Two artists, one giant mushroom

Ann Hodos, North Campus Staff

Get ready Pittsburgh to experience art inspired by the excavation of an ancient giant mushroom. 

The giant mushroom is considered to be the largest organism on the earth and is estimated to cover about 3.5 miles. The scientific name of this mushroom is Armillaria Ostoyae or Armillaria Solidipes and is estimated to be more than 8,000 years old, according to Pittsburgh City Paper. 

Although the majority of this Giant wonder is underground in Oregon’s Malheur National forest, Jen Vaughn and Erin Mallea  were able to use technology and science to uncover some of its mysteries. They have used these findings to create a works called Cumulative Skies, Deep Soils which will be running from March 7th to April 5 at Phosphor Project Space.

According to the Pittsburgh City Paper, “The exhibition centers on an immersive audio and sculptural installation that combines lighting design with forest field recordings, mushroom vibrations, Slow Scan Television (SSTV) transmissions, and NASA sound recordings.” They will also have a part of the exhibit where visitors can sit down on the actual art and read.

Jen Vague is an artist based out of Oregon. She first found out about the Giant mushroom when she was doing research for her Fine arts major. She was happy to hear that the world’s largest organism was only a few hours away from her.

She was fascinated by the Armillaria Ostoyae and she discovered that there is a lot of research being done about how fungus are able to absorb toxins, pollution, waste and radiation. 

  Vaughn says “The age and size of the [honey fungus] is astounding and mysterious. My exploration to find it proved daunting — most of the fungus is hidden underground, only revealing its profile in the large stands of dead firs trees that it has killed.”

Erin Mallea is a local artist of Pittsburgh and collaborated across the country with Jen Vaughn to create Cumulative Skies, Deep Soils.

She used SSTV Transmissions to try to uncover some of the mysteries of this giant organism. According to Mallea, SSTV is a form of  image communication that uses shortwave radio frequencies to transmit images.

Mallea states, “The possibility of these images being heard, and therefore seen, lies with those who are actively listening, diligently open to receiving unknown, distant communication.” 

Both artists seem to combine science and art to create these works although these subjects are usually seen to be unconnected.

However, Vaughn says that it has scientific qualities; However, It is not meant to generate scientific knowledge from it. It is meant to be a sensory experience that they built from the data they collected through their mushroom vibrations. 

The Exhibit, Cumulative Skies, Deep Soils will be running from March 7th to April 5th at Phosphor Project Science.