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Grossman Gallery director Jim Toia had to look no further than an art studio a few paces from his office to find help with his latest living art project.

Also director of the community arts program, Toia chose Vanessa Guinet ’02, a double major in art and philosophy major from France, to spend the three weeks of the interim session working with him as an EXCEL Scholar. Together, they are working on “Mushroom Log Cultivation as Sculptural Form.” The project involves research about mushrooms, such as growing techniques, where to buy spawn, and optimum conditions for mushroom growth. The research and creative process culminates in a mushroom artifact.

“Basically, the art is going from loose substance to shaped form to hard artifact to a log that’s growing mushrooms,” explains Toia. “Vanessa is helping me research and prepare conditions for proper inoculation of the spore substrate. Once inoculated, the spores will grow mycelium, which provide the root structure for the mushrooms. We’re taking all the materials needed to create a mushroom log and sculpting it into forms. The forms will solidify and turn into living sculpture.”

“We’re shaping the bags that will form the mushroom logs,” says Guinet. “That process takes about two weeks. After that we’ll place the logs in a special environment where the temperature and humidity will promote maximal growth. Once we expose the logs to light, provide fresh air for a proper growing environment and it starts to grow, it’s a living sculpture.” Audiences will see the solid masses that are placed in tanks stacked one on top of another.

Art that has the opportunity to change has always been an important concept to Toia. “It’s important to me to convey entropic change or the idea of entropy and shifting to the audience and it’s an opportunity for the audience to participate by watching the change,” he says.

Toia’s idea for this art project evolved from his need for fleshy mushrooms for his spore drop drawings, another project involving mushrooms. “I place cut mushrooms on paper and within twenty-four hours they start to drop spores,” says Toia. “The wind currents blow the spores across the paper and that’s what you’re seeing.”

“I’ve known Professor Toia and his work since freshman year and I like the way he works with nature,” says Guinet. “He takes nature and places it in a different environment and it’s a neat way to work with nature.”

“Vanessa has a good eye for proportion and a good understanding about form,” says Toia. “Since she’s an art and philosophy major she understands the conceptual relationship between form and idea. She sees the cultural and anthropological references of an art object and the important elements that come into play in forming a sculpture. It’s easy to work with her in pushing it as far as it can go and she appreciates and understands why I’m working with three-dimensional mushroom logs.”

When not conducting this project, Guinet often may be found in the art studio working on her senior thesis, which includes objects made out of plaster and clay. “My thesis is mainly centered around sculpture,” says Guinet. “Three of the pieces I’m working on are part of a series that illustrates the daily struggle to fight for survival and remain at the surface while being sucked into nothingness. My pieces are set in sand and show a descent into nothingness.”

Another part of her thesis illustrates existentialism with male and female figures reaching for each other. “They illustrate how the physical being acts as a barrier to the soul,” says Guinet. “I want the viewer to find himself in the work — to start feeling it instead of just seeing it.” Guinet envisions her finished projects showcased in a dark room with pictures flashing in sequence on a screen in the background.

Guinet also has completed independent studies in stone sculpture and photography. In addition, she has used her bilingual skills to translate literature for faculty in the French and history departments. In one project, Guinet assisted Roxanne Lalande, professor and head of foreign languages and literatures, in a translation and annotation of Madame de Villedieu’s Lettres et billets galants and Le Portefeuille.

Guinet is travel coordinator for International Students Association, plays intramural sports, and is on the varsity tennis team. After graduating, Guinet hopes to work in New York City.

Categorized in: Academic News