Silke Riis

Final product

Brainstorm on video

Mind-map

First story board (I hate making story boards, so I was not very invested in this, and I really question if this is in ANY way how the video will be (I don’t think so))

Outing of helmet

(Video stills)

Building the helmet

I have decided to build my helmet. It allows the dandelion tribe to take over one’s brain, and whoever wears it becomes a slave to them.

I got and old bike helmet from which I used the inner straps to be the base of the helmet, a tool to secure it so you don’t accidentally drop your Dandelion Overlords when you are taking them for a walk.

I attached a basket-like shape made of chicken wire on top. It looked like this:

I made a bottom layer of plastic to keep excess water in the hat. Then, I filled nylon stockings with soil (a way to keep the soil in place but still letting it breathe and lead water out)

Heavy and crooked helmet before sewing the straps and stableising it. First time wearing it with soil haha…

After some feedback I chose to let the top of the structure be free of chicken wire.

Then, the most anxious moment:

PLANTING MY BABIES IN THE HELMET!

This could very well go wrong… So I decided to keep a sample of each of them in case they all die……. Which they hopefully won’t.

I cut open small spaces in the stockings in which I planted the plants, and also new seeds.

Wearing the helmet for the first time!

I chose to place the helmet in my window in my living room based on my growing research. This is where the plants are growing the fastest and strongest.

Now, I will start wearing the helmet….

Sketching ideas for growing possibilities

Brain storm, stream of thoughts:

It would be interesting to be able to wear them, as they are very invasive plants that we want to get rid off. Could they take over the world? Humanity? Could they replace us? But the question with this is whether or not it is interesting to pursue making them wearable or building a sculpture they live in, in somewhat of a human shape. I think about these baby-plants all the time, being so excited that I managed to make them grow. I have dandelions on my mind. Maybe they should start growing out of my head? Like some kind of hat or helmet that would keep me safe, just like I am keeping them safe now. Maybe they should take over everything: grow out of my coffee mug, my shoes, my socks, my pants, my bra. They could grow instead of my hair or my nails. Maybe they could grow from my heart since I am starting to feel a deep love for them? They are known for growing through concrete – Could they grow through plaster? I know they are not the ones causing the cracks, but simply finding small cracks of light that they grow towards and thereby crack off what they are strong enough to on their way. I should try with plaster before the plants are too big… Make little cracks and see if the dandelion will do the rest. In danish we call a person who breaks their social heritage a “dandelion child”. That’s very beautiful I think. Could I embody this somehow? Oh, so many ideas. Maybe I should start drawing some sketches…

Can I help them take over?

Feed their invasive behavior!

Help them take over the world!

Dandelion overlords!

Day 10, 28/10/2020

Since it is not my school week, this will be an update on the plants I have at home:

This means that ALL of the plants are sprouting – so now the challenge is to keep them alive and healthy. I can’t wait to see their evolution 🙂

EUREKA! (Day 9, 27/10/2020)

After almost giving up from seeing no progress in any seeds, I came home to find that they had all sprouted (except the autumn hawkbit in my living room, but I still have faith in it!)

“Living room plants” have been watered 4 times since sowing.

“Balcony plants” have gotten water almost every day from the rain.

“School plants” have only been watered 2 times since sowing.

I will let them grow bigger and stronger before starting to experiment with planting them out in clothes, shoes, and other challenging places.

It has also become clear already how the autumn hawkbit likes the environment in school way better than my balcony and living room – the sow thistle acting exactly opposite!

Day 1 (18/10/2020)

Studio plants (I wrote the wrong date on the pots, the right date is 18/10/2020)
Livingroom plants
Balcony plants

Sowing seeds

I waited a few days to see if the nipplewort would start seeding, but decided to just plant that later, since both the potted plant and the cut off are still very much flowering. So I collected the airborne seeds from the autumn hawkbit, common dandelion, and sow thistle, and followed a planting guide for growing dandelions indoors (link: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-dandelions-indoors-pots-98287.html).

I filled pots with standard potting soil and put my collected seeds on top with some distance between them, being careful that the seeds didn’t mix or travelled to a neighbor pot:

I then sprinkled a bit of soil on top, just covering the seeds, and sprayed it with water to make it damp.

I collected some news seeds and brought them to my house, where I did the same process:

So I now have three different seedings:

1) In studio with changing temperatures (depending on school, open windows, and people in the room). Very bright, windows facing northeast.

