Life and Labor

Detail of inoculated weaving before baking

Project Description

Two of the fundamental pillars in Joan Tronto’s An Ethic of Care state that care requires attentiveness and a consistent active effort to be maintained. The essence of these statements is that care is cultivated and sustained through the shared intentional efforts of individuals, it is not a passive act. David Foster Wallace echoes similar ideas in his speech This is Water, in which he suggests that mankind’s default setting is to view the world purely through their individual needs and wants. Though, he claimed through practice and true education we can access a kinder frame of reference, and begin to see the world through another’s perspective; thus, we can cultivate within this space true empathy for another. Therefore, we can ascertain that generating care between two beings is not something that can simply manifest, but is crafted over time through dedication to the shared labor of care. 

Invested in these ideologies of establishing active and mutual relationships, Life and Labor looks to establish a relationship between myself and Pleurotus Ostreatus (colloquially pearl oyster mushroom) in an attempt to more intricately understand the fruits of our shared labor both in practices of care and creation. Utilizing my background in fiber art, I sought ways to combine my own craft practice with that of the mushroom. Being sure to take into equal consideration the needs of myself and the mycelium. All while asking critical questions along the way about how those needs intersect and the gifts we could give each other.

 Functionally, this practice took on the form of exploring how I could create a textile for the mycelium to inhabit and what it could provide me in return. Through explorations in the mushroom’s reactions to the textile’s structure (such as woven or knit, material, ideal yarn density, etc.) and potential nutrient sources, I was able to establish the needs and preferences of the mushroom itself. What remained were questions around what the mycelium could offer back to me. How could it care in return? How could I attune myself to learn its language and understand its care? This is not to say I received nothing back for my efforts, the mycelium gave me back beautiful surface designs and even helped create self supporting sculptural textiles. But beyond that it listened back to me, taking on equal parts student and teacher. The pearl oyster mushroom throughout my experiments showed me its resilience, ability to cohabitate, and graciousness when provided the opportunity to thrive. 

What Pleurotus Ostreatus and I worked towards, was a relationship that was truly invested in mutual growth, how could we support each other to become our best selves? In Communion, Bell Hooks explains that the only way to break free from patriarchy is to invest ourselves in relationships built upon the understanding that we exist because we participate in mutual exchange. Hooks continues, it is through this exchange of mutual regard and recognition that a communion of souls will sustain and abide. By truly investing in the active labor of a relationship that involves attention, admiration and empathy, we can find ourselves involved in a system dedicated to mutual growth. It is only through relationships of this sort, that seriously question notions of domination and hierarchy that we can truly progress. By committing myself to Pleurotus Ostreatus, I came to understand myself and the mycelium as equals and partners. I was not purely interested in what I could take or receive from the mycelium but what the exchange between the two of us looked like on its whole. From which developed a deeper relationship of care. 


Self Supporting double cloth, woven on TC2, inoculated with Pleurotus Ostreatus in mycocrete (see Kaiser, Romy, Ben Bridgens, Elise Elsacker, and Jane Scott, Bioknit)

Self Supporting double cloth, woven on floorloom, inoculated with Pleurotus Ostreatus in mycocrete

A Little More About Me

Caelan Grace McCollum (b. 2002) is an artist and researcher born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She completed her Bachelor of fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art double majoring in Fiber and Humanistic Studies with a minor in Art History. She is currently interning at the National Museum of American History in the Textile Conservation Lab.


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