THE SHIRO PROJECT
The Shiro Project is a Cardiff-based community art project all about local fungi, by ceramicist Hannah Walters and writer Lucy Smith. In September 2021, fifteen people from the local community joined us to create sculptures and written pieces based on the wonderful world of fungi, inspired by a talk from fungi expert Professor Lynne Boddy (available here). The exhibition opened in Global Gardens on the 6th of November and the clay sculptures will stay on site permanently, with the recorded pieces of writing available online.
For the Shiro Project Exhibition audio, follow this link: www.anchor.fm/the-shiro-project
The project began with an idea and application to Grow Wild in March 2020, and we secured funding in early 2021 – it’s been quite a journey! We are grateful for the support of Global Gardens and Grow Wild UK, the national outreach learning initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Keep reading to hear how we found the whole experience:
It has been a long time coming bringing this project into (literal) fruition. I remember sitting down with Lucy in 2020 in my then studio and discussing quick fire ideas. I remember filling spare space in the studio with little 3D clay fungi doodles while my mind was filled up with the strange shapes and forms that fungi create. Since that time, the project has developed and grown.
We were lucky to have the fabulous Lynne Boddy give us a talk on fungi, both on the mysterious mycelium and the peculiar aesthetics of the fruiting bodies. This talk fuelled our respective ceramics and writing workshops. It was exciting to see people coming into the workshops with fungi already on the brain. We discussed some quick ceramic processes we could use as well as different ways of making marks into the clay. Working outside at Global Gardens helped us focus on creating organic marks and forms. As a class we focused on finding a particular way of making a mark, from scoring the clay with a metal kidney to adding clay additions made from pushing fragments of clay through a metal sieve. We then repeated that mark to build up organic forms. I was amazed at the breadth of outcomes from the group, almost everyone was new to using clay and there were brilliant and bizarre ceramic artefacts being created. With the groups coming from the writing workshops I could see that there were some very personal considerations and deep thoughts going into the making of their work which made the workshops so exciting to run.
We were also lucky with the firing, every single piece survived! I then glazed the work with instructions from each person on how they would like their work to be finished. Seeing them installed in Global Gardens made it feel like the work had come full circle, back to the place it was made. It was also exciting to see how the gardens’ beetles and insects had started to investigate the work and I’m looking forward to seeing how the work ages as time goes by.
I’ve learnt a lot from this project, from the properties of mycelium to material exploration of texture and form. It was an absolute joy to run the workshops with Lucy and walking around the gardens listening to the words of each person really underlined the connections between us all. If you haven’t yet, take the time to visit Global Gardens and have a hunt for the fungi hidden there, both ceramic and organic!
Fungi gained a special place in my heart during the research of this project. The strange and striking fruiting bodies are one thing, but the intelligent, beautiful mass of mycelium beneath our feet - that is where the magic lies. I primarily used Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life to educate myself. Lynne Boddy’s research is referenced by Merlin, which added an extra thrill to securing her as our fungi expert for the project! Merlin’s writing is often poetic and philosophical, which nudges us towards understanding fungi on a more emotional and creative level; this was the perfect book to start with.
On the 15th of September, I hosted the Shiro Project’s writing workshops under the apple tree at the Global Gardens, while Hannah simultaneously ran her clay workshops. Something I most enjoy when hosting community writing workshops is working with people who have a variety of experience levels. You don’t have to practice creative writing to produce something beautiful, and I think that was proved by our Shiro artists – almost everyone had never tried writing creatively before! I was surprised and often moved by the richness, humour and beauty of what they created.
My workshops focused on exploring mycelium, fungi’s underground network of connecting threads. We looked closely at the behaviour of mycorrhizal fungi. The warm-up involved making a ‘sentence network’, where sentences about fungi sprawled out in a mycelium-like image, connecting in places where they shared the same word. From here, we discussed how mycorrhizal fungi move, the navigation methods Lynne mentioned in her talk, Merlin’s idea that mycelium is a ‘shape-shifter’, and the notion that when faced with a forked path, mycelium can choose to go both ways at once. Our second, longer exercise was focused on connections and relationships. We discussed symbiosis, and the Wood Wide Web from the fungi’s point of view. The writing exercises allowed space for personal thoughts and links to the writers’ lives, as well as reflecting on the mycelium. The writers then chose their favourite piece to record for our exhibition. They then incorporated individual words and phrases from their chosen pieces into their sculptures.
The writing was a first response, each piece written in very little time (10-15 minutes!), but they feel fully formed. I invite you to go and look at the wonderful sculptures (in person, or view the image next to the audio track), and listen to the recordings. The writing will make you laugh, make you think, give you goosebumps.
Ceramic pieces are currently on display at Global Gardens so do drop by if you would like to have a closer look. The garden is currently open for visits between 10-1 on a Saturday.