Bryson's built laboratory inside of her studio provides a performative space wherein the rituals of mycological cultivation are enacted. This laboratory was built by Bryson and contains biological lab equiptment that she has hacked and built herself. Due to the great potential for contamination of the mycelial materials she commonly uses, every action within the space must be done with intention and attention to detail. This space also provides a gallery, as visitors may step into the lab and observe the fungal materials in various stages of development.
This series contains ongoing experiments that Bryson is working on within her lab. The petri dishes are mycelium growing on inkjet photographs that have been briefly dipped in agar medium. Most inkjet inks have a complex chemical makeup and even contain some of the same heavy metals found in mine-tailings. In this experiment specific species of mycelium are trained to digest and transform these chemical toxins. At once the photo is overtaken by the mycelium, creating a visual site of transformation, highlighting the agency of the mycelium as well as pointing to how dissolution can provide opportunities for strength and resiliency.
The glass jar experiments contain soil soaked with crude oil collected from a fracking site in Navajo Nation in New Mexico, and Trametes versicolor (turkey tail) mycelium. Slowly the mycelium is consuming the crude oil. This sculpture provides visual and visceral moments to observe this process, and will further provide a resilient strain of turkey tail mycelium that Bryson will grow out to be applied to land pollution at the site of its origin.
October 24, 2016
"Today I sat on the banks of the Rio Grande and offered my hand to the Rio. With needles collected from a nearby Prickly Pear Cactus, I tattooed the line of the river into and around the side of my hand. This gesture is a form of acknowledgement; the Rio is now embedded into my lifelines, just as I am woven into its systems.
As we have made our way down the Rio Grande learning and thinking about water rights, it has become viscerally clear that the Rio is a living being and is the tie that binds it all together. It is a living link: a blood line that runs through the land, supporting and nourishing each aspect of life in the Southwest. It connects all of the varying strata – the lives of humans and nonhumans, culture, spirituality, history, and ecology – into a dynamic and ever-changing system.
I see the completed line on my hand only as the beginning of this piece. It is a mark that will most certainly change, just as the Rio itself does. I will document and record the shifts, erosion, and changes that this line undergoes as I continue to work for//with//within this watershed and bioregion."
- Kaitlin Bryson
Confluence (2016) is a video installation made as a gesture to visualize the two polar aspects of Bryson’s psyche merging into one, or the process of individuation, described by Carl Jung, as the unison of our conscious and unconscious minds. Within this layered video installation, Bryson embodies each aspect of the psyche - the light and the dark. The bodies skip towards one another in a dizzying lack of advancement. The environment continues to circle and change, but the two bodies seem to be stuck in space, trying to become one. Although there are some moments of graying, the reality of the desired wholeness is transient and oscillating.
The installation of this video projected onto the water bowls portrays the inherent difficulty of the confluence of these polarities. The bowls delineate contained space, contained bodies of water, impossible to merge together. The terracotta bowls were made in the process of pinching the clay into vessels. In this regard, their surface holds the memory of Bryson’s fingertips, of her hands – of their making. Laid all together on the ground and filled with water, they represent a mind full of separate memories. Water stores memory, and water is the element of emotion. This tactile composition, along with the projection of the moving bodies is a sort of impossible confluence, strived for but not entirely obtained.
Needle weaving on Opuntia Stricta, which continues to grow as it heals over the scaring.
A seed is a container of pure potential. Though inanimate in its sleepy seed state, its fullest and most realized state is as an animate being in the world. It takes a radical moment for the seed to make its transformation into the living realm, especially in the desert. The seed knows when the conditions are right, and when that time comes it alchemically transforms its identity. The seed breaks open and goes through a tremendous morphological shift, and at this time the seed is no longer a seed. It threshes off its hull and is born into a radicle – the plant embryo. It begins to simultaneously grow upward and downward, reaching both towards the light and towards the darkness.
The piece entitled, Radicle, is made with an accumulation of individual materials that, together, help construct the form of the whole. Each hanging pod contains high desert native wildflowers, fertile soil, and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi spores. The pods are dyed with Chamisa (rabbit brush) that was harvested on site.
The support system for the Radicle, made from cotton rope, represents the woven network in the soil, which is usually invisible to us: the fungi. This woven matrix is a vital resource to the desert as it acts as a highway system for the plants, mining nutrients and water from far away in the soil then distributing this directly to plant roots. In exchange, the plants provide the fungi with carbon. This mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship, supports over 90% of the Earth’s plant ecologies.
Viewers were invited to cut or untie a pod from the woven network to take home and collaborate, as a reminder that we are all a part of the ecosystem. The pod contained all of the nutrients and content needed in order to grow – but those contents need to be spread and gently tended.
The Mycelium shoes are currently in process. Bryson is growing a pair of mycelium shoes to be worn in a remediation performance in the San Juan River which was polluted with over three million gallons of toxic mine-waste in 2015. This environmental disaster took place near Silverton, Colorado, at the abandoned Gold King Mine when an EPA cleanup crew punctured a hole in the mountain with a backhoe where the waste was being stored. The cascade of toxic waste spilled directly into the Animas River, and eventually met the San Juan River. Both of these rivers are vital resources for communities throughout the arid Southwest region, but particularly for Native lands. In the years since, little has been done to reverse these impacts, and much of these metals still line the river bottom.
Through a mycoremediation process called biosorption fungal mycelium can immobilize heavy metals within their biomass by merely coming into contact with heavy metals. The mycelium essentially acts as a magnet – binding immediately with the metals. The shoes that are growing in the lab are designed with biosorption in mind to be worn in a river walk. If successful, multiple shoes will be grown so that, as a community woven together, toxic cleanup matters can be taken into our own feet.
