Kate Casanova on Ephemerality, Mushrooms, and Occasionally Eating Her Art


In her first Twin Cities solo show, "Aftereffects: A Natural History," Kolman & Pryor gallery artist Kate Casanova reveals new pieces inspired by the idea of ephemerality and transience. With moments embracing experimentation, her latest body of work is a cohesive sum that operates as collections in conversation with each other.

From earlier works like the Mushroom Chair series -- where Casanova used thrifted, old living-room chairs as the surface for a fruiting mushroom plot -- to her current exhibit, Casanova's ideas continue to be a connective thread for Kolman & Pryor Gallery's unofficial yet underlining artistic motif: art taking inspiration from the natural world.

An interest in binaries -- human/nature, mind/body, self/other, organic/technological -- is the driving force in Casanova's work. She investigates the natural world through a small, specific scale, and attempts to break things down and define what is is to be human.

Following in the footsteps of prior exhibits, "Aftereffects" focuses on the human impulse to order nature and capture its fleeting moments of beauty. Casanova has created an interdisciplinary show involving resin casts of mushrooms, crystals, and caterpillars; scanned prints of fungal spores; drawings of dried-up pools of water; and a time-lapse video of mushroom growth. All of these things highlight her fascination with preserving natural phenomena, and engaging in dialogues about nature's elusiveness.

"There's a difference between trying to look at something scientifically... and looking at things when we are out in nature and appreciating the beauty of something," she explains. "These artworks operate in the in-between space. The feedback I'm looking to provide is not scientific, but more in the poetic realm of what we classify as natural."

It's nearly impossible to not reflect on science and technology while viewing "Aftereffects." The under-lit cast tables resemble an examination table or a scanner; the clear plexi drawings of pooled water are arranged to reference slides one would find in a biology class. While each drawing can be considered on both a micro and macro scale (some resemble planets, others cells), Casanova prefers to think of them as a collection, a way in which to order the natural world.


In the exhibition, there is a subtle reference to Casanova's previous sculptural installation show "Sublingua." It's a cast of the lower half of her face with a crystal in the mouth, a continuation of her work engaging with the bodily sensation of corruption. In this repeatedly explored concept, her interest lies in thinking about the body not just as something that has a distinct interior and exterior, but as a permeable membrane.

"When we think about foreign objects transgressing our body, it brings up unnerving feelings of abjection. By including it in this collection of objects, shown alongside them as if it were just another curiosity, I think it shows that flattening of the human and natural world that I'm really interested in."

Whether it's through casting, spore scan photography, or the water drawings, the methodologies in Casanova's work reflect the conventional processes natural history tries to preserve. That concept of preservation shows up in the spore prints, for example, as the mushrooms are gone and the spores are left over as a sort of ghostly image.

In the video piece Unfolding, Casanova shares an intimate visual experience resulting directly from experimentation.

"As I was making scans of pink oyster mushrooms, I was in a completely dark room so the only light was the light of the scanner bed. I was transfixed by the reflection of the mushroom mirroring the mushroom on the scanner bed. It made me think about digital mirroring in video editing technology, but doing it in a very analog sort of way," she says. "As you watch it, it's not perfectly symmetrical as the light moves through the space. I call it a 'moving Georgia O'Keeffe.' It's sensual, fleshy, and even vaginal at moments. It's very much about the body of the organism and experiencing it in a more intimate way. I love the way it merges from and recedes into darkness so you can never quite see the whole thing."

To facilitate her mushroom fascination, Casanova turns to Mississippi Mushrooms, her ally in the mushroom-growing world. They supply her with fresh mushrooms weekly for growing, making spore prints and casts, and even the occasional dinner.

"As I was making the spore prints, I would put the mushroom on the scanner, take it off 24 hours later, and then cook them up and eat them. When do you get to eat your art? Not very often."   

One of the reasons Casanova finds mushrooms so alluring is their flirtation with time and elusiveness. They seem to exist in a moment of brevity.

"As an organism, they operate in that world in between life and death. They are growing off of dead things and making that material accessible for other living things. They are an agent of life, but they very much live off death," she says.


"Aftereffects: A Natural History"

The opening reception is Saturday, March 14, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Kolman & Pryor Gallery

1500 NE Jackson St. #395, Minneapolis