“To walk attentively through a forest, even a damaged one, is to be caught by the abundance of life: ancient and new; underfoot and reaching into the light. But how does one tell the life of the forest? We might begin by looking for drama and adventure beyond the activities of humans. Yet we are not used to reading stories without human heroes. This is the puzzle that informs this section of the book. Can I show landscape as the protagonist of an adventure in which humans are only one kind of participant? Over the past few decades many kinds of scholars have shown that allowing only human protagonists into our stories is not just ordinary human bias. It is a cultural agenda tied to dreams of progress through modernization. There are other ways of making worlds. Anthropologists have become interested, for example, in how substance hunters recognize other living beings as persons, that is protagonists of stories. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Yet expectations of progress block this insight. Talking animals are for children and primitives. Their voices silent, we imagine wellbeing without them. We trample over them for our advancement. We forget that collaborative survival requires cross-species coordinations. To enlarge what is possible we need other kinds of stories, including adventures of landscapes,” The Mushroom at the end of the world by Anna Tsing.
The exhibition The Mushroom at the end of the world by the multidisciplinary artist Silia Ka Tung opened on the 26th of October, it was the first solo exhibition in Italy of the Chinese-born artist based in London. I would like to define her as the artist of the "other" as she draws inspiration from myths, folklore, magic, and nature. And right now we really need this work to transform fear into wonder, stasis into action, the "mono" into "pluri", so as not to flatten ourselves into normality, into banality. Camilla Boemio, the curator of the exhibition, stated:
“Silia Ka Tung's one-man show majestically brings together, in its linearity, objects articulated in a narrative that winds from the floor to the walls, highlighting their marked materiality, organic shapes and simultaneous emphasis on discipline and free intuition. They are lightning instinctive flashes, portals that introduce us to other worlds revealing sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings. In this state of catharsis, the artist offers us a bewitching lexicon in which the story moves from the constellation of ethereal acrylics to small sculptural works, whose physicality of construction and the intensity of their workmanship recall ancient figures, strange anthropomorphic representations, magical animals, geological formations and more recent currents of contemporary art. They are highly three-dimensional objects in which visual and sculptural information flows over every surface. The exhibition as a whole functions as an ecstatic scene of vivid imaginative life.”
The exhibition is a perfect synthesis of Tung’s artistic practice. There are paintings that are very similar to diaries (one presents a series of Mushrooms at the end of the world created at different moments in time; another narrates the complexity of nature and the power of our botanical allies), whiles others are soft sculptures that refer us to a magical and mythological world. Her works catapult us into physical and inner latitudes that are completely removed from our daily lives and which make us the protagonists of a real shamanic journey. I met the curator Camilla Boemio and took the opportunity to ask her some questions.
Can you tell us about Silia Ka Tung in order to let us know her better?
Silia Ka Tung is an established artist, originally from China who lives and works permanently in London. She is a graduate of Chelsea College; for her painting is about play, chance and fun. Over time she started to be attracted to painting on objects, making the soft sculptures to paint on. The installations created in the various museum exhibitions are amazing; [they] include the Royal Academy of Arts in London; Arti et Amicitiae of Amsterdam; the Galerie Karsten Greve, in Paris; the Creative Center Osaka, The Rubin Museum, Tel Aviv; MoCA Shanghai and Jerwood Space, London. Her works are a fusion of elements from different cultures: from Chinese to Greek mythology, Japanese manga, Korean media to Hindu philosophy. She personifies magic, wisdom and traditional religions in contemporary morphologies that foreground a contrasting naivety and innocence. The softness of the material she uses and the aesthetically engaging color palette distract from the underlying opaque narrative to suggest the complexity of the human condition and natural order through an evolutionary transformation. Her personal exhibition in Rome (which is also her first exhibition in Italy), is conceived as an endless journey that takes shape through a series of interconnected mythological figures, which open up to teeming universes of invention, taking the viewer into a sort of initiatory state and awakens an awareness of the mysteries of consciousness and other aspects of the immaterial world deeply linked to a shamanic exploration. In this context of fairy-tale reflection, the use of materials becomes a profitable aspect on the part of the artist; each work is meticulously finished with a precise range of choices in which it associates shapes, colors and meanings.
The title of the exhibition is the same as Anna Tsing's book, how much influence did this book have on the artist?
To understand the influence exerted one has to delve into the dated interests of the artist. In this perspective mushrooms were her artistic inspiration motivated by the glorious "plant-like" form, being edible, ecological and supported by a rich baggage of fascinating folk tales. Anna Tsing's “The mushroom at the end of the world” gave her a multifaceted perspective and a complex understanding of this organism. An organism that is a real world. The mushroom is a kind of guide, it has always resisted the "iron cage" of self-replication. A symbiotic relationship requires possibilities and encounters, not just mathematical models. According to the artist, chaos and symbiosis can go hand in hand, interference isn't always negative and it doesn't have to be artificial. She visually dedicated this idea to the series of paintings of the same title.
This exhibition invites us to reflect on the “other”, on alternative narratives, how important are these types of narratives in your opinion?
This theme is for me a priority source of research; alternative narratives and meeting with others are continuous revelations, up to the construction of communities. An example of this is the volume I created in 2021, [titled] The Edge of Equilibrium, which weaves a multi-voiced dialogue with artists and writers (from Elana Mann to Oliver Ressler, Daniele Conversi, Irene Ranzato, Carolina Caycedo, and David Spero), offering a broad picture of art communities, alternative land-based and low-impact ways of living, and addressing issues and dilemmas relevant to an epochal renewal. In a phase of profound disintegration, of a pandemic, of estrangement from others and from social life, I thought it essential to configure a brief atlas in which frugality portrays a suggestive picture in which various forms of community deviate from the mainstream, providing the basis for the research and revitalization of the counterculture by proposing a "new world". In this context, and in an ever-fertile vision in which to insert angles of this "world", Silia Ka Tung's alternative narratives become powerful messages and opportunities for personal rebirth.