Ep. 35: Growing Regenerative Art with Crystals, Algae and Mushrooms (feat. Chris Ritson)

Today on Mushroom Hour we are excited to interview biophiliac and artist Chris Ritson. His practice is informed by societies relationship to Nature, and ranges from video and installation to living, generative sculpture. He studied New Genres at the San Francisco Art Institute and has since exhibited internationally.

Taking a much needed vacation to the tropics, we visit Mt. Tantalus on the Hawaiian island  of Oahu. This is where we'll find native plant propagator, mushroom cultivator and sculptural artist Chris Ritson. To our resident alchemist, art is a process, initiated to produce phenomena which impacts the viewer with a novel perspective. Truly his practice in creating art is generative, unique and inspiring as he grows crystals, algae and mushrooms into pieces that quite literally take on a life of their own. Lifting the veil on his creative process, Chris reveals how his stunning creations are conceived and executed. Diving deeper, we get a sense of purpose and understand the message being conveyed with such organic works. How can art using expanding organisms trigger anxiety in us about the growth of a non-human "other" and our strained relationship with nature?

A passionate student of the mycelium, Chris guides us through the lush Hawaiian forests to forage for mushrooms. We'll learn how the lines between endemic, native and invasive fungi often blur given Hawaii's history of tourism, imports and a ethnomycological history that has not been fully uncovered. The unique mushroom artworks he creates are sourced from strains found in his own backyard then cultured and inoculated in his studio. What are the strains of polypore he uses to make such vibrant, living canvases? How has his relationship with fungal organisms influence his perspectives on spirituality?

It becomes clear that for Chris, a lifelong relationship with the resplendent environs of Hawaii has instilled a passion for protecting nature. His work highlights the relationship between natural systems and human society in a visceral and tangible way. Many artists convey a message of environmentalism with their work, but fewer consider how the creation of their work effects the very environment they are symbolically venerating. He articulates the idea that only by weighing the environmental, social and economic impacts necessary for its creation, can the intent of any artist's work of art be considered. What are some ways that artists who seek to highlight environmental concerns can offer solutions to the viewers of their art?
Episode Resources
Chris Ritson IG: https://www.instagram.com/chrisritson/
Chris Ritson Website: https://sites.google.com/view/chris-ritson/page
Tantalus Botanicals Website: https://www.instagram.com/tantalusbotanicals/
Microporus Affinus (mushroom): https://www.mybis.gov.my/sp/21901
Pycnoporus Sanguineus (mushroom): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pycnoporus_sanguineus

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