Mycorrhizae by Jillian Sico

$650.00 - Please contact 23 Sandy for current availability.
Mycorrhizae explores connectivity and loss from a personal and ecological perspective through an examination of mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae are underground, necessary symbiotic associations between fungi and plant roots that facilitate nutrient and information exchange among and between plant species. Robust mycorrhizal systems are a marker of the health of an established forest ecosystem and play a key role in soil carbon storage.

Throughout the course of this project, personal reflections on love and loss became intertwined with research about mycorrhizae and the history of my research site, the Cohutta Wilderness in the mountains of North Georgia. North Georgia was logged extensively from the 1880s through the 1950s, leaving only 2% of its original old-growth forest. In October 2016, the catastrophic Rough Ridge wildfire burned almost 28,000 acres in the Cohutta Wilderness. Other human-caused disruptions, such as disease and invasive pests, continue to alter the forest landscape, including the hidden, underground landscape that sustains it. I knew that I was documenting only a moment in time: this place as I knew and remembered it would one day be gone.

I wrote the text while camping in the Cohutta and grappling with mixed feelings of personal loss and immense gratitude for the landscape. I used italic text to represent the “voice” of mycorrhizae, while my own narration dives deeper and deeper into the inexplicable connection we can feel with each other and with natural places—and the incomprehensible loss we encounter when it is gone. But although the forest changes, mycorrhizae are constantly seeking new connections. We, too, can adjust and form new connections while still earnestly mourning the loss of what was.

I used papermaking as a performative medium to tie the book materially to a specific place and time. The sound and texture of handmade paper, along with personal and scientific reflections, recreate for the reader the experience of genuine connection with the forest. I made the base paper for the accordion from linen cloth buried under a tulip poplar tree in the Cohutta for two months. I formed organic patterns in the pulp using charcoal from the same burnt-out tree. For the internal sheets, I created watermarks in locally-harvested kozo sheets based on images I had observed under a microscope. I incorporated lake water and mycorrhizal mushroom spores into the recycled paper pulp for the informational pamphlet.

The artist book Mycorrhizae is accompanied by an informational pamphlet, Mycorrhizae: the other half of the hidden half, written by an ecologist. This collaboration highlights both the personal, specific and scientific, universal aspects of connectivity in a forest ecosystem. Both books were letterpress printed on a Vandercook #4 press. The images are based on root scans and mycelium imagery printed from photopolymer plates. The forest scene is printed from wood veneer. All paper for the edition was made by hand.

Artist Bio

Jillian Sico (she/her) is a papermaker, printmaker, and bookbinder who makes work under the imprint Frogsong Press. She received an MA in Anthropology from the University of Georgia in 2013 and an MFA in Book Arts from The University of Alabama in Spring 2020. She currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she works from her home studio and teaches courses in fine and interdisciplinary art. Her work has been exhibited nationally and is held in nine collections, including libraries at Emory University, the University of Miami, and Indiana University.