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).