Arts Workshop: Night of the Living Deadwood


Continuing our microbial arts workshop theme we held some sessions focussing on deadwood  ANDfestival. The phrase ‘cutting out the deadwood’ is used to describe the non-productive or non-functional. This is a misunderstanding of the role of ‘deadwood’ in the forest. Deadwood is more alive than living wood – alive with microbes.

Forest deadwood is actually alive with microscopic fungi recycling the nutrients locked in the deadwood. Mycorrhizal fungi form communication channels between trees with interspecies signalling pathways so they are a major part of the secret architecture of the forest

Decomposition in the forest is an essential , positive process and we should celebrate the deadwood as the foodstore for the future forest. The mycologist Alan Rayner discussed the nature of the tree not as a solitary agent but a dynamic figure that takes and returns energy from its environmental ground. This flow was mediated by the unseen fungal network- the microbial ecology of the forest.

The workshop explored the dynamic processes of fungal-tree relationships. How does our anthropocentric viewpoint shape the forest landscape? De-composition is re-composition. Participants examined fungi and their reproduction using microscopes and explored the fungal processes that are essential for survival of the forest.

The workshop took place over two days in Grizedale Forest including a networking event bringing together artists, scientist and forest rangers to talk about their work. Participants included members of the BLS team at Lancaster who have international reputations in their specialist areas and were actively seeking collaborations with artists to further enhance their own practice and provide topics for future joint funded microbiology or biomedical themed projects.

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