Hexagram No. 3: Difficulty at the Beginning

The hunt

The mycowheel: chance operation

To (un)structure the interview process, a tool called a ‘mycowheel’ was developed. Inspired by Cage’s use of the I Ching, the mycowheel is imagined as a chance-based ‘compass’ to randomise inquiries used to engage each participant. Measuring approximately 5.25 × 5.75 × 3 inches, the mycowheel has a spinning arrow attached to a faceplate in the shape of a spore print. Surrounding the spore print are four categories, self, other, concept, and context, which are used as thematic guides for specific interview questions created for each participant. On the perimeter of the faceplate are sixty-four hexagrams that represent I Ching characters corresponding to fortunes or oracular statements for one’s life journey.

To use the mycowheel, a participant is asked to spin the dial and answer a question, while also receiving an I Ching reading. Questions were devised on the basis of each participant’s practice and recent projects, probing deeply into their approach, philosophy, and strategies for engaging publics and youth in different ways. Once on site, each artist is asked to spin the mycowheel to initiate a line of inquiry. An oracular statement is read to each participant based on the I Ching hexagram selected, followed by a question corresponding to where the spinner has landed. As a question is read, the researcher and participant move together along trail paths looking for mushrooms while engaging in conversation. A voice recorder and camera captures the experience for future transcription.

While the pace of the walks tended to be casual and slow, the hunt for fungi provided an opportunity for disruption and indeterminate manoeuvring through various questions and trail paths. A mushroom sighting for instance would engender excitement and tended to interrupt a conversation underway. When the conversation reached an impasse, the participant was encouraged to spin the mycowheel to engage another line of inquiry. This occurred on average four to five times throughout each walk, lasting approximately three to four hours.

In my walk with Peterson, there were several moments of impasse and surprise. Upon entering the forest, we realised the trail was much rockier and vertical than expected and offered few opportunities to walk side by side. We also found very few mushrooms at first, prompting us to veer off the path and rest by a nearby pond, where Peterson spun the mycowheel for a second time. The spinner landed on the I Ching character for ‘waiting (for rain)’ and prompted a question about a recent art project and its relationship to social practice. The question re-invigorated the conversation as we found our way back to the path. At the end of our hunt, as if on cue, the sky opened and it began to rain, fulfilling the I Ching’s fortune drawn just hours before.

It’s important to note that the identification and collection of mushroom specimens was not a primary goal of the hunt; instead, it engendered a unique kind of engagement with the landscape through forms of active listening and observation. The embodied experience of lowering one’s body to the forest floor or looking keenly for particular specimens in an environment allowed for a level of intimacy and yet uncertainty that provoked response and dialogue that may not have emerged in the built environment. At times this process was disruptive and did not lend itself to a straightforward or linear process of question and answer. Rather, what unfolded was a messy and entangled exchange between researcher and participant manifest as forms of intimate storytelling and movement research that proved invaluable to the analysis of data collected. 

This draws from the methodology of a/r/tography, which considers the identities of artist, researcher, and teacher in a contiguous relation’. A/r/tographic works often include creative forms of textual and visual expression as a kind of living inquiry. Springgay, Irwin, and Kind (2005: 902) describe this as a form of embodiment, a place of ‘dis/comfort’, a process of ‘re-writing and recreating’, a ‘making strange’. A/r/tography encourages ambiguity and confrontation to allow openings and multiple interpretations between text, art, and lived experience. Rogoff explains this is not merely an interdisciplinary process, but something intersubjective in which the researcher seeks new practices and forms of meaning-making that reverberate in an active process of living one’s life (Phelan and Rogoff 2001, as cited in Springgay, Irwin, and Kind 2005: 898).

In every hunt for wild mushrooms, there is an element of risk. A single misidentification can result in disastrous sickness or even death. The responsible mycologist will use caution to avoid this fate, often cross-referencing two field guides, and consulting with another mushroom enthusiast. John Cage nearly died several times at the hand of mushrooms yet continued to hunt, albeit with an even keener sense of observation. To truly ‘know and identify a mushroom one must also know the trees around it, the soil type, weather patterns, and be attuned to ecological relationships of all kinds. The hunter’s desire for edible mushrooms is thus balanced with necessary caution and an element of reflexivity. If ignored, the hunter faces certain peril.

In examples of literature from around the world, mushroom hunting often represents love of family, freedom from tyranny, a connection to the sacred, and an escape into the unconscious. While most mushroom hunters seek the elusive bounty of wild edibles, others are interested in the discovery of unknown species and the thrill of the hunt. Many mycological societies organise forays, where groups of hunters descend into the forest to identify as many mushrooms as possible. The walks are gradual and unguided with many walking beyond trail paths, looking for special habitats, trees, or soil types. The process is both communal and individual, a slow-paced endeavour that requires a heightened mode of observation and awareness.

A total of four mushroom hunts were organised in locations selected by each artist-teacher in a proximal location to where they were living or working at the time. While each hunt began at a particular trailhead, each journey devolved into dérive-like wanderings where conversation emerged from a randomised set of questions. There were often several points of pause where a mushroom sighting, or the need to rest, would interrupt a line of inquiry and begin another. On average the walks lasted approximately three to four hours with a varying distance of three to seven miles. Depending on each location, we met at a trailhead or transportation was provided by the researcher. The participants were only instructed to bring water and their bodies.


