U1. Critical Reflection

Keywords:  Nature – Ecology – Fungi – Decay – Strangeness of forms – Light born in darkness – Regrowth grows on decay – Repair – Eternity

“The fundamental building blocks of life may have formed in the depths of space and been delivered to the Earth on meteorites. When we look out into space, we are looking into our own origins. Because we are truly children of the stars, and every molecule of our bodies is the entire history of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day. And when you die, those pieces will be returned to the universe, in the endless cycle of death and rebirth.”(From “Wonders of the Universe”)

This is a quote from a documentary film, which made me think that if I zoom out to the perspective of the universe, if I look at life and death from another angle, and pay attention to the connection and entanglement between life and nature, the death of a human being does not mean the end of life, but another new life. I like to see the passing of life as a very romantic and poetic process, but at this stage, my work is still a bit figurative and not very romantic.

- Never ending, Eternity -

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, 2021, New York: Random House.

Ernst Haeckel's lichens, published in Art Forms in nature (1904)

Sheldrake, M. (2021). “In 1995, the artist Francis Alÿs walked around São Paulo carrying a can of blue paint with a hole punched in the bottom. Over many days, as he moved through the city, a continuous stream of paint dribbled onto the ground in a trail behind him. The line of blue paint made a map of his journey, a portrait of time. Alÿs’s performance illustrates hyphal growth. Alÿs himself is the growing tip. The winding trail he leaves behind him is the body of the hypha. Growth happens at the tip; if one paused Alÿs as he walked around with his can of paint, the line would cease to grow. A mycelial network is a map of a fungus’s recent history and is a helpful reminder that all life forms are in fact processes not things. The ‘you’ of five years ago was made from different stuff than the ‘you’ of today. Nature is an event that never stops.” (Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, p. 73)

All forms of life are actually processes rather than things, and as nature is a never-ending event, so human life will never cease. Various lichen forms are vividly depicted by the biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel in his richly illustrated book Art Forms of Nature (1904). I was fascinated by these beautiful lichen forms, the patterns of which are hidden in our lives He illustrated things that we overlook and take for granted, as if seeing new life forms. And Haeckel created the word “ecology” in 1866. Ecology describes the study of the relationship between living organisms and their environment: both the places they inhabit and the jungle that sustains them. The study of ecology stems from the fact that nature is an interconnected whole, and organisms cannot be understood in isolation. As we see with mushrooms above ground, what is exposed above ground is only a small part of its body, and larger parts can extend underground like roots in various directions and become entangled. And fungi are often associated with decay and death.

Other Key influences:

Some inspirational images for Unit 2, from the book Entangled Life:

- About entanglement and fungi -

Fay Ballard

Fay Ballard's work
The branches that hide the mushrooms
My drawing:The branches of the hidden mushrooms,Pencil drawing,January 2024
Drawing process
My drawing in the lower left corner was inspired by Fay Ballard’s artist talk (see contexts section for more about that). From her slides I was very interested in her drawing that revealed the ground, so I thought about the mushrooms I’ve been working on recently, and I suddenly thought about the environmental conditions near the mushrooms. As far as I remember the discovery of this mushroom was a surprise, mushrooms are always hidden in hard to find places and this one was no different. It was surrounded by wildly growing branches as well as being covered by large leaves, and the mushroom was hidden right in the middle of it. So I wanted to expose something like Fay did, and then I started drawing the branches that hide the mushroom. I wanted to show the dense and growing forces as if entangled in their exposure to the outside space rather than hidden underground. I refer from the video I recorded at the time, taken at Nottingham National Water Sports Centre, 21 October 2023 17:57.
Another reason I drew this drawing was to try and spend more time on one drawing and be more detailed, so I didn’t think much about it at first and chose to do it on paper because I didn’t know how it would turned out. After the drawing, I thought it would be better to draw on stone litho. So after that, I plan to screen print my scans on stone litho, and I may think of ways to play with stone to try to add more layers on top, as well as continue to draw on stone with other materials. Zao Wou-Ki’s litho has inspired me a lot lately, he found that drawing on the surface of stone litho is like drawing on Chinese rice paper, he added a lot of water to the litho ink and splashed it on the stone to give it the feeling of a Chinese ink scene, and  I’d like to explore more possibilities of lithography in Unit2.

Extended Reflection 💡 : This mushroom discovery above gave me the feeling of surprise, like finding a treasure, it was feeling cute. But when I recall the scenes where I was looking for mushrooms not every time I found a mushroom I was excited. In Eping Forest in London, there was one time I went to look for mushrooms, but I didn’t take a lot of photos even though I found a lot of mushrooms that time. The reason for this is that in that forest there are a lot of huge rotting wood, and often mushrooms are found in large groups. But when I saw large, dense mushrooms growing on the edges of rotting logs I was extremely uncomfortable and had a feeling of trypophobia. I didn’t even want to take photos to record them on my mobile phone for fear that it would be occupied by them. And those mushrooms are growing in extremely humid places where the smell of death and decay would be noticeable. When I was printing my etching mushrooms, many people’s first thought was that they were flowers, and it occurred to me that Steven had shown me photos of mushrooms he went to photograph, and  there were little patches of mushrooms growing amongst the trees, like blossoming in a wound, ushering in new life and energy.

