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The Mushroom as Muse

“What permits us to love one another and the earth we inhabit is that we and it are impermanent,” Cage once wrote. “We obsolesce. Life’s everlasting. Individuals aren’t. A mushroom lasts only for a very short time.” This line was anthologized, along with much of Cage’s work on mushrooms, in “John Cage: A Mycological Foray,” an art book published last year. As a companion, its publisher, Atelier Éditions, also compiled a boxed set of cards entitled “Every Mushroom Is a Good Mushroom,” pairing Cage’s own recipes with original art. Several of the accompanying works are by Ma, from her “Mushrooms & Friends 2.” One, a composed portrait of four types of mushroom (Amanita pantherina, Hypholoma fasciculare, Amanita muscaria, and Coprinus comatus) arranged atop a table-like double Hemipholiota populnea, tells an entire story in a single frame. The mushrooms (which Ma foraged from a Soviet-era ruin in Berlin’s Grunewald forest) lean and twist expressively. Despite the artificiality of the arrangement, the scene feels somehow candid, a snapshot of a private moment—mushrooms in mid-argument, or mid-song.

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