2) In my livingroom, always between 17 and 20 °C. Windows facing west-southwest.

3) On my balcony, outdoors, very varied temperatures (at the moment between 7 and 15 °C) Facing northeast.

Potted plants update

It seems like the plants I managed to collect with roots and then planted in pots are growing!
At least the sow thistle has bloomed:

Also the nipplewort’s flowers have opened up a bit more!

I think I will keep these plants in the studio for now.

Oh no – new client?

Disaster has struck. Based on the latest email from Jorinde, I will have to come to terms with the fact that it will most likely be impossible for me to keep earthstars alive in any cultivated habitat. The fruiting bodies will not be able to stay alive until December and the mycelium would then be the organism left, which would be good, only that I am afraid of killing it by moving it from its actual habitat, where it has a relationship to its surrounding trees. I will hear what Anna and Elizaveta think at today’s feedback, but I might have to choose a new client… Oh well, rather that I found out now than later! 

My new potential client has been in front of me for this entire course, on my table in my studio: The dandelion tribe. 

A couple of weeks ago I went for a walk, where I picked a Sow Thistle with its roots (thinking it was a dandelion). I liked how its yellow flowers were the only memory of the sun left on that grey day. Since then, I started collecting yellow flowers looking like dandelions to put on my table. They have bloomed and turned into white puffy When I found out that I probably have to part ways with my former client, I decided to look up who I actually had brought to my table. It turned out to be:

  1. Common sow thistle (also known as milk thistle or hare lettuce)
  2. Autumn hawkbit (also known as fall dandelion)
  3. Common nipplewort
  4. Common dandelion

They are all from the Asteraceae family (“the sunflower family”)  and in “The Dandelion Tribe” (Cichorieae). What I like about them is both how sturdy they are, needing almost nothing to grow and thrive, and how invasive they are with their wind-borne seeds. They can all grow indoors, produce seeds asexually by apomixis, and their seeds are so easy to collect that I think it would be a fun new client. The wind-borne seeds also connotes to the wind-borne spores of the earthstars, so maybe it will all make sense in the end.

Since the plants literally can grow anywhere, I would like to do experiments with making it as nice as possible for both seeds I will try to grow, and plants that I have collected and put in soil. But yet, it would be nice to challenge their “growing” anywhere! 

Can they grow diagonally? 

Can they grow on me? 

Can they grow instead of me?

RESEARCH QUESTIONS:

  1. 1) Loving and caring for one of the most hated and unwanted plants – How can I make the most comfortable habitat for the most polite plant that never asks for much to grow? (Which one of my collected plants will thrive and grow the most?)
  2. 2) How can I challenge their ability to grow anywhere?
  3. 3) Can they replace me? Can they be human?

I already put a sow thistle, autumn hawkbit and nipplewort in soil. Still searching for a dandelion with intact roots, maybe I can cultivate the cut-off.

Autumn hawkbit in soil
Sow thistle in soil

Nipplewort in soil
Dandelion in water, trying to grow roots

I can harvest seeds from: Sow thistle, autumn hawkbit and dandelion (still waiting for nipplewort to produce seeds)

Sow thistle
Autumn hawkbit
Dandelion

I WOULD LIKE TO GET A UV LAMP!!!

Experiments:

✿ Sow seeds in studio and at home (see difference in amount of light and watering – keep a log of this)

✿ When seeds sprout (should take about 1-2 weeks): test out different fertilizers

✿ When plants have rooted (should take about 2 weeks): Plant them on different human surfaces – clothes, shoes, anything they can break through. Creativity, hooray!

✿ Sculptural aspects should show themselves now

SKETCH 2

Research experiments: Can I make a net/bag that can hold the organic matter? How will the organic matter react to be “floating”? Make individual test-bags with an earthstar in it. 

Different light and amount of mist for the mushrooms, how do they react?

Research questions

  • 1) Can I put the earthstar back to the sky by building a habitat that is hanging above ground?
    • (Inspired by both the native north american Blackfoot people, who called the fungus “fallen star” and considered them to be stars that had fallen to earth under supernatural events, but also the action of the fungus rising it self from the forest floor when blooming – like it’s reaching for the sky)
  • 2) How can I make sure that it stays moist and dark enough?
  • 3) How do I create an environment that both is ideal for the client and at the same time pays tribute to the earthstar’s sculptural value? 