In Alter | Altar, Bryson provides an immersive sculptural environment to act as a platform through which viewers may physically step into and be a part of the process of mycoremediation. This 9’ x 7’ x 12’ sculpture was built out of wooden hexagonal frames and glazed in waxed and naturally-dyed canvas, and polyethylene sheeting. The exterior materials were tightly stretched over the wooden frame so that the interior was sealed, making it humid and hospitable for the biological materials living within. Bryson collected mine-waste from an abandoned coal mine from Madrid, New Mexico to bring into the sculpture to be remediated by the saprophytic mushroom Pleutrous ostreatus, or pearl oyster. This waste was laden with heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Slowly, several oyster mushrooms fruited from these tailings. The interior of the piece was built with layered shelves and included plants and insects to show the range of diversity of the fungal ecosystem as well as point to the necessity of creating a remediation team to not only provide a healthy and diverse habitat, but also allow for series of biochemical processes to ensue within and feed the microbial masses. Within the framework of the sculpture the materials transformed daily.
Bryson uses long-exposure photography at dusk to create images of her body decomposing into the ground below. This moment creates an uncanny visual tension, but reminds us that decay is an apt symbol for regrowth. In To Maintain Oneself by Self-Sown Seeds (white) Bryson is lifting herself up to rise again, and in Sporulation | Release (black) Bryson is resting and resolved in knowing that the release of her spores will produce new and abundant life.
Molds For Futures is a video compilation showcasing microscope imagery of hyphae and spores of Trichoderma and Aspergillus species of molds that were cultivated (by accident) in Bryson's laboratory. Though these molds are unfavorable for cultivation and are seen as contaminants, Bryson is interested in the social parallels that can be drawn from the concept of contamination. In setting up the cultivation space, Bryson is inherently inviting a host of organisms by providing habitat and sugars for most microorganism to thrive in. She questions how she can morally adhere to "sterility" when she provides this type of environment. How can we determine who is allowed to live where? These molds are undesirable because they out-compete the targeted species of basidiomycetes that Bryson works to cultivate.
Furthermore, Trichoderma in particular is an important ascomycete who paves the way for other microorganisms in the soil. As one of the most important compost starters, Trichoderma plays an integral role in the recycling of Earth's materials. Molds For Futures is meant to showcase the beauty of these molds as a nod to their lives, and to illuminate the potential of working with contaminants.
Over a period of 4 days - from sunrise to sunset - Bryson grinds into a sandstone boulder to create a "tinaja" (or basin) to catch rainwater, providing a watering hole for the reticent desert life. This performance takes place in Southeastern Utah, where these tinajas are formed naturally over thousands of years with rainfall and lichens. Bryson's attempt at creating a tinaja in a such a short period speaks to human futility and the desire to leave our mark. While acknowledging these facts, Bryson hopes that the mark she ultimately leaves will provide nourishment for other species and life forms. This laborious and painstaking act provided many hours of meditation on these things.
The looms providing the structure for the needle weavings are made between two or three different plants, each of which resides in its own pot or home. This above-the-surface weaving is a reflection of the connections made between the individual plants through the mycorrhizal network in the soil below. Since much of the work the mycelium does is microscopic, Bryson manually creates these connections above ground to communicate its vital, nurturing existence. The naturally dyed silk threads that she introduces to the cacti mimic the individual hypha in that they pierce into the plant tissue and extend outward to join a community of other threads, thus forming a network— a woven matrix. Like the mycelium, a warp and weft creates a structure that is both strong and flexible built through a community of woven threads. Within the history of weaving, many disparate components – textiles, cultural values, cosmologies, symbols – come together to form a pattern and unique story that teaches and replenishes each generation.
In Holism, Bryson offers a part of herself in a gesture of reciprocity to the cacti. She transforms her skin using the needles of the cacti that she has embroidered or woven into. For over three hours she poked at her skin with the cactus needles and ink, resulting in a tattoo on each of her shins. The image of the tattoo is a rudimentary drawing of a stoma (pl. stomata), which is the cellular structure responsible for respiration after the process of photosynthesis. The stomata are like microscopic mouths allowing for a gas exchange to take place. Bryson was both offering her skin in an effort of exchange with the cacti, and also recognizing her and the cacti's sameness in the need to breathe. Although plant/human gaseous exchanges are different in molecular makeup, they are dependent upon one another.
This performance is simply a meditation on the need to clean and groom in order to make space for the next to come. Bryson represents this as she washes Navajo Churro wool in the Rio Grande in preparation to be spun and dyed for future weavings. This piece demonstrates Bryson's process: each material is treated from beginning to end, carrying all of its history throughout the work.
To become one of the truly dead we must allow ourselves to fully decompose and pass on to the next life, or the next phase of our lives. In this performance Bryson constructs 36 coffins made from plant materials for animals, insects, and fruit so that they may decompose out in the open to be observed in all states of their deterioration. Bryson is interested in what grows off of the dead, and what this can symbolize metaphorically, socially, and ecologically.
This series of photographs illustrates how our limitations or burdens hold us back, but also tend to support us. Bryson believes that we must learn to love and live with these burdens as we will always be responsible for carrying them.
Pom was conceived as a piece to provide examples of alternative growing containers. Pomegranates are eaten, hollowed out, sewn together as vessels, and then microgreens are planted inside. The plants grew for a duration of time, but ultimately the containers were overtaken by molds. The remaining piece showcases the skin, or pelt, hung on the wall to pay homage to the lives that were held in these vessels.