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Natalie Majaba Waldburger
Colony, 2022
Installation with Grow Bio mycelium. wheatgrass, English ivy, boxwood, fern, cotton packing twine, silk, frames, pink oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms
Residency and exhibition, School of the Visual Arts, NYC.

Works are available on commission basis. Please see details below and inquire for further details.

In Natalie Majaba Waldburger’s thought-provoking Colony series, we encounter a rich tapestry of organic and tactile surfaces that have emerged from the unexpected marriage of mycelium and architectural elegance.

In this installation, Waldburger has created mycelium casts of Victorian ceiling medallions. Mycelium (mushrooms) are part of the fungi kingdom alongside other sporogenic organisms like yeast and mould, which reproduce through spores. They grow by responding to ambient conditions during their growth cycle and vary from species to species. Temperature, light, bacteria, and other factors alter the bodies of this material resulting it a variety of differences in colour, texture, and density. In these works, as the mycelium reacts to oxygen, its network of filaments expands into the moulds to take the forms of ornate architectural embellishments. The resulting soft suede-like and mottled surfaces, renders them simultaneously familiar and uncanny.

The Victorian era marked a period of profound societal change and innovation. European powers, notably the British Empire, aggressively expanded their domains worldwide, changing paradigms for both colonizers and colonized. During this time, taxonomy (the classification of organisms), advanced as naturalists explored the new colonies, including Darwin's work on evolution. Museums and collectors amassed huge collections of plant and animal species, along with culturally and spiritually significant objects. While the era's legacy includes advancements in understanding the world, much of this knowledge was based on empiric lenses, and how the collections were acquired, still raises ethical concerns. Waldburger says: “Spores act as a metaphor in my work to describe airborne organisms generally that proliferate, reproduce, and colonize spaces, through invisible air-borne pathways often in darkness. In this way, mycelium shares its story of movement and thriving with other species in narratives of survival.”

Through an anthropomorphic lens, Waldburger invites us to contemplate how the distribution of spores converges with human narratives of movement and migration. This biologically-informed comparison evokes the notion of ‘invasion,’ a term often used to describe waves of immigration, the historical strategies of colonization through cultural appropriation and erasure, and the injection of cultural specificity to domestic spaces and familial relationships. The resilience of spores and their hidden proliferation in the ecologies of domestic spaces suggests the haunted presence of cultural longing and displacement, borne from the complex and multifaceted diasporic experience.

"Colony" encourages us to engage with the intricate interplay between nature and culture, urging us to reflect on the hidden narratives and connections that shape our understanding of movement, colonization, and survival. Natalie Majaba Waldburger's immersive installation challenges us to perceive the world through a new lens, one in which the mycelial networks beneath our feet hold the potential to unravel stories of profound significance.

Much of Waldburger’s studio practice is experimental. For exhibition purposes, the mycelium has not been stabilized to allow the growth of actual mushrooms to occur and for viewers to witness their life cycles to eventual death. However, by commission, any of these works can be made permanent. The casts can be stabilized by baking them at a low temperature over several hours, and the mushrooms can be recreated in clay. Please inquire for details.

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