Photo by Shichuan Ding(Steven) at Fogging Forest

- Micro Landscapes -

Wim Van Egmond


Wim van Egmond is one of the scientists and photographic artists I discovered in the book Entangled Lives. Wim van Egmond is one of them. He works at the interface between science and art, and his beautiful micro-photographic images were the direction of my Unit 2 development, making me think about how I could use these images to translate them into my language. He is a ‘micro-photographer’ whose goal is to depict microorganisms and other unassuming life forms, and he believes that the advantage of depicting microorganisms is that they look almost like abstract artefacts. I liked his viewpoint and it allowed me to use these images to develop my own romantic and sublime sensibilities.

His micro-landscapes “Micro Landscapes” and “Fungi movies” vividly explore hidden life forms and how fungal communities can turn into strange tapestries or giant forests at extremely close range. We can walk through these microscopic fungal landscapes as explorers of the unknown.

- The sublime -

The sublime, 2010, London: Whitechapel.


“Kant, in his ‘Critique of Judgment’ (1790), informs us that while the beauty in the natural world is related to the form of objects, including their boundaries, the sublime can be found in formless objects, as long as the boundless is represented within it, or through its occasions” (I, Vol. 2, §23).

The sublime often evokes a sense of transcendence beyond our comprehension, which is why it has long been associated with religion, spirituality and transcendence. Even in a temporal context, the sublime evokes something awe-inspiring and reminds us that human beings are not necessarily at the centre of the world.

In Kazimir Malevich’s work “Black Square,” Malevich claimed to “liberate art from the burden of the object.” He argues that perception should be liberated from logic and reason, and that absolute truth can only be realized through the senses. Once the mind escapes reason, the unconscious will be able to “see” the artist presenting the entire universe and all the life in it in his small, square, simple paintings.

Hiroshi Sugimoto


Hiroshi Sugimoto photobook, Hoary moss shall overgrow them all, 2005,
Original published by SHINCHOSHA publishing Co.,Ltd.

When I first heard about Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work, I didn’t have a lot of feelings about it, but as time passed and I ingested knowledge, his work made my understanding of modern art deeper. He’s exploring something that doesn’t have an answer. He’s playing with his ideas. His photographs are different from our usual photography because of the ideas and content he puts in them, as well as his understanding of the world and his own philosophy. As he said, “Rather than the camera projecting the outside world onto film, I am using it to project outward the world that exists inside me. I am using it to project outward the world that exists inside me.” (Sugimoto, n.d., Fraenkel Gallery)

When I saw his Theaters series, when I looked at it from a distance I asked why it was a blank glowing screen. By reading the guided tour of the work it became clear to me that he was documenting time and space. Using a single photograph to document the length of an entire film, I liked his concept. He goes on to explore the theatre’s decline over time and the presentation of different spaces. Before I came across his concept of documenting the length of time with a single photograph, photography in my mind was only about documenting moments, moments in life. So he gave me a deeper understanding of contemporary art. After reading his book, I realised that his photographs are not only taken because they are beautiful, but also because of the story behind the photographs, as well as his thoughts and ideas that made him want to take the photographs.

The photos of his seascape series have a sublime feeling, and when I face this group of photos of his, I can only feel with my heart the quietness and contemplation that can’t be described with words. I hope that my work will also give people a sublime feeling. I want to explore life, entanglement, and the infinite feeling that contains my memory.

Another artist who gave me a sublime feeling was Vija Celmins, whose web works are like a kind of map, or even galaxies in the universe. Elita Ansone, a writer and curator, sees the spider web theme as related to images of the night sky, commenting that ‘each spider web represents a different feeling and a different image as if each one were a new galaxy.’ I think she finds the small, overlooked things in everyday life and brings out their own beauty.

Her work on galaxies reminded me of my own work. I imagine exploring the movement of spores and plan to expand on it in the next unit, experimenting with different techniques and referencing real movement video footage. In the upcoming unit, I hope to find a technique and medium that closely aligns with conveying my ideas, attempting to integrate various techniques into a single image. This process resonates with what Giuseppe Penone (2021) expressed: ‘When you work with any material, the material is leading. It is the artist’s mission to coax out the vitality and show it. I want to make you understand what creation is, the chain of thoughts and actions.’

Web #1 (1999)
Untitled (Desert-Galaxy) (1974)

Vija Celmins

In Unit 1, I mostly based my practice research and my ideas for the project seem to have become clearer recently. In the next Unit, I put my keywords on entanglement, the strangeness of forms, regrowth grows on decay, symbolism for rebirth, fungi, ecology, fungi, and a metaphor for person loss and renewal, symbolism for rebirth, a metaphor for personal loss and renewal.