Decomposition As Explanation

Jae Rhim Lee’s The Infinity Burial Project, conceived of as an intersection of art, science and culture seeks to “promote and facilitate an individual engagement with the process of decomposition.”

Our Human bodies store many of the toxins we encounter, so that when we die, we are, to varying degrees, little toxic dumps.  As Lee points out, most western funerary practices add toxic chemicals after death, and then put the whole mess in the ground.

Lee is developing toxin-cleaning-mushroom-based technology embedded in a burial suit to both assist in the decomposition of human bodies, and to mycormediate the toxins.  The mushrooms growing from the mycelium in the suit would break down some toxins into benign substances, and accumulate others such as heavy metals, allowing for safer disposal.

The video embedded here and the discussion on her website do not explain her decision to use edible mushrooms for the project.  It does seem an apt choice though, illustrating the potential for either nourishment or lethal toxicity that mushrooms represent.

All of this led (lead?) me to an extended mediation on mushrooms and this dual potential.  In the Atomic Geography household we have several favorite mushroom dishes, many mushroom field guides and several mushroom cook books.  So I thought of Alice B. Tolkas’ recipe for mushroom flan that she prefaces with this:

We were seduced at once by the little town, the hotel and the forest. We not only ordered lunch but engaged rooms to spend the night. While waiting for lunch to be cooked, we walked in the forest when Gertrude Stein, who had a good nose for mushrooms, found quantities of them. The cook would be able to tell us if they were edible. Once more a woman was presiding in the kitchen. She smiled when she saw what Gertrude Stein brought for her inspection and pointed to a large basket of them on the kitchen table, but said she would use those that Gertrude Stein had found for what she was preparing for our lunch.” Alice B. Tolkas Cookbook

Which lead me to think of Gertrude Stein and her writing.

Continuous present is one thing and beginning again and again is another thing.  These are both things.  And then there is using everything.  Composition as Explanation Gertrude Stein

So there we have, I think a succinct gloss of the Infinity Burial Project: the continuous present, beginning again and again and using everything.

For my part, I can’t help but think of what mushrooms recipes I would want served at my memorial service.  It might take a few years for the first few crops of mushrooms to clear my toxins, but at some point these edible mushrooms would be edible.  Maybe ABT’s mushroom flan made with morels.  Maybe Mushroom Fritters with Tomato Sauce from The Mushroom Feast by Jane Grigson.  Or a simple mushroom omelette.

Lee promises new developments in her project in 2014.  Watch this space.


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