Michelle Li, Interdisciplinary Sculpture, 2025
Michelle Shengyu Li (b. 2003, Vancouver, Canada) is a Chinese-Canadian interdisciplinary artist. Through sculpture, paper, print, and installation, she explores the poetics of restorative practices and Asian diasporic mythos. Her practice addresses themes of object agency, privacy, ecology, futurity, and belief. Meditating on natural, cultural, and built environments, her work acts as offerings of attention and care.
I have many brothers in the SouthRainer Maria Rilke, translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
who move, handsome in their vestments,
through cloister gardens.
The Madonnas they make are so human,
and I dream often of their Titians,
where God becomes and ardent flame.
But when I lean over the chasm of myself—
my God is dark
and like a web:
a hundred roots
This is the ferment I grow out of.
More I don’t know, because my branches
rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind.
The poem above by Rainer Maria Rilke is my favourite poem. I found that this imagery perfectly relates to the mycelium. I was interested in building upon this conversation of how to recognize “god.” Where does this line blur? In this piece with the poem, is it the mycelium, its food source, the water, myself, or something I cannot see? Could it be all of the above?
This project went in many unexpected directions. While I knew I wanted to create a piece in response to the Rilke poem, how that was interpreted manifested in many different directions throughout this process.
At first, I wanted to cast mycelium inspired by Catholic confessional screens that would stand connected to a wall and cast a quatrefoil pattern of light passing through amongst the shadows. To do this, I designed a file for the laser cutter in Rhino and cut out 4 1/8″ ply pieces that I would laminate to get the most optimal thickness for the mycelium.
In the right photo, you can see another shape I designed and wanted to test. This had more detail than I would expect the mycelium to receive but I thought it would be worthwhile to visualize. I was left with several little clovers.
The ply pieces were offset after my glue-up and I had to go in with the bandsaw and a chisel to make the layers more even. I had some issues with the vacuform as well and the positives of the quatrefoil pattern where the holes for the screen would’ve been were barely raised. Despite my efforts, essentially, I was packing a solid mycelium tablet. I used a wood pellet base for my reishi inoculum with oat bran to support its growth. (I wrote some wishes on the side when I tapped it up.)
The quatrefoil pattern did not show when I released the mycelium from the plastic mould. However, I was excited by my new option to use the extra laser cut-outs that I had saved from the plywood to use as stamps and create a new pattern. Being flexible and believing in the mycelium as my collaborator was crucial to the success of this project and my learning. After stamping a new pattern, I tapped it with some new wishes and put it back into the incubator.
Within just one day in the incubator, it showed this much growth! I realized that wishing does wonders.
I later made a frame for the mycelium out of walnut and left it unfinished in hopes that the mycelium would consume it as well.
The second two photos were taken four days after the first. I think it was so beautiful when I could just allow myself to surrender to the mycelium and its autonomy. Currently, it’s still growing and I look forward to seeing if it consumes the entire frame.
Instagram: @michellesyli / @michelleliart