Caroline Woolard

Site: Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Distance: 4.54 miles

Date: 19 July 2013


Deleuze, Gilles, and Claire Parnet. 1996. Dialogues (Paris: Flammarion)

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press)

Deligny, Fernand. 1970. Les vagabonds efficaces et autres récits (Paris: François Maspero)

Evans, James, and Phil Jones. 2011. ‘The Walking Interview: Methodology, Mobility and Place’, Applied Geography, 31: 849–58

Hitchings, Russell, and Verity Jones. (2004). ‘Living with Plants and the Exploration of Botanical Encounter with Human Geographic Research Practice’, Ethics, Place and Environment, 7: 3–18

Petrescu, Doina. 2006. ‘The Indeterminate Mapping of the Common’, Field: A Free Journal for Architecture, 1(1): 88–96

Phelan, Peggy, and Irit Rogoff. 2001. ‘“Without”: A Conversation’, Art Journal, 60.3: 34–41

Solnit, Rebecca. 2001. Wanderlust: A History of Walking (London: Verso)

Springgay, Stephanie, Rita L. Irwin, and Sylvia Wilson Kind. 2005. ‘A/r/tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and Text’, Qualitative Inquiry, 11.6: 897–912

Cassie Thornton

Site: Bear Mountain State Park, NY

Distance: 7.19 miles

Date: 20 June 2013

Robert Peterson

Site: Ramapo State Park, NJ

Distance: 3.31 miles

Date: 16 June 2013

Mycography: mapping embodied movement

The use of walking as a research practice has garnered wider acceptance over the past several decades. In a review of related literature, Evans and Jones (2011) note that social scientists and geographers have found mobile methods like walking encourage a greater intimacy with one’s environment and ‘can offer privileged insights into both place and self’ (citing Solnit 2001). They point out that techniques involving movement and mobility can help participants articulate their attitudes and ideas more clearly, and in so doing produce richer data (citing Hitchins and Jones 2004). 

In her article, The Indeterminate Mapping of the Common’, Doina Petrescu (2006) explores connections between mapping, the body, and spatial practice, highlighting the work of French psychiatrist and educator Fernard Deligny. Petrescu situates her analysis in Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) understanding of ‘lines’ as a device to map our unconscious movement through social space. Deleuze and Guattari expand on Deligny’s (1970) idea of ‘autistic space’, which he developed while living with autistic youth throughout the 1950s to 70s. Deligny conducted surveys that traced the movement and behaviour of participating youth, and discovered patterns and a logic to the lines recorded. Deleuze (in Deleuze and Parnet 1996) characterises Deligny’s work as a ‘geoanalytical’ process that draws relationships between the body, psyche, and everyday life. Petrescu argues this is a form of place-making, using mapping and the language of tracing to produce new experiences and knowledge of a site-specific context and group of people.

Drawing from Petrescu’s analysis, mapping and mark-making were imagined early on as useful tools for visually processing relationships between each participant’s practice and identity. The mushroom hunts in this sense provide not only a means for conversation but also a material for generating conceptual maps in response to each encounter. To achieve this, the movement from each hunt was recorded using a mobile GPS mapping tool producing a series of lines or vectors. The lines were then exported into a design program and layered successively to create what I call a ‘mycography’ (shown below), a connected web that resembles the network of mycelia, or the root structure of fungi. 

A series of silkscreen prints were created from these lines and used in the final analysis of the interview transcriptions. This allowed the researcher to reflect and make sense of how each artist pulled from local and global networks and capitals to develop their projects, while simultaneously navigating a complex set of identities as artist, organiser, and educator. In so doing, the work of each participant emerges as a disjunctive and indeterminate socio-cultural ecosystem, rather than isolated networks or individual actors within an environment.

This process also provides a space to trouble and deterritorialise boundaries often constructed between the arts and education. For instance, many participants discussed their dependence on institutions like museums or foundations, and yet their resistance to adhere to prescribed outcomes and goals often inserted into a collaboration or commission. Participants shared a variety of ways they negotiate and engage localised cultural networks to resist and make do, while creating their own communities and ways of working. Over time new systems, connections, and nodes emerge, while others fade. Cultural production in this sense unfolds as a patchwork of threads that extend and retreat, in many ways confronting an assumed linear input/output feedback system where invested ‘capital’ correlates to specific economic, cultural, or social outcomes. As such, the disjunct and indeterminate nature of the walks and the resulting lines generated mirror this in many ways.

Finally, while mycology was a useful lens, it does have its limits and the metaphor of the mushroom can only be extended so far. In many ways these ideas and experiences are a mere starting point, evoking more questions and concerns throughout. As Cage says, we have to keep going on at varying speeds and let our minds be attuned to the mushrooms in our lives. Perhaps this heightened sense or ‘power of observation’ is enough for now, a future horizon to contemplate as one walks through the world.

1. Introduction   2. The hunt   3. Spores

Kate Clark

Site: Sharpe Park, Fidalgo Island, WA

Distance: 5.67 miles

Date: 22 July 2013

Mycography, silkscreen print, 12 × 18 in.

Fernand Deligny, Wander Lines, 1968