Mindful Mushroom - Seana Gavin

Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi

Friday 31 January - Sunday 26 April 2020




Launching its 2020 season, Somerset House invites visitors to explore the fascinating world of mushrooms in a new exhibition from curator and writer, Francesca Gavin. Through the work of over 40 artists, designers and musicians, Mushrooms celebrates the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism, the ideas it inspires in the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic, and the powerful promise it offers to combat the human devastation of the planet.

Highlights include:

• Seminal American artist, Cy Twombly’s expressive portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms explores the relation between the natural world and human history
• Watercolours from one of the world's best-selling children's authors, Beatrix Potter, whose vast collection of mushroom illustrations have formed a significant contribution to scientific understanding of the organism
• Insight into the mind of one of the leading composers of the 20th century, John Cage, and his passion for mushrooms in his limited-edition publication, Mushroom Book
• A pioneering architectural project using upcycled agro-waste to form new building materials from architectural technologist Mae-ling Lokko
Decomposable mushroom burial suit by Jae Rhim Lee designed to reduce the damaging environmental impact of the funeral industry
Bespoke lightshades made from mycelium by Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova push the boundaries of furniture design

Mushrooms brings together work from leading international artists and designers, renowned for their use of the mushroom motif, to explore three themes: Mycophilia; Magic Mushrooms; and Fungal Futures. Across three rooms, visitors encounter a spectacular range of interdisciplinary works, spanning large-scale sculpture, hand-cut collage, painting, drawing, photography and film, all featuring the magnificent fungi. The incredible versatility of mushrooms is further celebrated in new, conceptual pieces from designers working across architecture, furniture and fashion, all pushing the boundaries of design through the use of mycelium and bio-based materials in their work.

Immersing visitors in the incredible kingdom of fungi, the exhibition opens with a celebration of mushrooms exploring the theme of Mycophilia, with mushroom-inspired works that both inform current scientific understanding of the organism and capture artistic responses to it. Highlights include selected watercolours from the renowned author Beatrix Potter, whose collection of over 300 scientific illustrations of mushrooms and fungi, lesser known by her readers, form a significant contribution to the study of natural history and is still used by mycologists today. The seminal American artist Cy Twombly explores the relation between the natural world and human history in his quasi-scientific portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974). Formed of lithographic printings with collaged sheets of paper and photographs, the series captures Twombly’s characteristic expressive, graphic style, uniting logic and chaos in the human quest for knowledge. Alex Morrison’s colourful oil painting on canvas Mushroom Motif pays homage to William Morris’ approach to textile and graphics, whilst antique copies of Alice in Wonderland display various interpretations of the notorious caterpillar seated atop a mushroom from illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and John Tenniel, in a scene now widely recognised as a key depiction of the mushroom as a door to another world.

This mysticism that surrounds the mushroom is further explored in Magic Mushrooms as artists delve into the themes of psychedelic, poetic and spiritual. Hailed as one of the great music pioneers of the 20th century, John Cage was also fascinated with fungi, co-founding the New York Mycological Society. Stating ‘I have come to the conclusion that much can be learned about music by devoting oneself to the mushroom’, Cage’s interest in the subject resulted in Mushroom Book, a limited-edition publication which offers deep insight into his passion for mushrooms.  Fellow mushroom devotees include Amanda Cobbett, who following the launch of her latest collection at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019, captures the mesmerising beauty of the mushroom in her three-dimensional, papier-mâché and machine-embroidered sculptures, each one completely unique. Further works include hand-cut collage from Seana Gavin, whose imaginative anthropomorphic mushroom characters and architectural structures transport visitors to a fungi-filled world, whilst Australian artist and design label Perks & Mini similarly bring a feeling of playfulness in a new, colourful, handmade hanging textile.

Designers working across architecture, furniture and fashion explore the powerful potential of the mushroom in the final theme, Fungal Futures, pushing the boundaries of design in their use of bio-based materials to create pioneering processes and products. Architectural historian and building-material technologist, Mae-ling Lokko, demonstrates the incredible versatility of mushrooms in her ground-breaking project which upcycles agro-waste into new building-materials. The potential of mushroom-based materials is also evident in the use of mycelium, the mass of fine branching tubes (called hyphae) that form the main structure of a fungus, which is moulded into furniture pieces including ceiling pendant lights from Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova. Formed of mycelium and green wood waste harvested from their woodland in Kent, each light shade is grown in the Sebastian Cox Studio’s laboratory in south east London, to create beautiful and environmentally friendly pieces for the home.

