls, women factory workers who painted watch dials with self-luminous paint, began their long fight for workers’ rights in court against their employers, who neglected to inform them about the risks of licking brushes dipped in radium paint. In 1945, black rain drops of radioactive ash fell on Sadako Sasaki in Hiroshima. Ten years later, Sadako began her quest to fold thousand paper cranes in hope for survival, which lasted until the last day of her life. Since 1950 Diné also known as Navajo uranium miners have been unwillingly practicing social and economic resilience, while deadly radioactive isotopes curiously named radon daughters continue to cause cancer in their lungs.
In 1991, five years after the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl, twelve species of radiotrophic fungi were found in the number four reactor, all of which produce melanin. Melanized fungi metabolise radioactivity into energy and thrive in one of the most toxic environments known to human beings. Just a few months after being evacuated by the authorities from the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a community of elderly women returned to the only home they knew. The Chernobyl Babushkas are still living in the zone today, despite the dangerous levels of radiation. For the Babushkas, the force of belonging has been stronger than the fear of radioactive threat. In 2018, the radiotrophic fungi were sent to the International Space Station for the first time to be tested as shields against radiation.
Radiotrophic Fungarium is a homage to humans and other-than-humans who have suffered and gave their lives to teach us about life in radioactive toxicity. While we travel through the history forest, each path tells us a different history. As we move through the colliding and entangled human and fungal timespaces and perspectives, we follow one of the radioactive trajectories in order to forage knowledge and assemble stories of protection. The Radiotrophic Fungarium serves as a book of care linking stories from the past into networks for dire futures. Imagine fungi forming shields against radiation, growing into coats, face masks, blankets, scarfs and alike to provide protection for those who have been sacrificed by the patriarchal capitalist system and nuclear colonialism. Climate change and nuclear threat are imminent and a past of radioactive harm has since been detonated. What is there to learn and how to proceed?
Radiotrophic Fungarium is an ongoing research, interested in ways of protecting human and fungal lives against radioactive and UV radiation harm by developing symbiotic interspecies relationships that might grow into shields and shelters as our climate changes.
Stay safe, with love,
MycoMythologies: Radiotrophic Fungarium or How To Make A Coat For Marie Curie, 2022
Saša Spačal, Kaitlin Bryson
Scientific support and consulting:
dr. Nina Gunde-Cimerman, dr. Polona Zalar, Barbara Kastelic-Bokal (University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty; Ljubljana)
Ana Gubenšek, mag. mikrobiol. (Center odličnosti InnoRenew CoE, Izola)
With the help of: students of Microbiology (University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty), within the Mycology elective course
Video environments, animation: Matea Friend
Video research and materials: Kaitlin Bryson
Video storyboard, animation, montage: Saša Spačal
Sound: Saša Spačal
Concrete plates: Andrej Škufca, Neja Zorzut, Igor Trunk
Folding panel plans: Lovrenc Košenina
Folding panels construction: Jože Zajc
Production: Uroš Veber, Tjaša Pogačar, Projekt Atol Institute
Support: The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, The City Municipality of Ljubljana
konSekvence ≡ Fragmenti možnega ekosistema, Galerija Velenje, Velenje, Slovenia [March 2023]
MycoMythologies: Radiotrophic Fungarium or How To Make A Coat For Marie Curie, Projekt Atol Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia [December 2022 – January 2023]