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Amateur Mycologist Candice EH Cramer

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Candice EH Cramer is an artist, amateur mycologist, explorer, and, when pressed to consider it, she admits that she is a cautious optimist. In her studio, minuscule monochrome prints hang like little gems on the walls, while unprinted neon surfaces await forth-coming spore samples and impressions. Larger, murky paintings explore a constellation of mushroom forms, rendered to fill and overflow a dark surface that suggests an infinite network beyond the limits of the rectangle. In recent installations in Maryland Art Place’s Young Blood exhibition and her MICA thesis exhibition, Cramer presented these along with natural wood forms that served as props and pedestals.

Cramer began exploring mushrooms after years of creating myopic biological imagery and a constant worry about the circular effects of the Anthropocene—humanity’s impact on the environment, and the changing environment’s impacts on human health and longevity.

Working as a bartender at the time, she came to explore mushrooms through the convergence of factors at her job, where she met chefs and foragers who experimented with cooking their discoveries. By day, she hiked before evening shifts and began to discover the variety of mushroom species around her on her own. Observing them in nature, recognizing their unique resilience and invisible connective systems running through the forests, Cramer began to see mushrooms as an avenue of hope in her work.

 

Polypore Lights and Drawing Flights, 2021, digital photograph
Reishi Reflection, 2021, digital photograph

As she learned more about mushrooms, she adopted mycologists’ methods of documenting finds, and foragers’ guidelines for harvesting the samples. She takes no more than she can use and leaves enough for the mushroom to keep thriving, never damaging the substrate that it is growing on. She documents them in the field via photography, and at home she prepares slides, produces spore prints, and keeps extensive notes that amount to an impressive record of citizen science.

The prints are a natural intersection between her studio and ecological interests, employing printmaking methods to an aesthetic and informative end. She calls this series “mushroom mycographs,” a term she conceived with her mentors and peers in MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art program.

In a typical studio day, the artist can be found in one of two places: hiking and collecting specimens in the woods near Loch Raven Reservoir, or in her studio-cum-lab space where she identifies and documents her finds, produces prints, and works on drawings and paintings that incorporate these natural forms.

Before moving to Baltimore in November of 2020, she could step out her door in Vermont into a densely forested area, instantly immersing her into the task of observing her surroundings until they reveal their details. In Baltimore, she has to plan to get to nature, but she finds that even the urban environment contains an astonishing diversity of mycelial life. She has recently discovered lion’s mane growing in her Bolton Hill neighborhood, as well as chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, chanterelles, and black trumpets on nearby excursions.

 

Honing in on a single subject has been both generative and anxiety-relieving for the artist. She recognizes a shift in her thinking through this slower pace and closer observation. While she, like many, has a tendency to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the climate crisis, her work has recaptured her sense of wonder and curiosity, and she hopes it will do so in others. In 2022, Cramer participated in the HEMI/MICA Extreme Arts Program—an inter-institutional partnership pairing artists and scientists for collaborative learning—and, with the additional resources afforded by the lab facilities at Johns Hopkins, has begun to branch out into a similarly focused observation of minerals and geochemistry.

Within these granular substances, Cramer is discovering and drafting new structures and conceiving of a new, expansive space in future works. A steady gaze at the minutiae of the environment has produced the occasional alarm bell—like finding a dryad saddle in November, despite their usual spring emergence—but typically it has created a slow, determined understanding and familiarity with the world around her.

As the climate changes, Cramer’s work will serve as a record of her immediate surroundings and a goal she can attain amidst the persistent question of the concerned individual: “What more can I do?”

 

Installation view of Dathuz, Springin’ (installed on wall), 2021, and Connexion Desperare (floor), 2021, White Ash with heart rot and mycographs on paper on birch panel
detail: Installation view of Dathuz, Springin’ (installed on wall), 2021, and Connexion Desperare (floor), 2021, White Ash with heart rot and mycographs on paper on birch panel
You Can_t Kill Me in a Way That Matters

This story is from Issue 14: Environment, available here.

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