Communal Mycorrhizal Network

A Friends of High School Park Digital Art Installation
July 10-August 8, 2021, Artist talk July 10, 10AM.

“There is a world under the earth full of magic and mystery. It holds the consciousness of nature’s connections to all living things.” -Fantastic Fungi
Funnel Digital Painting, Karen Hunter McLaughlin
Funnel, Digital Painting, Karen Hunter McLaughlin

This fascinating world includes the mycorrhizal fungi present in 90% of all plant life, most colossally in the micro-network of trees. Mycelial hyphae create a symbiotic relationship that benefits all plant life surrounding them and have been around for approximately 400 million years. According to Smithsonian Magazine, trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence.  

I turned 62 during the Covid pandemic. For this birthday I was gifted an iPad and Apple Pencil. I found that creating mediative drawings while listening to Philip Glass, Brian Eno, and other ambient music, helped to steady the anxiety I was feeling. These stylized drawings were rooted in the spiritual feelings experienced by learning about the underland and mycorrizal networks. The augmented reality in Kinship is based on these digital drawings.

Funnel, Digital Painting, Karen Hunter McLaughlin

Kinship addresses cooperative life forms– drawing it’s own connections to nature’s beneficial effect on humans as well as to each other.

Specific trees in the park are marked with signs that are augmented with animated digital drawings. Visitors are instructed to download the free Artivive app on their mobile device. Standing at a marked position with mobile devices pointed at specific cards, the visitor can see animated sections of stylized, mycorrhizal “paintings” superimposed over the tree and it’s invisible fungal root systems.

On this page are links dedicated to teaching more about the mycorrhizal network of trees and plants including the books I read, and a playlist of some of the music that I listened to.


Preparing for the exhibit

This exhibit uses augmented reality. Prepare for the exhibit by installing the Artivive App, available from the app store for your mobile device. There will be QR Codes to quickly link to it on the signs throughout the exhibit, but downloading prior to your visit will save time. 

There is ambient music that accompanies the AR. Bring your earbuds for best experience. If others are close by, turn your device sound down to avoid interfering with other viewers.

There is a map on the back of all cards at the station signs to find all the augmented trees.

Karen Hunter McLaughlin, Artivive

During the 2020 Pandemic shutdown, I read Underland, A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarland. The book introduced me to a journey into the realm of deep spiritual space.

Combined with my newly discovered love of ambient music, reading about the the connections of these deep underworlds helped me survive being disconnected from most of the world.

I journeyed inward and felt comforted.

Kinship- Mother Oak Red Roots
Kinship- Rare Sweet Gum red root, Karen Hunter McLaughlin

Station #2 rare sweetgum

From an excerpt from Underland: A Deep Time Journey, In the chapter titled “The Understory”. Printed in Emergence Magazine


“The fungi and the trees had “forged their duality into a oneness, thereby making a forest,” wrote Simard in a bold summary of her findings. Instead of seeing trees as individual agents competing for resources, she proposed the forest as a “cooperative system,” in which trees “talk” to one another, producing a collaborative intelligence she described as “forest wisdom.” Some older trees even “nurture” smaller trees that they recognize as their “kin,” acting as “mothers.” Seen in the light of Simard’s research, the whole vision of a forest ecology shimmered and shifted—from a fierce free market to something more like a community with a socialist system of resource redistribution.”

Trees and nature have always wound themselves in and out of my art. My attention to them was never about ecology but more about sense of self and place. When I started reading about how trees and plants communicated with each other, it sparked a deeper interest in making sure I (we) pay attention.

In my small, urban world much has changed in 60 years. I have come to appreciate the native plants I loved as a child; milkweed, Queen Anne’s Lace, native impatiens (Jewelweed) with fuzzy seed pods that burst and curl in your hand.

This past year, this new knowledge, has unwrapped my appreciation of having grown up so close to a park full of trees, birds and plants in my nearby Pennypack woods and in this newly discovered wonder- High School Park. When I breathe deeply the dark, humusy scent of the woods I am truly grateful.

Station #3 fringe tree

Recommended reading:

Underland, A Deep Time Journey, Robert MacFarland

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, Peter Wohlleben

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne Simard

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer

The Overstory, Richard Powers

Recommended Listening :

Kinship, an ambient and cinematic Spotify playlist created by Karen

Emergence Magazine PodcastEmergence Magazine is an editorially independent initiative of Kalliopeia Foundation, located on the unceded ancestral lands of the Coast Miwok people of present-day Marin County. Hear stories, interviews and essays exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture and spirituality.

Recommended Viewing:

Fantastic Fungi, not available for free on any cable or steaming service but well worth the $5 rental fee. Available on Prime Video and Google Play, or on the website.

Kinship- Fringe Roots

Mycorrizal Digital Paintings and Pen Meditations

Created during pandemic lockdown & facilitated by the ambient music of Philip Glass and Brian Eno.

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