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Bio-designer Uses Tropical Mushroom Varieties to Grow Sustainable Living Artwork

Meet Chris Ritson, a bio-designer and artist from Hawaii who works with fungi. He has developed techniques using tropical mushroom varieties to grow sustainable living artwork. He collects and clones local polypores, which he uses to inoculate sawdust from invasive trees. The wooden material becomes encased and fused by the growing mycelium until it fruits, producing mushrooms that create the changing composition.

Chris’s work speaks literally to the cultural effect of fungiphobia. He believes Western culture has feared and distrusted fungi for thousands of years. One major example of this is the way fungi have been negatively represented throughout art history. This legacy has left the entire Fungal Kingdom underrepresented, understudied, and unprotected. By using fungi to create artworks, he is providing an example of how fungi can make new, environmentally sustainable materials, while also elevating the viewers' perspective of the mushroom as it grows and creates beautiful images.

He refers to his art as “bio-generative” - a reference to the contemporary movement of “generative art,” which uses non-human, autonomous systems to determine the features of the artwork independently of the artist. Chris started fungi fuelled art in order to find a more conscious way to engage with the art world. In an artistic culture that places very little emphasis on its environmental impact, Chris wants to find an alternative to the rampant waste of large exhibitions and reliance on toxic “art” materials.

His current projects include the founding of the non-profit Fungarium of Hawaii through which he hopes to establish the world's first living fungarium to stand alongside the state's zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens.

Chris lives on Oahu where he runs the tropical flower farm and design studio Tantalus Botanicals and continues to push forward the potential for ornamental mycology and public appreciation of this fabulous kingdom.

[image credits: Chris Ritson]


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