Cesar and Lois Art Viewers use WhatsApp to Chat with Mushroom Colony for First Time

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Cesar & Lois, Porto Alegre, September 16, 2022 – On view at the Instituto Caldeira and opening to the public on September 15th, the artwork “Mycorrhizal Insurrection” by Cesar and Lois is the first of its kind in which people can use the social media app WhatsApp to send and receive signals with a mushroom colony. The Brazil/California art duo known as Cesar & Lois created a cocoon that serves as a habitat for a mushroom colony, with electronic sensors and interfacing between viewers, an AI, and the mushrooms. The artwork uses WhatsApp as the interface between a mushroom colony and human viewers, with a text exchange about climate change.

“Mycorrhizal Insurrection,” in 13a Bienal do Mercosul: Trauma, Sonho e Fuga, Instituto Caldeira, Porto Alegre, Sept. 15-Nov. 20, 2022

In WhatsApp, an AI asks visitors to the exhibition to send the mycelial network articles about climate change. When users message the living network on WhatsApp, the bio-digital system acknowledges the message with a burst of humidity. The fruiting mushrooms breathe, and there is a pike in the mushrooms’ “electromyceliograms.” The display on the front of the artwork’s cocoon asks the viewer (in Portuguese) “Do you want to join the Mycorrhizal Insurrection?” In the circular cocoon holding a pool of water a suspended tree branch is colonized by mycelia. The otherworldly cocoon has tentacle-like legs and reaches 2 meters high. Highly sensitive sensors pick up the mushroom colony’s electric pulsing. These signals (the electromyceliograms) are visible on a screen on the wall of the cocoon.

The mushrooms’ signaling interrupts the text of the article and sends new messages on WhatsApp to the viewer. The mushrooms are metabolizing the text! First, the AI identifies the parts of the text that frame climate change in human terms; then the mycelial signals overwrite that text. The mushroom colony’s signals imprint into the article’s text so that the sentences no longer make human sense. They originate in mushroom intelligence.

These mycelial signals alter the text of the article. The mushrooms metabolize the text. First, the AI identifies the parts of the text that frame climate change in human terms; then the mycelial signals overwrite that text. The mushroom colony’s signals imprint into the article’s text so that the sentences no longer make human sense. They originate in mushroom intelligence.