This experimental design approach is also used to develop sustainable materials through the work of textile designer, Aniela Hoitink who offers a unique insight into her practice through the display of experimental materials and alternative clothing prototypes. Jae Rhim Lee similarly challenges the ecological impact of human consumption in her reimagining of the funeral industry. Presenting an example of her decomposable mushroom burial suit, Lee combines art, design and fashion to reflect on the human relationship with the world and invites visitors to consider their impact on the environment after death.

A number of public events will accompany the exhibition and visitors to Somerset House Shop will discover a bespoke collection of products inspired by the world of mushrooms available for purchase. Further details on events and products will be announced in September.

Mushrooms will be the next exhibition in the Charles Russell Speechlys Terrace Room Series, an ongoing partnership with the leading law firm to present a wide range of free exhibitions reflecting the broad interests of both organisations.

Artist List:

Alex Morrison; Amanda Cobbett; Andrea Zucchini; Anicka Yi; Aniela Hoitink; Annie Ratti; Arthur Rackham; Beatrix Potter; Bianca Bondi; Claudia Comte; Cody Hudson; Cy Twombly; Daniel David Freeman; David Fenster; Donlon Books; Hamish Pearch; Hannah Collins; Haroon Mirza; Jae Rhim Lee; Jeremy Shaw; John Cage; John Tenniel; Lara Ogel; Laurence Owen; Mae Ling Lokko; Perks and Mini; Philippe Parreno; Ralph Steadman; Salvatore Arancio; Seana Gavin; Sebastian Cox and Ninela Ivanova; Simon Popper; Takashi Murakami; The Mycological Twist. More to be announced in September.

FOR PRESS ENQUIRIES, PLEASE CONTACT: press@somersethouse.org.uk/0207 845 4624


Dates: 31 January – 26 April 2020

Opening Hours: Sat – Tues, 10.00 – 18.00.  Wed – Fri, 11.00 – 20.00

Tickets: Free


Address:  Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA

Transport:  Underground: Temple, Embankment / Rail:  Charing Cross, Waterloo, Blackfriars


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Somerset House is actively responding to environmental issues both through the practical management of the Grade I listed historical site and thematically as part of our year-round cultural programme. By working together with visitors and the 2500+ resident creative community, we are committed to collectively reducing our impact on the planet. Somerset House has been awarded a 4-star rating in recognition for its environmental commitment, understanding and improvement in the Julie’s Bicycle Creative Green Awards. For more information visit somersethouse.org.uk/sustainability


Inspiring contemporary culture

One of the city’s most spectacular and well-loved spaces, Somerset House is a new kind of arts centre in the heart of London, designed for today’s audiences, artists and creatives – an inspirational community where contemporary culture is imagined, created and experienced.

From its 18th Century origins, Somerset House has played a central role in our society as a place where our culture and collective understanding of the world is shaped and defined. In 2000, it began its reinvention as a cultural powerhouse and home for arts and culture today, creating unique and stimulating experiences for the public, bringing them into direct contact with ideas from the greatest artists, makers and thinkers of our time. Our distinctive and dynamic year-round programme spans the contemporary arts in all its forms, from cutting-edge exhibitions and installations to annual festivals, seasonal events in the courtyard including Film4 Summer Screen, Summer Series and Skate, and an extensive learning and engagement programme.

As well as welcoming over 3million visitors annually, Somerset House houses the largest and most diverse creative communities in the country – from one-person start-ups to successful creative enterprises including British Fashion Council, Dance Umbrella, Improbable Theatre, Hofesh Shechter Company, and Dartmouth Films.

In 2016 we launched Somerset House Studios – a new experimental workspace connecting artists, makers and thinkers with audiences. Currently housing over 80 artists and Makerversity (a community of over 250 emergent makers), the Studios are a platform for the development of new creative projects and collaboration, promoting work that pushes bold ideas, engages with urgent issues and pioneers new technologies. www.somersethouse.org.uk


The Charles Russell Speechlys Terrace Room Series of free exhibitions profiles the work of living artists in one of the most accessible spaces at Somerset House, bringing the public into contact with a diverse and engaging range of creative thinkers.

The series provides a platform for artists to develop and amplify the messages within their practice and engage openly with Somerset House’s visitors. Every exhibition in the Charles Russell Speechlys Terrace Room series is free and contributes to our on-going commitment to public access and engagement with arts and culture.


Charles Russell Speechlys works with clients in the UK and throughout the world. Our lawyers are based in 11 locations across the UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East and through each of these locations clients are able to access the full range of the firm’s skills and expertise.

We have a broad range of skills and experience across the full spectrum of business and personal needs. This gives us a wider perspective, clear insight and a strongly commercial long-term view.

It has made us a leader in the world of dynamic growth and family businesses, and among the world’s leading creators and owners of private wealth and their families. Major corporates and institutions find our more considered and personal approach a refreshing alternative to conventional business law firms. www.charlesrussellspeechlys.com