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De kunstschool als ecosysteem Recensie

De kunst van myceliumlessen

Risk Hazekamp

Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez, Let’s Become Fungal! Mycelium Teachings and the Arts, Valiz, 2023, 336 p. ISBN 9789493246287

In sharing some thoughts on Let’s Become Fungal!, the best place to start is with the materiality of the book. The first time I held it in my hands, I was particularly surprised by its weight, as if your muscles make a mistake in picking up what you thought was a stone but turns out to be a shell. For the physical handling of the book, this makes reading, flipping back and forth, but also carrying it around a real joy. This is clearly a book to touch and to interact with. But it is not just the weight, everything about Andrea Spikker Lemus’ design is spot-on: the choice of paper, the binding that makes the book block fall wide open, the intense page filling, and the semi-transparent pages for Rommy González’s strong yet fragile colour illustrations. We see the False Morel and the Fuzzy Sandori interlock, the droplets on the Bleeding Tooth Fungus sparkling or the afterimage of the Lion’s Mane modestly disappearing behind the succeeding pages. It all fits – each in its own way – conceptually with what the book stands for.

Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez is both the creator, initiator, and facilitator of Let’s Become Fungal! Mycelium Teachings and the Arts, which is halfway between a fungi compilation and a coming-of-age story via personal interviews. It is a kind of auto-ethnographic fungi survey work revolving around the question of how we can (un)learn from fungi to collect concrete ideas and strategies for systemic change. To this end, the book is divided into twelve chapters, each presenting a Mycelium Teaching phrased as a question. For instance: How to organize like a Mycelium? How to escape categorization? How can our imagination shape new worlds? Ostendorf-Rodríguez summarises the book’s purpose as: “a mutually beneficial system-design for humanity, seen through a mycological lens” (p. 7).

To accomplish this aim of the book Ostendorf-Rodríguez carefully decided for whom to “hold space”.1 Her thirty-four interlocutors are almost all from Latin America or the Caribbean, are all women and/or non-binary and/or female-identifying, and have a deep connection to fungi and art. Or, in the words of Ostendorf-Rodríguez: “This book (…) is informed by ‘Latin myco-queens’” (p. 8). It should come as no surprise that this geographical situatedness brings along a strong foundation in many Latin American socio-political praxes. In and on this fertile soil the topics from the subtitle Mycelium Teachings and the Arts grow fruitfully, but there are also occasional travels into other adjacent worlds, as befits a well-functioning mycorrhizal network.2 Throughout reading and thinking about these Mycelium Teachings decolonial feminist philosopher and activist María Lugones was playfully strolling along in my mind.3 For it is especially decoloniality as mindset and praxis that interconnects in a clear socio-political, geographical, and cultural way with the Mycelium Teachings of the ‘Latin myco-queens’.

Flat lay from Let’s Become Fungal! Mycelium Teachings and the Arts by Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez, pp. 190-91.

At the end of his powerful and extensive essay Vistas of Modernity, decolonial thinker Rolando Vázquez presents three decolonial pedagogical practices: positionality, relationality, and re-existence.4 These practices convivially embrace the Mycelium Teachings to jointly ask us to approach (art) education not as a field of individualistic expertise of the sovereign self, but as a field of collective practices against the “consumption of the life of others and the wasting away of Earth”.5 To no longer appropriate, claim, or mindlessly pursue certain knowledge or knowledge production, but to recognise that we all, no matter what our position is, are constantly (un)learning together. Or, as Vázquez writes so lucidly: “Can we owe and not own our thinking?”6

According to publisher Valiz’s website, Let’s Become Fungal! provides “a methodology and a way of thinking that can be activated in communities, networks, and organisations”.7 In addition, Let’s Become Fungal! is also a conscious exercise in self-positioning by Ostendorf-Rodríguez, based on her own life’s journey. After reading Anna L. Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World, Ostendorf-Rodríguez was left so captivated and inspired that she made a drastic personal decision.8 She quit her job as Head and Founder of the Nature Research Department at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht and moved to Brazil to work on a biodynamic shiitake farm. This may raise an occasional eyebrow, but Ostendorf-Rodríguez is well aware of the circumstances and privileges present in her life that enable her to walk these paths. The consequence she draws from this is to fully engage the relationalities between those circumstances and privileges. Perhaps this is her way of Staying with the Trouble,9 of seeking things out instead of, for instance, going on the defensive, trying to talk things straight or stiffening up and doing nothing.

Flat lay from Let’s Become Fungal! Mycelium Teachings and the Arts by Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez, pp. 64-65.

