It has only been within the past few years that people have come to know my art practice is connected to walking rural landscapes, gathering, or foraging edible plants or collecting geologic specimens. Sometimes I only photograph or draw these things.

In the summer of 2014 I visited the Superior National Forest, in upper Minnesota. That summer happened to be very wet and daily sprinkles keeping everything moist. It was fairly muddy for walking as well. What struck me as especially intriguing was the quantity of mushrooms I observed over a wide swath of territory. I took many photographs and created a number of mixed media works from that time, a self designed residency. I was so taken by the mushrooms that I opened my ten year old archive and began using mushroom spore prints I had made those many years ago.

There has been something about the form that has kept me thinking of them, the mushrooms and its many variations. Also, mushrooms are both food and used ritually, both of which are of great interest.

Another thing that had captured my attention and imagination were the many WWII documentaries that are now available for viewing. The atomic bomb was obviously used to end the war with Japan and the US government made many photographs of atomic tests in the Nevada desert and on some of the Pacific islands.

It is shocking to think how something as beautiful as an atomic explosion can be so deadly. Again, humans have created something with some unintended consequences, meaning the destructive power coupled with deadly (unseen) radiation. Well, now we do know how deadly it is and that we are more than capable of extinguishing all life as we know it on this planet. Humans are evil enough to do it.

As I have continued to work on my art practice I noticed a recent exhibition in NYC on the bomb. I found the below exhibition statement and felt it really summed up much of how I felt. I shared the statement below with Mr. Dinizulu Gene Tinnie as part of a private (verbal) conversation regarding the use of mushrooms in my art practice but I felt we needed to open the conversation to a wider audience because the topic reached beyond the original scope of our private communication.

The bomb

Death and Transfiguration, the documentation of evil by means of an aesthetic testimony. Forgetting the heinous act and the terrifying reality, there is no doubt that the mushroom clouds are beautiful.

Immense smokes in the form of jagged columns, in the boundless temple of heaven; white clusters of ionized gases; wonderful sculptures of radiated light; fireballs adjoining the bread shaped steam. Supernatural flowers of soft ceramic, toxic fumes of a uranic chimney, huge shockwaves compressed in milky clouds; irregular ampoules of nuclear spume. All of them are proof, testimony and document of the human and military folly. Forms, metamorphosis and colors of a beautiful and atrocious mushroom.

(Text by Paolo Repetto)

Wow.  It is so easy to wax endlessly verbose on this topic, and in so many directions: What is ‘Beauty’?” Or the nature of Nature, or ‘Morality,’ if it exists, “But is it art?”, etc.

At the core of it all is that moment just before the middle of the last century of the previous millennium (arbitrarily counted) when some of us learned and proved, at the great expense of many others of us, what most of us already knew and did not need to be taught the hard way, which is that matter and energy are one and the same thing.  (And so who/what are “we”?)  We did not need Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they were served up to us as evidence of what our species is in this universe, and that bottomless question haunts us still.

It is something, like “the consequences of slavery,” that Toni Morrison says, accurately, that “only artists can deal with.”  Alain Resnais, Krzysztof Penderecki, Dick Gregory, Robert Penn Warren, Jacob Lawrence, John Hersey, Carolyn Forché, and countless others have weighed in on this seminal act of human behavior (which might be considered to have been the culmination of the consequences of slavery).  An interesting article on this is at this link:

For my part, I am still contemplating the two streams of consciousness that have emanated from our conversations:

— The very fact that something as devastating to life as the poetic rise of a mushroom cloud out of a nuclear explosion might even be considered to yield something  called beauty.  (I had to look up Paolo Repetto, whom you quote, and discovered that he is a wine merchant.  OK, nothing is disconnected.)

— In that very spirit of the connectedness of all things, the similarities, within the “laws” of Nature, of the process that produces both mushrooms, and mushroom clouds.  It sounds like a stretch, but who knows that within the vastness of the cosmos, there may be more similarities than difference.  (Much has been made about the proportions of the Fibonacci Series, as a ruling principle throughout nature, fore example.)  Mushrooms, with their own elegance and ability to erupt overnight, are a source of fascination in their own right.

I was also struck by the earlier quote you shared about the universe.  A similar observation states that “The entire secret of the universe lies in Perfect Lawlessness.”

Therein might truly lie the explanation of all things, Hiroshima included.(and we learn that those bombs were “puny” in comparison to the modern ones, that are stockpiled in proliferation, just as these are, for all of their many costs, so hopelessly puny when compared to the forces of nature).

We have much to consider…

It is at once an object of “experiment,” a product of development in the modern natural sciences, and “experience,” and a product of the collective imaginary, an object of fantasy, fetish, and futuristic narratives. And within the former, it is at once the apogee of the scientific project, the unlocking of a key to the universe, and the ultimate undoing of that project, unleashing the universe’s power in an uncontrollable manner. Similarly, within the world of experience (or “aesthetics”), the image of the mushroom cloud is the consummate sublime object—invoking fear and awe and tropes of magnitude and terror, and doing a kind of violence to the imagination—and, as David Nye has argued, “A technology so terrifying [that it] ceased to seem sublime,” and became simply horrifying. (Anne Teresa Demo, ‎Bradford Vivian – 2012, Rhetoric, Remembrance, and Visual Form: Sighting Memory)

Onajide Shabaka is editor of His art practice investigates the ethnobotanical, geological and the archeological, and human impact socially and historically thru culture.