Canadians have an understandable fixation with surviving in the natural world. This is evident in cultural production ranging from Roughing it in the Bush, Susanna Moodie’s 1852 account of survival in Duro, Ontario, to Mimio’s own Survivorman. Foraging for edible and medicinal gems has, for most of Canadians, become quite removed from our actual means of survival, yet it persists as a pursuit for some, and part of a dream of self-sufficiency for others

Dubbed the Foolproof Four in 1943 by Professor Clyde Christensen, Morel, Shaggy Mane, Puffball and Sulfur Shelf mushrooms are the most common and easily identified edibles hunted by amateur mycologists. The term Foolproof Four led Dunning to consider mushrooms as actual superheroes of the natural world. Like all fungi, these mushrooms contribute to planetary survival by providing the imperative function of decay. Culturally, they are weighted with similar dark, mysterious and supernatural characteristics as bats, spiders and cats, on which popular comic book superheroes have been based.

Foolproof Four: Superheroes of the Forest Floor is an installation of four large ceramic sculptures of mushrooms, each sitting on its own plinth. On the walls are four different posters of blank, speech bubble templates: downloadable, freeware graphic tools for comic book designers. Around the base of each mushroom and on the floor are over 8000 custom-made buttons. There are three sets of buttons. One illustrates superhero logos for each of the mushrooms and another features empty speech bubbles in four different styles taken from comic book templates. The third set suggests possible superpowers of the Four with terms taken from scientific descriptions of the life-cycle of mushrooms: Autodeliquescence, Telemorph, Spore Liberation and Cytoplasmic Fusion. Perhaps Shaggy Mane with its curious character of autodeliquescence (self-digestion) is a force to be reckoned with. And surely they have the united power of spore liberation. The buttons themselves look like mushrooms multiplying and popping up from the floor, spreading and intermingling with the buttons of the other mushrooms. Viewers are invited to take a button, allowing the project to travel spore-like outside of the gallery to other locations.

ANNIE DUNNING takes a playful approach to nature and mystery. A curiosity for the overlooked and unconsidered leads her to deal with mostly common items as subject matter. With an aesthetic that is influenced by craft and DIY style, Dunning explores what greater possibilities common subjects might hold if released from their expected roles. She is interested in examining intersecting elements of culture and the natural world and in conflating various aspects of nature and culture to create new hybrids. Dunning often focus on rediscovering the potential of ordinary or common things, or viewing them from an off-center perspective to confuse conventional hierarchy.

Annie Dunning received an undergraduate degree in fine arts from Mount Allison University and a MFA degree from the University of Guelph. Her work has been exhibited across Canada and abroad in Japan, Germany and the US. Dunning’s practice includes collaborative projects, teaching, artist residencies and lectures, and has been funded by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council.

Foolproof Four: Superheroes of the Forest Floor
Buttons are available at YYZ in sets of four. Each set was hand-made and packaged by the artist.

Read EMILY FALVEYS Autodeliquescent Superheroes, an essay about ANNIE DUNNINGS exhibition.

Annie Dunning: Foolproof Four: Superheroes of the Forest Floor, 2012. Photo credit: Allan Kosmajac