Watching mushrooms grow: a new lesson in communications

oyster mushrooms

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

A cohort of Glendon College students will explore digital innovations in the context of interpersonal and mobile communications through an unexpected pedagogy – a living art installation containing a variety of mushrooms.

Students enrolled this fall in Dreaming of Electric Sheep: Emerging Practices in Communication, a course led by Glendon faculty member Roberta Buiani, will document and care for the installation as part of their curriculum.

The art project, titled Mycosymbiosis and designed by Chinese-Canadian artist Xiaojing Yan, is a time-based and site-specific installation located on the balcony adjacent to Glendon Manor’s ballroom. It will launch on Oct. 2 at 5 p.m., with a viewing event and reception to follow.

Oyster mushrooms in the mobile gallery
Oyster mushrooms growing in the mobile gallery.

“The installation consists of a mobile gallery (Emergent) containing a variety of mushrooms which grow, decay and renew, weaving their intricate forms through its interstitial space and responding to the surrounding natural environment,” explains Buiani.

Emergent – a Living Mobile Gallery is a mobile gallery featuring artworks at the intersection of science and the arts. The goal is to understand and address how life evolves and adapts due to climate change, global mobility, experiments and the shaping of the world. The mobile gallery itself is a porous object, and is designed to explore the role of exhibition spaces.

Yan’s installation combines the complex concept of identity with a perspective on nature that transcends conventional boundaries. Including three types of oyster mushrooms planted along the exterior walls of the mobile gallery, the living art project will showcase how these mushrooms grow through a time-lapse projection inside. This evolving living sculpture will change with varying temperature and humidity, inviting a range of symbiotic organisms that interact with the mushrooms.

Mycosymbiosis art installation
Mycosymbiosis art installation in full.

This installation of Mycosymbiosis represents the second phase of a long-term collaboration between Yan and the team behind Emergent: Buiani (Glendon/University of Toronto), Lorella di Cintio (Toronto Metropolitan University) and Ilze Briede [kavi] (York University, PhD student), with scientific advising from James Scott (University of Toronto).

Buiani’s course, which is a recipient of an Academic Innovation Fund grant, presents an examination of emerging trends in communication and media technologies, delving into web-based advancements and exploring novel modes of interpersonal and mobile communication.

Specifically, interacting with and documenting this installation is an important opportunity for students to not only achieve a better and more nuanced understanding of the complexities involved in interspecies communication in relation to our technological networks, but also to develop a better appreciation for responsible consumption and production, collaborative and collective work, communication with different forms of knowledge and ultimately, care, says Buiani.

The installation will be on view throughout the fall semester, and the Oct. 2 launch will kick off a series of public engagements on networks, care and land-based community building and artistic practice. More information will be available at