On the 5th of December 2011 we began building the Bodies of Change installation by Maurizio Montalti. Since this is a living and growing installation, the initial building process is crucial to the growth of the piece. The installation consists of a felt shroud inoculated with fungal mycelia from the species Schizophyllum Commune. The goal is for the fungi to grow on the shroud, replicating the processes of growth and decomposition that can take place under the ground.
The first phase of building was the construction of the box in which the 'body' was encased. The box is a stainless steel structure with plexiglass on the top (in order to take clearer time-lapse pictures through) and PVC plastic wrapped around for the walls. The PVC helps to keep out any contaminants from the outside air and seals moisture and humidity inside the box to help the mycelium grow.
Installing Bodies of Change Part 1
In order to minimize any chance of contamination, which would slow down the growth of or even kill the mushrooms, all the materials to be used needed to be sterilized. As you can see in the video below, this was done by placing the materials we were using (the grains and the cotton) in aluminum foil wrapped glass jars and boiling them in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes.
The Clean Room
Installing Bodies of Change Part 2
Once all the materials had been sterilized, we carried the sealed jars into the clean room in order to open them and cool down the materials. It is important to cool down the materials in the clean room before bringing them back out into the 'dirtier' air, because warm materials have a higher chance of getting contamination. Once the materials had cooled down, we were able to begin working on the installation.
Installing Bodies of Change Part 3
With all the materials ready, we were able to begin the inoculation of the shroud with the mushroom spores. First, we laid down wet cotton all over the structural framework of the 'body'. The wet cotton works to increase the humidity and moisture level inside the box once it is sealed. Then we spread the grains all over the body. The grains act as 'food' for the mushrooms, so that they can keep growing over a longer period of time. Maurizio had a mixture of the grains that had the mycelium grown into them and he also spread them onto the body. Next, we put the shroud over top of the 'body' and sprayed a mixture of nutrients and antibiotics all over it. This mixture helps in assisting the growth of the mushrooms and keeping away bad bacteria. The final step was spraying the body with the mushroom spores that had been broken down into the nutrient mixture. These spores were grown in the lab by Maurizio.
Finally, we sealed the body inside the box with the PVC. We will be tracking and visually documenting the growth of fungus over time by using a camera mounted on the ceiling over the 'body', which will capture time lapse images.
You can read more about the artwork and the concept behind it here.