The MYCOsystem at the 22nd International Exposition of La Triennale di Milano.

The Adam Mickiewicz Institute presents The MYCOsystem at the 22nd International Exposition of La Triennale di Milano from March 1 to September 1, 2019.

This installation represents Polish design’s response to the theme of “Broken Nature: Design takes on Human Survival” proposed by the 22nd Exposition’s curator Paola Antonelli, and focuses its attention on the interconnected links between trees, fungi, and man.

In an era in which human beings’ connection to Nature is constantly breaking down, can we reimagine design as a collaborative relationship with other species, instead of one based on exploitation and competition? Can we develop a new kind of design that is not dependent on the inexorable logic of growth, consumption and production? The MYCOsystem is a workshop for reflection on a new paradigm of sustainability and design that goes beyond simply imitating the cycles of nature: an approach that abandons the anthropocentric idea of producing, accumulating, consuming and discarding objects and instead looks towards their eventual return to the natural cycle of material transformation. The creative team behind this immersive and multisensory installation is composed of Agata Szydłowska, professor of the Faculty of Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, visual artist Małgorzata Gurowska, and architect and designer Maciej Siuda.

The focal point is a large, abstract wooden structure, an inclined platform whose surface is filled with holes offering glimpses of the soil below: an invitation to take a wider perspective and look not only at things above the surface – trees, humans, various objects – but also down into the earth, where roots and mycelia flourish.

An evocative soundscape created by experimental musician Joanna Halszka Sokołowska welcomes visitors to the installation. Hypnotic infographics and pictograms focus our attention towards reflections on the material of wood, which Poland is among the top world exporters of, and which the installation considers from three different perspectives: humans, trees, and fungi.

For man, a tree is a source of timber – meaning simple raw material to be transformed into objects to use and consume, and to treat with chemicals to ensure it never decays. For trees, wood is the vital flesh of their own bodies, through which sap and nutrients flow. For fungi, wood is a source of nourishment but also a partner in creating a collaborative symbiotic relationship.

These almost invisible organisms, indicators and messengers of a new paradigm of sustainability, are the true stars of this project. Mycorrhizal fungi enter into a symbiotic relationship with the roots of plants and trees, improving their ability to draw nutrients from the soil and to grow strong and healthy. At the end of the plant’s life cycle other fungi, called Saprophytes, feed on and decompose the dead organic matter – returning fertility to the soil and creating optimal environmental conditions for the next generation of plants and fungi. Thanks to these fungi, the circle of life is completed. And these fungi show us a perfect, finely-tuned model for interspecies collaboration. Are we ready to change our self-centered approach to life and think about the common good? Are we prepared to relinquish total control over our materials and objects, and join in the cycle of biodegradability that already exists in the natural world? These are the questions The MYCOsystem poses to contemporary designers.

At the conclusion of the exposition, all the wooden parts of the MYCOsystem installation will be composted with the assistance of fungi.

“The Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s mission is to share our culture globally, inviting Polish artists to take part in an international conversation aimed at the development of our shared human heritage and culture. That is why it is such a great pleasure to present The MYCOsystem at the 22nd International Exposition of La Triennale di Milano. It represents our contribution to the dialogue between society, design and industry in response to the theme of this year’s exposition,” says Krzysztof Olendziki, Director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.