A striking example is when curator Maya Errázuriz from Fundación Mar Adentro speaks plain language about possible future materials: “To some extent it continues as there’s still a lot of artists who just use nature purely as their material, without any further reflection.” Logically, as founder of the Futures Material Bank,10 Ostendorf-Rodríguez feels addressed, but instead of looking away, she shares this uncomfortable moment with the reader and continues with: “We pause for a second. She struck a sensitive chord” (p. 199). On the other hand, some more human-centred ideas are also being voiced in the book, such as when mycologist Maria Alice Neves says that “the goal of fungi is to educate us”: “That’s why they have all these crazy strategies and behaviours and shapes and forms, textures, and smells: to get people’s attention” (p. 151).

Bringing together this mix of positions between human and otherwise(s), and allowing them to coexist is admirable, because there are lessons to be learnt from that too. Perhaps statements of this kind should exist alongside each other without needing to contradict each other. This is where someone like philosopher Alexis Shotwell can offer guidance. Ostendorf-Rodríguez quotes frequently from Shotwell’s brilliant book Against Purity and during one of the several book-launches of Let’s Become Fungal! at RADIUS in Delft, Alexis Shotwell herself was present.11 During a mushroom lunch she brings in the notion of ‘relational ontology’, in which the relations between entities are more ontologically fundamental than the entity itself.

Bacteria, fungi, and other small beings in the world definitely offer us more than we offer them. Building an ethical response to being in relation with countless unseen others who keep us alive asks how we can offer back to them what we have, even if our abilities are far outstripped by our needs.12

Twelve of these ‘abilities’ are presented through the twelve Mycelium Teachings in Let’s Become Fungal!, because to (un)learn from fungi can be a pathway of offering back to fungi. The twelve teachings are not chronological; you can read them both linearly and in rhizomatic cross-referencing. Therein lies both the strength and perhaps a slight point of critique on the book’s structure. Because of this mycelial approach, the same voices or places recur in different parts of the book. As a reader, you keep getting little chunks of a bigger narrative, with the entire story being present in the book, only non-linearly. Something I actually totally endorse, and conceptually it is a really strong decision to structure the book this way. Although, when you do read the whole book back to front, you find yourself bouncing back and forth with your thoughts: who was this again? Did she also make that statement about remediation or was that someone else? That scattered way sometimes does not do justice to the depth of the conversations held. But perhaps this is precisely what we should learn to get used to.

Flat lay from Let’s Become Fungal! Mycelium Teachings and the Arts by Yasmine Ostendorf-Rodríguez, pp. 320-21.

It is (like so many times) Anna L. Tsing who brings relief when she writes: “It is in listening to that cacophony of troubled stories that we might encounter our best hopes for precarious survival.”13 Let’s Become Fungal! is not only a passionate plea for the importance of fungi and fungal feminist speculative fabulation, but it is also a wonderful attempt to truly investigate cacophonic writing and to seek a shift towards more interconnected and interdependent writing, with Ostendorf-Rodríguez functioning as a mediator, a bridging person to ‘us here’ in the Low Countries.14


  1. Cairo, Aminata. Holding Space: A Storytelling Approach to Diversity and Inclusion. Aminata Cairo Consultancy, 2021.
  2. Mycorrhizal refers to more than just the fungus’s root system, the mycelium; it also denotes the symbiotic connection and cohabitation of the tiny fungal threads, known as hyphae, with plant or tree roots.
  3. Lugones, María, ed. “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception.” Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003. pp. 77-100.
  4. Vázquez, Rolando. Vistas of Modernity - Decolonial Aesthesis and The End of The Contemporary. Essay 014, Mondriaan Fund, 2020, pp. 169-74.
  5. Vázquez, p. 115.
  6. Vázquez, p. XXV.
  7. “Valiz, books and projects”, Valiz, valiz.nl/en/publications/let-s-become-fungal. Last accessed 16 January 2024.
  8. Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press, 2015.
  9. Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.
  10. The Future Materials Bank is an archive of materials that supports and promotes the transition towards ecologically conscious art and design practices: www.futurematerialsbank.com.
  11. Shotwell, Alexis. Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
  12. Shotwell, Alexis. “Flourishing Is Mutual: Relational Ontologies, Mutual Aid, and Eating.” Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 3, 2021, Article 5, p. 20.
  13. Lowenhaupt Tsing, p. 34.
  14. Haraway, p. 34: “Embodying the practice of feminist speculative fabulation in the scholarly mode, (Marilyn) Strathern taught me—taught us—a simple but game-changing thing: ‘It matters what ideas we use to think other ideas.’”