A Harmless Exercise In Boundlessness...

or So Far I Haven't Killed Myself Or Any Other Person

Gildar Gallery

September 7 - October 13, 2108

  • Featuring: Andrew Cannon, Jasmine Little, Emily Ludwig Shaffer
  • Opening Reception: Friday, September 7th from 6 - 9PM
Gildar Gallery
82 S. Broadway
Denver, CO 80209
Wed-Sat: 12-6pm or by appointment


It is a harmless exercise in boundlessness, as fanciful as hunting mushrooms. But there is something about mushrooms that defies Mr. Cage’s flights of Zen fancy. He admits of ‘chance’ operations: ‘It’s only if I act like that with mushrooms that it can kill me.’ He would not, then, use the ‘I Ching’ to pick mushrooms; there are bounds on his activity, limits to his freedom.

—From Edward Rothstein’s “Sound and Mushrooms” in the New York Times, Nov 22, 1981

‘I’m what you would call an amateur mushroom hunter, and so far I haven’t killed myself or killed any other person,’ Cage once confessed in an interview with German-American composer and filmmaker, Henning Lohner.

—quoted in “John Cage: The Mushroom Man” by Sally Wilson in The Plant Hunter, Mar 26, 2016

You can make chance encounters or you can go looking for them. John Cage did both.

A vanguard composer and chance operator, Cage (1912-1992) championed through his music and writing a playful mysticism and a love for indeterminacy, qualities he found in his love and obsession with hunting mushrooms. The delicious and fatal consequences of these fungi was hardly a limit to his freedom, but a different avenue to express it. Mushroom hunting wasn’t necessarily about making chance as he did in his music, but cruising for it. And all cruising comes with a little danger. Ask any flâneur or streetwalker, many strange encounters can be found down avenues and alleyways, but you don’t put all of them in your mouth. Though of course, some you do.

The weirdness of mushrooms you can taste in every bite. More animal than plant, mushrooms sprout fat and skinny, hairy and smooth, bulbous and ridged. They might drip with lace or glow in the dark, wearing a range of colors that would break the biggest crayon box and hiding in their flesh flavors that’ll make us mad with hunger. An old Czech adage says that all mushrooms are edible, though some only once. A hunt for them is not just a search for sustenance however. A tramp through the woods can be good for the spirit, but look hard and you might encounter hiding in the undergrowth, clinging to a dead tree one of these bizarre and beautiful space aliens. Psychonaut Terence McKenna believed that mushrooms were billion-year-old space travellers, spreading their spore through the universe. The more academic mycologists concede with peer-reviewed and empirical research that mushrooms, through intricate networks of mycelium beneath the soil, create communication networks for forests, allowing plants to share resources, to warn each other, and sometimes to steal using the fungus as a substrate. The largest organism ever discovered lives in the forests of Oregon, a honey fungus spread out over four square miles. Those scientists would also admit that the mushroom’s modus isn’t the usual species dominance but symbiosis, making mutually beneficial trades, some known and some unknown, with the plants and animals that touch them in one way or another. A few famous if eccentric mycologists even claim that as mushrooms communicate to the forests, magic mushrooms are nature’s way of attempting to speak to humans. And for all our diligent data gathering about the universe around us, mushrooms remain mostly mysterious. Some species surely have habits, but any mushroom hunter can tell you that their strange beauty, wild variety, and unusual enigmas are a part of their charm.

Whether you’re looking for matsutake or chanterelle, porcini or portabello, oyster or psilocybin, a search for mushrooms is a search for the chance encounter with mystery, with discovery—though not without consequence. Some will fill your belly, others your eyes or soul, and a few your grave. Of the three artists gathered here, at least one is a resolute mycophile, but all three together share the desire for a fanciful adventure with an eye on the aftermath, the willingness to accept chance as something both made and looked for. All carry a promiscuity between worlds: nature and humans, the factual and the emotional, dreamy interiors and hard-edge reality. In fluid paintings and totemic ceramics, Jasmine Little loops her own history with craft, gender, and body shaping itself until all the facts peel away and the vulnerable metamorphosing emotions remain: sometimes funny, often lyrical, and always true. Even in her most representational paintings (though most clearly bend reality), Emily Ludwig Shaffer summons a world both familiar and totally otherworldly, if through the weave and bend of unreal geometries in and out of the real world, or even just in the shape and quality of leaves becoming fleshier and heavier than nature might allow. In wall-mounted bricolage both sculptural and painterly, Andrew Cannon’s work always feels on some promiscuous journey, plucking ideas and inspirations, materials and modes from wherever his aesthetic meanderings take him, composing atmospheres that can easily layer the sentimental with the sophisticated, the brilliant with the naive. Though hardly literal, all three of their works manage the aleatory magic and cosmic possibility of mushrooms and the hunt for them. We hope you find something you want to put in your mouth, though we can’t guarantee the consequences.

So far however, we haven’t killed anyone yet.