Guo Cheng in “Tracking the Mushroom at the End of the World” at Taikang Space, Beijing

Tracking the Mushroom at the End of the World

Exhibition Dates: Mar. 16 – May 19, 2019

Exhibition Venue: Taikang Space, Caochangdi, Beijing

Artists: Guo Cheng, Liu Yue, Mao Chenyu, Timur Si-Qin, Alice Wang

Curator: Chelsea Qianxi Liu

Artistic Director: Tang Xin


As if blind men groping around an elephant, we are trapped in the conundrum of time, whose solution lies secretly within. To trace back is also to expect. A time of tracing runs towards history. A time of expectation points towards the future. We engage in archaeological acts, excavate and then exhibit in museums for coming generations to see. In Borges’ garden of forking paths where infinite possibilities sprawl, those eventually converged become this unique moment – the here and now – for us to experience.

“All history is contemporary history.” Slash-and-burn, steam engines, chips, nuclear explosions; contemporaneity doesn’t belong to any particular era. Every single of them contains the meaning of human existence, accompanying us as we enter into the “Anthropocene.”

In narratives surrounding the Anthropocene, geological transformation is no longer a natural process of evolution but one that human has deeply participated in, infiltrated and affected. Geology is no longer some distant memory sealed up in museums but a part of the contemporary human society today, interdetermined with our present reality. Crises brought upon by technology, corroded environments, constant explosions of wars, turmoil that we confront at this moment are impacting geology at full speed. Geological time becomes the present.

Narratives related to the Anthropocene opened up the boundary between nature and human civilization. Discussions about ourselves have begun taking account of nature, which is then absorbed into our culture. This overlaps with philosophy of nature and cosmology in many Eastern, Maya, and Amerindian civilization. And this is when reality becomes intriguing: as those wheels marked by human traces roll forward in time, we encounter that was once familiar but now much estranged ancient civilizations and join our paths. Will the attempt to grasp nonlinear time, to comprehend pluralistic cosmology, to understand nature, to pursue spirituality and to care for the non-human prise a new exit out of the contemporary conundrum?

Exhibition “Tracing the Mushroom at the End of the World” is set in this context. The title refers to anthropologist Anna Tsing’s work Mushroom at the End of the World. She examines the vital possibilities of how matsutake, an ancient species growing up in menacing old-growth forests, relates to the Anthropocene. Yet at the same time, mushroom has been a narrative symbol that one could hardly bypass in primeval religion, witchcraft, or Taoist legends. The exhibition aims to connect what contemporaneity reveals about this Anthropocene to the philosophical and spiritual implications of non-western civilizations. Through matsutake, the now and then connects.

Matsutake can’t survive in artificial conditions yet easily adapts to human-disturbed landscapes. It was the first organism that grew after the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. It is the expert of parasitism and skilled at exchanging resources with other species, cooperating to coexist, mediating for survival. It is exactly this delicacy on many people’s dining tables that inspires us; as our civilization becomes an unrepeatable experiment and the rustic past ordained irretrievable, we may still find a turning point of coexistence on this devastated ruin and respond to that future of the Anthropocene.

In the end, we become mushroom foragers in old-growth forests, navigating our way across thorny undergrowth, over cracked land and through entangled dying vines. A path slowly forms in chaos and turmoil. As we look onto the horizon, a swell of purple luminescence lights up – we see an endless stretch of landscape breeding fluorescent plants…

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