Madge Evers: The New Herbarium

October 22, 2022 - February 12, 2023

Spores dusted across your cheeks like freckles have launched from the Ordovician age. A lungful of exhaust is ancient sunlight baked into Mesozoic ferns. We are sedimented with the past. And we are the flesh silhouettes of these forgotten forests and swamps. Every being was sculpted into shape by the pressures of prehistoric ecosystems. 

The masterful trick of Madge Evers’ The New Herbarium is that by virtue of using modern materials—jack-’o-lantern mushroom spores, dogwood flowers, black pastel paper—she memorializes the absent materials: the environmental conditions that, although they cannot be pressed into paper, summoned these contemporary fungal, vegetal silhouettes into being. Professor of biological anthropology Terrence Deacon calls evolutionary adaptations “photo negatives” of specific environments that, by nature of evolution’s slow pace, are already gone by the time a specific mushroom morphology or wing shape appears in response. And in Evers’ work, it is this photo negative effect—sateen skim of moonlight across bleeding heart blossom, crenellated edging of mushroom gill flickering into darkness—that summons not a single species, but a web of lost relations. Every being is drawn into shape by an essential evolutionary absence: those tangled relationships that taught it how to grow, shift, and survive generation after generation. 

Evers summons the other inhuman artist in each of these pieces: evolution itself. In “Carry a Torch,” the negative space opens up a portal into deep time. We dive through sedimented spores into the original chalky dirt that mycorrhizal fungi explored with hyphal thread. We feel both the plants and the mushrooms as love songs to that unrecorded moment when the ancestors of bittersweet and mustard green slipped into fungal rhizomes and learned how to grow roots and survive on dry land. Evers looks at presence as the shape left behind by extinction. She shows that while a mushroom or a fennel stalk may look like a single being, it is really an entangled ode to a series of relationships stretching both backwards to Devonian forests and forward into future forms still, as of yet, unthinkable.   

— Sophie Strand, Guest Essayist

“Everything decays, and much decays back into the soil, and that soil nurtures new life, and perhaps the best thing creative work can do is to compost into the soil so that, unremembered, it becomes the food of a new era, or rather, devoured, digested, the very consciousness of that era.” — Rebecca Solnit 1

The rain falls and I follow, wandering dirt roads and suburban sidewalks. I scan for luminous jack-o’-lanterns at the base of trees and for Caesar’s red cap emerging egg-shaped from the earth. I approach destroying angels with caution and fairy rings with delight. Flamboyant or folksy, mushrooms rely on animals or insects or the wind to carry their seed-like spores to fertile ground. I disperse mushroom spores, too, not in a quest to make fleshy toadstools but to create a two-dimensional image on paper. This artifact is called a spore print, used by fungophiles and psilocybin growers for mushroom identification.  

The New Herbarium series reimagines the centuries-old process of collecting and preserving plants for science and art. For traditional herbaria, botanical specimens are pressed and arranged on paper. My technique departs from tradition when I place a foraged mushroom, gill-side down, on top of plants, which then serve as stencils. After the billions of spores contained in the gills or pores of the mushroom are released, they fall and mark the paper. Leaf and petal silhouettes are rendered in spores with organic patterns, photographic detail, and varying textures. 

The compositions make visible the ancient and intimate collaboration in which “plants and mycorrhizal fungi enact a collective flourishing that underpins our past, present, and future.2 Like all herbaria, each image represents a slice of time and place. Leaf shapes reference the process of photosynthesis that ecosystems depend on. The dusty spores conjure fungi’s powers, honed over eons, to pave the way for plant life, to heal and nourish us, and, in some cases, to blow our minds.

Scientists unfurl the mysteries of mycorrhiza, the symbiosis between fungi and plants, thus deepening our understanding of the fungi kingdom’s enduring flexibility. Fungi have been solving problems for billions of years through a mutual, but not always equal, exchange with other life forms. I am one of those forms; I gather mushrooms, then create compostable works on paper whose fragility belies fungi’s resilience. While the representation of mushrooms in art has often suggested caution or avoidance, The New Herbarium explores turning towards fungi as a source of inspiration, and even illumination.

— Madge Evers


1 Rebecca Solnit. Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir. London: Penguin, 2020, 222.
2 Merlin Sheldrake. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures. New York: Random House, 2020, 126.



October 22, Saturday, 11 a.m. — Opening of Five New Exhibits
October 29, Sunday, 2 p.m. — Workshop: Mushroom Journaling with Madge Evers


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