“Fliegenpiltz” mushroom or “fly agaric” mushrooms has a connection to the word Ambrosia. Not only is Ambrosia the name of my local Indian Restaurant and the name of the traditional English tinned Rice Pudding… remember that light blue background and yellow “curlesque” font? But the word is derived from Greek mythology meaning the food of the Gods and that’s the kind of Ambrosia I wanted to know more about. So while reading up old Homer who speaks of the imortality confered upon whoever consumes the Ambrosia and then goes on to describe ambrosial sandals and ambrosial locks of hair etc., the Greek goddess Hera applied ambrosia to Penelope in her sleep to bring back youthful looks and fresh skin. Modern scholars relate ambrosia to the toadstool commonly known as Amanita muscaria and un-commonly known to have hallucionogenic properties. We all know the mushroom from the story of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and generally it is classed as poison but used by some as a drug and who when “once down the rabbithole” will tell you that things will quite simply go out of proportion. Curiouser and curiouser says, Alice and so what about the hat do you like it?
The above observations are not without it’s relation to art and lead me straight away to remember Carston Holler’s Upside-Down Mush Room 2000 an installation at the Tate Modern in 2006 featuring enormous fly-agaric mushrooms with their stalks fixed to the ceiling, slowly rotating in a mesmerising way. Always ready to perplex Carston’s art practise focuses mainly on researching altered forms of existence through the use of methods where the interaction between work and public becomes fundamental. Reading up on the Tate’s description of the installation and its meaning alluded to by Carston it is supposed to have been inspired by an experiment by the American psychologist George M. Stratton who, in 1897, wrote an article about seeing without the natural inversion of the retinal image. Statton explains the inversion while Holler in Mush Room 2000 forces the spectator to remain with the upsidedown image. Interestingly and annoyingly I like the piece but I find it a tricksy and cleverly disguised explanation by Carston a kind of double standard , a mobius strip of inverted logic. For those of you who are interested in altered states of conciousness there is currently a series of lectures held at the October Gallery , 24 Old Gloucester Street , London WC1N 3AL. www.octobergallery.co.uk