The realm of fungi and mycelium can often be a fruitful source for art: whether it be as a model for photography volumes, a surreal digital 3D rendering model, or the source for a beautifully illustrated scientific inquiry. Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez’s latest book, Embrace the Fungal Ethos! published by independent Dutch publishing house Valiz, is squarely the latter. The book, designed by Andrea Spikker and illustrated by Rommy González, draws inspiration from the spheres of artistry and mycology, showcasing an array of inventive techniques and Indigenous customs from Latin America and the Caribbean. We see how these practices are deeply rooted in multispecies collaboration, symbiosis, alliances, non-monetary resource exchange, decentralisation, bottom-up methods and mutual dependency. Ultimately, Embrace the Fungal Ethos! uncovers how the rhizomatic network of fungi can function not just as a fascinating ecological system and material, but also as a profound metaphor for potential new systems, ways of thinking and behaviours.
After quitting her job as the Head (and founder) of the Department for Nature Research at the Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands to work at a biodynamic shiitake farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Yasmine felt drawn to the weird and wonderful world of mushrooms. “I started interviewing other mushroom farmers, mycologists and amateur enthusiasts,” Yasmine tells us. “They all had similar experiences (like being ‘called’ by the mushrooms) and shared many more teachings of the world of fungi with me. Their stories were so amazing and there were so many parallels between them that I realised I was on to something and this knowledge should be shared more widely.”
Each section is framed as an inquiry, leading to twelve insightful principles that tackle diverse subjects such as collaboration, decoloniality, non-linearity, toxicity, mobilisation, biomimicry, death, and being non-binary. “Fungi throw questions, never answers,” Yasmine explains. “A lot of the book is about how to embrace complexity and not-knowing. I feel this is very hard for many people, but at the same time a real necessity in an increasingly unstable world.” With the delicately hand-drawn illustrations adjacent to Yasmine’s text, the book itself becomes as “complex and magical” as the natural world Yasmine draws from. “Flexibility, resilience, adaptability, mystery and surprise are all central themes to the book and that fungi make excellent teachers for,” she says.
The book is relevant to a wide range of disciplines, from art to science to activism. For Yasmine, envisioning how these teachings and principles would resonate across these different fields was a challenge. “Without simplifying or dumbing-down I wanted the book to be accessible for anyone,” she explains. “You don't need to know anything about art, fungi, agriculture or activism to be able to enjoy this book or ‘get it’...it’s not an academic book at all, yet I try to introduce complex concepts from different disciplines because I think they are very helpful.” For instance, the concept of ‘geo-choreographies’ from Carolina Caycedo or ‘microbiopolitics’ from Heather Paxson pop up in the book’s many insightful discussions. “I borrow these terms from the arts, academia, mycology literature and from people and other disciplines because they are helpful tools to break down complexity in bite-size pieces without simplifying,” Yasmine tells us. “I believe in cross-and-interdisciplinary knowledge exchange, but I also believe there is some mediation needed and we can’t assume everyone knows everything about everything.”
As the book is released out in to the world, Yasmine hopes that the knowledge given to her (“by both humans and more-than-humans”) helps people to re-think and unlearn “the many ‘truths’ or ‘taboos’ that have been fed to us by colonialism, the patriarchy, capitalism, heteronormativity, etc.” Whilst a visually stunning illustrative book to feast on, the text itself is what remains paramount. “The list is endless…fungi demonstrate how it’s all possible and how it’s done with a great sense of humour and in some crazy bioluminescent outfits.”
Rommy González: Veiled Lady. Illustration for Let’s Become Fungal! Mycelium Teachings and the Arts by Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez (Copyright © Valiz, 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.