Usually pulsating on its log in peace, a combination of movement and sound will get it very agitated. This fungus struggles with anxiety.
The natural world is always full of surprises. I remember, as a child, being fascinated by the quick reflexes of the Venus Flytrap, and the joy I felt tickling the poor Mimosa pudica my neighbours had. There is something truly magical about seeing something we deem so static suddenly move.
Another one of my subjects of interest were (and somewhat still are) fungi. They seemed to be able to do everything, from changing the weather to using bioluminescence, they are a truly fascinating life form.
As I was reading Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life, I started thinking about that one thing they can’t seem to be capable of: movement.
Because they are static, they tend to be ignored, neglected, relegated to a minor thing we see as unimportant, as long as they are not gustatively or psychoactively relevant to our species.
Not only do I subscribe more to the Object-Oriented Ontology theories rather than Kantian and post-Kantian correlationism, we also now know that fungi in all their forms have shaped the very world we live in, and just as any infinitely small or seemingly discardable thing, it is dangerous to neglect our environmental habitat out of an anthropocentric pride.
And there is nothing like a skittish, anxiety-prone glowing mushroom to remind us that our presence and actions can have a negative impact to all that surrounds us.
In this optic, I also decided to use no more plastic than what’s already on my boards, sensors and actuators. I went to my local parks looking for nice pieces of wood and twigs, I used paper, eco-friendly glue, plastic-less tape, metal and cotton cord. The paper will be composted, the twigs used as tutors to grow food and vegetables, the nails will be removed from the log and their holes made bigger, so that insects can use them as refuge.
I did not have a set visual in mind when I started this project. Due to the nature of the materials I wanted to use, being open and flexible to changes was important. Many of the first logs and branches I found looked very polished, almost commercial. So, in a way, it would be accurate to say that it all started with a log.
It had many points of stability, and enough bumps and crevices to conceal most of the hardware. I wasn’t completely set on which sensors I would use, but I knew I needed a Servo; using a rotary tool, I carved a hole to ﬁt and secure it inside.
I had initially thought of using a Ultrasound sensor to check the distance to the fungi, but I quickly realised it would work. The mushroom is meant to be outside, in nature, where things (living or not) are in a constant shift and movement. While it could have been interesting to have it react to the wind or a passing leaf, it would have been too much stress on that poor fungi and it’s paper and twigs structure.
I decided on the PIR motion sensor, as it uses infrareds to check for movement of warm-blooded creatures. As sound and noises are known to be immense stressors as well, I added a Sound Sensor module to the setup.
The concept is simple: if there are loud sounds, or a loud environment, and a human comes too close, the fungi expresses agitation and distress: a red LED lights up, the Servo motor activates and pulls the ﬁlaments as well as makes the whole structure wobble. Otherwise, the fungi fades in and out blue and white LEDs, resting content on its log.
The last aspect of it was the power source, as I wanted it to be a portable, mobile object. I tested a few of my power banks and picked the smallest one that could still aliment the entire circuit, and started securing the base components to the branch.
The Servo is set in its hole and set with a nail; the LEDs are kept as close to the bark as possible as to not get caught in the cords later on.
Using twigs, I created a (asymmetrical) sphere, big enough to contain the components without any risks. I cut paper straws to make the ﬁlaments/tentacles, attached them to the log, and passed their pulling threads through the Servo. A twig attached to the top of the dome is also attached to these threads, so the Servo pulls the entire structure.
To make sure the fungi can detect things as well as possible, I attached both sensors to the very top of the dome, with their wires attached to the structure so as to not get entangled in everything else.
A few iterations of the code later, and once sure things worked as well as they could, I started covering the fungi in soft scrunched paper to conceal the mechanics and diﬀuse the light. I swapped the solderless breadboard for a solderable one, making it safer to move the log around.
Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. University of Minnesota Press, 2012. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.5749/minnesota/9780816678976.001.0001.