SERENA JV ELSTON
Artist in residence
January 1-30, 2021
Fruitful Bodies, 2019
Stories of nymphs and dryads found in Greek Mythology have a recurring plot in which a male character sexually assaults the nymph. The only defense these female characters are given is to relinquish their divinity and metamorphize into a natural formation, like a stream or a species of tree, to avoid predation. Specifically, these changed feminine bodies become resources for human consumption. These myths serve as justification for taming and extractive practices towards nature and commodification of women’s bodies.
In this unfolding body of work by Serena JV Elston a human form is displayed crawling towards an open window in the gallery. Failing to escape, she collapses in situ and her flesh transmogrifies.
Fruitful Bodies is a sculpture made by growing a Black Reishi mushroom into a female figure without a head or hands; primordial formations flush across the body, distorting the once-human shape as it becomes an object of nature. Lacking appendages, the victim cannot be identified. This could be any one of the multitude nymphs, dryads, orades, or naiads that have suffered the same fate. In myth, the only defense demigods possess is to relinquish their ichor, the power of divinity that flowed in their veins. Under duress, they metamorphose into a natural formation, a stream, a stone or a species of tree, to avoid predation. This process is permanent and their sacrifice extinguishes any agency they once possessed. Specifically, these transformed feminine bodies become resources for human consumption. The grotesque composition of their Fruitful Bodies offers an allegory for western civilization’s cultural domination over nature, to wit, the ubiquitous pattern of extractive policies towards nature through the commodification of women’s bodies.
In 2019 Elston began pairing species of mushroom with distinct qualities to members of the pantheon of Greek nymphs. Pegaeae, the nymph spirit of a fresh-water spring, is grown with Lion’s Mane mushroom, characteristic for its long spines, mimicking the form of a waterfall. Dryad, the spirit of an oak tree, is grown with Yellow and Pink Oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms grow in symbiosis with trees, giving off a burst of color amid the trees’ bark and later decomposing into forest topsoil. Oreads, the nymph spirit of mountains and stones, is grown with Shiitake mushroom because of the fungus’ rock-like look. Mycelial expansion into hyphal knots creates the texture of flesh turning to stone. From the hyphal knots, fruiting bodies of the Shiitake form into flushes of the iconic mushroom shape.
Time lapse video I (take a breath while it slowly loads)
Time lapse video II (take a second breath while it slowly loads)