The advocacy of ecological materials in recent years is due to the recognition that non-degradable materials can harm the environment. The research on eco-materials is also struggling to move forward, and there is still a lot of room for research on issues such as technical threshold, durability, and degradation. In terms of these issues, Long Pan believes that mushrooms are very promising eco-materials. The "mushrooms" that consumers buy every day are the fruit of the mushroom, but the "body" of the mushroom - the mycelium - is rarely noticed, but the mycelium is the part that deserves more research.
Long Pan found that different kinds of mushrooms have different characteristics of mycelium. Some mycelium is vigorous and dense, while others are thin and very brittle. Different growth environments also affect the mechanics of the mycelium, with some white and soft, some mottled, and some like dark leather. She believes this is the fascination that biological materials have - the randomness of growing as organisms. What she finds even more extraordinary is that the mycelium can continue to grow and develop mushrooms after it has made a shape. These random mushrooms will change the original shape of the artefact and become the decider of the final outcome. So she believes this cession of decision power amplifies the biological character of life and gives the insight to reconceptualise non-human life.
Long Pan learned that fungi are the "scavengers" of nature, very good at decomposing organic matter into nutrients in the environment, where the mushroom is both the last and the first node of the ecological cycle, and it can grow fruits after decomposition - the "mushrooms". In addition, mushroom farming itself is equivalent to an ecological cycle system, as its raw materials can come from crop waste, such as rice stalks, rice husks, orange stalks and so on, and the bales after raising mushrooms can be recycled to become fertiliser for other crops-such as bean sprouts. Pan believes that mushroom research is not only to find a good ecological alternative material to relieve the problem of non-degradable waste but also to learn and retrieve the ecological cycle chain in the process of mushroom growth and production.
Pan was inspired to develop mushrooms as a new material based on her thoughts on waste recycling, agricultural product restructuring, and the connection between people and nature. As mentioned above, a mushroom is not only the fruit part, but also its body, mycelium, is called "natural glue", which feeds on lignin, and the mycelium can bind wood debris into a whole as it penetrates and grows, and the skin formed by mycelium is quite waterproof. Most importantly, the mycelium has great shaping ability and can adapt to any shape of the container and become different shapes easily. These unique properties of mycelium make Pan believe that it is an infinite potential choice to be applied in the field of the art design.
This is why Pan started the "Origin" project, a module made of mycelium, which is based on agricultural waste material, and through the growth of mycelium interlocking and different combinations, various shapes and applications are possible. The production of "Origin" is extremely simplified, the form of "Origin" is open, and the creation of "Origin" is highly participatory. It is a multi-creative process, a production process without a dominant player. Because anyone can cultivate it by himself, the final shape of the artefact is also determined by the cooperation between humans and mycelium.
Pan further explains that "Origin" is the beginning of the journey of life, and the unspecified meaning of the word is the change that follows and a cycle of life and death that returns the thing from which it was born to its origin. It is like the original cell, from which all the infinite possibilities are multiplied by the division of the original one. It is also like a pixel point in the world of images, where a thousand gestures build a plane. Or it is like the atoms in space, which are constantly superimposed to build a world. What constitutes this infinite world is "life", which is interconnected by frail mycelium, the connection between living beings, and the "Origin" itself is the energy source of life. This connection is not only the condensation of creation but also the connection between human and human, between human and non-human, and between human and nature.
We can cultivate an artefact, a growing artefact, which is used for us, but we can also send this artefact back to the place so that it can continue to be the energy for other living beings to grow. This completes the whole chain of production, consumption and recycling, and also achieves the link between consumers and nature.
"Origin" is the cultivation of mushrooms through specifically shaped containers. In the traditional mushroom industry, mycelium and nutrients are put into plastic bags, and the shaping power of the mycelium is not valued, as the goal is to produce the most fertile mushrooms, which are then recycled into fertiliser after a few rounds.
Long Pan added the shaping step to the production process based on the traditional mushroom industry. She fills a specific mould with mycelium and sterilised wood chips. In about a month, the mycelium grows into a mould-like shape. The grown mycelium modules can be connected to each other as a whole simply by putting them together. If the moulded modules are placed in the culture room, the surface of the mycelium modules will slowly grow a number of mushroom buds. Pan considers the variation of mushrooms to be the uniqueness of the Origin project. Finally, when the mycelium artefacts have grown into a nice shape, they can be preserved and used continuously by simply drying them.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.