I’d like to use my fine arts perspective and have a lot of focus on the sculptural and performative value of the habitat, so that it becomes an interactive artwork that pays tribute to the beauty I have found in this organism.

SKETCH 1

First sketch, that inspired me to pick the earthstar as my client:

I am very fascinated by the spore sac, which reminds me of old perfume bottles. The spray is an ideal thing to mimic rain/humid air with – to surround the mushroom with “familiar faces”. Maybe it would be possible to create this squeeze bulb mechanism, that would allow the viewer to interact with the environment and make it rain when squeezing the bulb.

Research and experiment: How to atomize water. How spray bottles actually work. Can I make some kind of pump-system?

Research, link: https://sciencing.com/perfume-atomizer-work-4568884.html

Mail correspondence with Jorinde Nuytinck from Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden

I read that the type specimen is kept at The National Herbarium of The Netherlands in Leiden, so I sent them an email asking if anyone there might have some knowledge on the earthstar and would be available for me to ask some questions. 

They forwarded my email to Jorinde Nuytinck who is a mycologist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden. She does research on mushrooms, and offered me to send her any questions I might have, even telling me that if she can’t answer them, there is a guest researcher at Naturalis right now who specialises in earthstars. 

So I sent her some questions about how to create the best possible environment for the earthstar and if it is even possible for me to start growing it in the amount of time we have.

This post will be updated with our mail correspondence:

(LAST UPDATED: October 11 2020)

02-10-2020
Hi! My name is Silke, and I study Fine Arts at the Royal Academy of Art, Den Haag. I am currently working on a project where I am building a sculptural habitat for the fungi “Earthstar” (geastrum triplex), where the aesthetic value is inspired by the fungi itself, but the sculpture also has to be a nice environment that lives up to what the earthstar needs. I am doing some research on this beautiful organism, and stumbled upon a wikipedia page that told me that the type speciment is kept in the National Herbarium of The Netherlands, and therefore think (and hope) you may have a great knowledge on it? If so, I would very much appreciate to ask some questions and learn a lot about the earthstar! I hope you are able to help. Thank you!
Best,
Silke

05-10-2020
Dear Silke,
I’ve forwarded you question to our mycologist Jorinde Nuytink. She might be able to answer all your questions on the earthstar.
Best regards,
Roxali BijmoerSenior Collections Manager

05-10-2020
Hello Silke
I am a mycologist working at Naturalis, I do research on mushrooms, especially their taxonomy and evolution. A collaborator of the Naturalis collections forwarded me your question. Maybe I can help, or if not, there is also a guest researcher at Naturalis that specializes in earthstars. So let me know what your questions are and I’ll do my best to answer.
Best regards
Jorinde

05-10-2020
Hi Jorinde, thank you for getting back to me! I am in the first steps of designing a sculpture for the earthstar to live in, so I first foremost have some very practical questions:

  • I found some earthstars in Haagse Bos, so I know that they can live there, but I wanted to hear if you have info about more specific things like ideal temperature, pH levels of the detritus/dead leaves (in order to maybe make a copy of this on different material), how much/little lighting is best, humidity levels, etc.
  • I have collected spores from the (very generous) spore sack and I was wondering how long it might take for them to grow (under the perfect circumstances). The project is going to be exhibited in January, so I only have that much time – but I would love to see if I could grow one!
    • If that would be possible, within the time frame, do you have any good tips on growing this kind of mushroom indoors? 

Thank you so much!
Best,
Silke

08-10-2020
Hello Silke
I have asked some extra information about this to my colleague Leo Jalink, a specialist for earthstars, and I am waiting to get his answer before I get back to you. Thanks for your patience.
Kind regards
Jorinde

11-10-2020
Thank you so much!I am experimenting whether or not it would be possible for me to at least keep the fruit body alive in a habitat that would be floating above ground – so I want to build some kind of sculptural container that would be hanging. I am inspired by the whole star-analogy from the native north american Blackfoot people who believed earthstars to be actual fallen stars, so I basically want to “put the earthstar back on the sky”.  
But I’m looking forward to what Leo has to say! Thank you again for helping me, it is much appreciated!
Best,
Silke

12/10/2020
Hello Silke
Both Leo and I are afraid it will be impossible to grow earth stars from spores into culture and then transfer the culture to a habitat you construct yourself. Also adding the spores to the constructed habitat will most probably not work. We think this for several reasons:

  • Earthstars are known to be very hard to grow in culture (even in controlled settings on a suitable agar+nutrient medium that works well for other fungi). This has repeatedly been reported in scientific literature. If they grow, they grow very slow, and it would only be mycelium that grows, not the fruiting body.
  • Even if you manage to make an earthstar mycelium culture, at the moment you add it to your constructed habitat, other fungi that are opportunistic and fast growing, will take over. They will win the competition for food and the earthstar mycelium will most likely not thrive.
  • It is not 100% sure that earthstars are saprotrophic. Saprotrophic means that they digest dead plant material to obtain energy/carbon for their growth. Earthstars seem to have a rather strong preference to grow under certain trees, like hawthorn and elm. Although we don’t really understand what the interaction between the tree and the earthstar might be, it could be that earthstarts need living trees for their growth. Many other fungi are similar in that they form mycorrhiza with trees: the plant gives sugar and carbon to the fungus and in return the fungus gives phosphorus, nitrogen and water that it captures from the soil to the plant. This is a mutualistic symbiosis and it means the fungus cannot grow without the plant partner. So, although earthstars are not mycorrhizal as far as we know, they still might interact in some way with plants.

This would support your idea better to try to keep the earth stars alive if you take them from the environment including soil and surrounding plants. Of-course a whole tree would be too large. Maybe you are lucky to find earth starts growing close to tree seedlings? You would have to keep the mycelium as much as possible intact, which is hard because it is in the soil and maybe in surrounding plant roots and you can’t see it. The fruiting bodies you collect now will be gone by January, you can only hope that by keeping the environment moist, they will reappear. This is very unpredictable though. If I were you, I would also go for a backup plan and collect some fresh fruiting bodies now that you gently dry. They tend to keep shape and colour rather well and might still be nice to show, although they will shrivel a little bit. You can put them on a radiator on some tissue for example but don’t make it too warm (ideally the warm air should only be between 30 and 50 degrees Celsius). Do not cover the mushrooms, the goal is that the water evaporates and disappears. This process can take a day or a bit longer. They can then be kept for a long time, but they are not alive anymore unfortunately.
Geastrum triplex specifically is a species of nutrient-rich soils with rather high nitrogen contents (which is why you can still find it quite commonly in the Netherlands, see https://www.verspreidingsatlas.nl/0211140). Most fruiting bodies are found in forests and under shrubs, so not in full sun-light, although they can also be found in the dunes where they are more exposed. It is a species that is quite tolerant to a thick layer of dead leaves and other dead plant material and it can grow on humus rich sandy soil or really in a layer of leaf litter.

I hope this project works out! I really like the idea that you have and I didn’t realize that native americans considered them to be fallen stars. If you have a picture or your work in the end, I would love to see it (guessing that corona will still make it hard to see it in real life).
All the best
Jorinde

First research on earthstars

I went for a walk in Haagse Bos with my friends, looking for inspiration in the autumn forest. Something in the orange leaves that cover the ground caught my eye. At first, I thought it was some kind of broken porcelain, but looking closer I realized that it was some kind of mushroom. That was the first time I met my client, the earthstar.

Earthstars (also known as Geastrum Triplex) are to be found all around the world in so-called hardwood forests, which are broadleaf and mixed forests in a temperate climate. That means that the fungi’s natural climate is rainy and relatively warm with annual average temperatures of 3 and 15.6 °C. 

From my visit with the client.

Earthstars live off of dead organic material, like dead leaves or wood, on the forest floor where light doesn’t really reach. On October 6th I went to visit my client in its natural habitat and found a spot that was covered with the fruit bodies, both fully open but also some immature fruit bodies that were still closed like puffballs hidden underneath the leaf litter.

Immature fruit body hidden underneath dead leaves.
Sample collection of fruit bodies and mycelium.

When the conditions are right, the fruit body opens up as a star and reveals the spore sac in the middle. By opening up, the fruit rises above the forest floor and thereby detaches itself (it is sessile = lacking any sort of stem). The spore sac has a small opening at the top where it releases its spores in a smoke-like manner. This can be activated by poking the spore sac, and the amount of spores seem infinite. It is therefore extremely easy to collect spores from.

(Why are the videos below not visible on the website?????)