Do you know the mushroom man?

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IMG_2840 by Eric Ginsburg

Mycological Provisions opens Friday at 6 p.m. at UNCG’s Center for Creative Writing in the Arts at 127 McIver St., Greensboro.  

The largest living organism in the world is a mushroom of unfathomable size, taking up 2,400 acres underground in Oregon and reaching to the surface in various locations, Chris Kennedy says. It even sprouts edible nodes that he envisions visiting some day, like a pilgrim.

To hear Kennedy describe the monstrosity is only to graze the surface of his mushroom fascination. They can be used as insulation, in anti-bioterrorism efforts, for cleaning up oil spills, feeding the hungry and preventing erosion, Kennedy says.

He isn’t talking about drugs, though.

“I think it never even occurred to me, the psychedelic thing,” he says, “I’m more interested in them as a metaphor or a medium to work with.”

Kennedy spends a lot of time thinking about mushrooms, frequently equating them with human behavior or pedagogical artistic practice.

The behemoth mushroom in Oregon behaves in a mutualistic and antagonistic fashion with its surroundings, so much so that the forest service is trying to kill it, he says. Part of the metaphor: “People need to agitate.”

Kennedy, an artist with deep connections to Elsewhere in Greensboro, draws other symbolic and concrete meaning from mushrooms into his artistic and educational practices. They are the crux of his thesis at UNCG, which he defended last week, and are embodied in an array of mediums in an associated art show that opens Friday.

“Text can only do so much,” Kennedy says, explaining his decision to incorporate artistic creation so heavily into the culmination of his formal education.

Kennedy interviewed four artists about the relationship between teacher and researcher. There is nothing conventional about how he conducted the interviews: they began with the I-Ching and a tarot reading before setting out on a mushroom hunt, among other provisions Kennedy made to relax the structure.

Kennedy gathered video and audio of the slow, deliberate yet wandering walks, later compiling a 18-minute video set to original music by local artist and friend Quilla. He also kept a digital record of their path, retracing it with stitches in several incarnations. Mycography, he calls it, a visual metaphor linking the walks.

The mushroom hunts, two in New York, one in Washington state and the fourth in San Francisco, are the foundation for a series of pieces in Kennedy’s shows. The shrunken, shriveled mushrooms they found adorn one wall.

Other aspects of the show are about mushrooms more generally, including a dangling crocheted mass representing a mycelia, looping shapes sewn and painted on paper that evoke rhizomes, vibrant screen prints of a mushroom cap’s gills.

There’s text too — poetry from mushroom enthusiast John Cage and quotes from Kennedy’s four mushroom-walk interviews that can read like poetry, too: “School systems are rusting World War II era submarines with holes in them,” the first one begins.

Like the walks, Kennedy’s presentation will be unique, too: he’s making mushroom delicacies to eat at the opening, and will take attendees on a mushroom walk if possible.

Kennedy learned much from his interviewees, but what sticks out most is that many artists are making due with what they have and relying on a web of family and community. Like a rhizome, he says.

“Cage says, ‘You have what you need already,’” Kennedy says. “We need to think about existing resources, like what’s in our backyard.”

The distinct mediums Kennedy presents may appear separate, but they actually beget each other and what seems like and endless stream of additional spin-off projects. You know, like the colossal mushroom in Oregon. And with the same thread, Kennedy isn’t clear exactly how his interest and skills will be embodied next, but he knows mushrooms will remain a presence, even if predominantly beneath the surface.