Tree of Life

Caelan Grace McCollum, Fiber and Humanistic Studies, 2024

Caelan Grace McCollum was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She quickly developed a love for art and making through exposure to the many museums and deep creative culture of Los Angeles. Majoring both in Fiber and Humanistic Studies, Caelan seeks to make art that encourages the viewer to ask deeper questions about their relationships with themself, others, and the world.

Project Overview

The branching tree of life form is one of the oldest shapes known to mankind. It is seen throughout numerous natural phenomena, whether it be trees, lightning, or roots. It’s also omnipresent in visual cultures around the world. As such I wanted to explore this symbol using modern materials and modern implications. The up and coming mycelium felt like a particularly pertinent material as it is a medium that has existed alongside fungi for thousands of years, and is now being innovated upon to find solutions to some of the biggest problems in the contemporary world. How can humans grow and expand, finding new pathways towards better lives? How can we look to the past and try to see our futures?


The first step in this process was to make a medium that the mycelium could grow into and feed on. So a variety of materials were separated into different bags and containers to be autoclaved. Once sterile the materials were mixed with about 10% of their volume in the mycelium of choice to inoculate it. This was then left to stand over a few days to ensure that the mycelium was growing. For my particular project, a mixture of rice and wood chips was used in conjunction with Pohu mushrooms. Though I did use chia seeds and coconut flakes also inoculated with Pohu for some material experiments. The next step in the process was to acquire or make a mold to essentially cast a shape with mycelium. For me, I did so by creating branch-like shapes out of air dry clay then utilizing a vacuum form machine to create a plastic mold. From here, the molds were packed tightly with the media, lightly sprayed with sterile water, covered, and left to stand for a little over a week. Once it was deemed that enough growth had occurred to safely remove the mycelium shapes from the molds, I carefully freed my objects and placed them in a bin to have final surface growth. In the bin they were surrounded by damp paper towels and had plenty of airflow for about two days. At which point the objects were placed into an extremely hot incubator, and left for a couple hours to remove all moisture and essentially kill the mycelium. For my final display, I printed off an image I had created using Adobe Illustrator and placed my mycelium shapes on top. 

Learn More

Click here to view more of my work