Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh: All That the Rain Promises and More…

Ithell Colquhoun: Gorgon, Oil on Board (1946)
Ithell Colquhoun: Gorgon, oil on board (1946)

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[Until 14th September]

We tend to think little about fungus, beyond either including mushrooms in a meal, or remarking on fungus formations on a woodland walk: is it a toadstool? Is it poisonous? For many of us that’s about it.

This exhibition seeks to make up for our deficient knowledge in multiple ways: by bringing us to consider fungus’ ubiquity in nature (among the planet’s most abundant life-forms, and largest single organism), its extraordinary interconnectedness that echoes our human networks, and the way that fungus has been embraced and revered by myriad cultures throughout history, and its healing properties harnessed. As guest-curator, artist Aimee Parrott has done this at Edinburgh’s Arusha Gallery, in the heart of its gallery district, by gathering seventeen artists’ responses to this organic meta-world that’s all around us, and right beneath our feet. The exhibition’s title – a quote from David Arora’s guide to western mushrooms – is a thing of beauty, and a detectable poetry suffuses the works.

Viewing the exhibition, when invited to examine these hyper-natural forms in a more involving way than looking, say, at a botanical illustration, the impression takes hold that while much remains mysterious about the subject, we can respond involvingly in artistic terms. Sculpture, video, painting, audio and drawing are present in small and large-scale, hard and soft textures, dry and fluid.

The unifying visual impression is of the amorphous natural quality of the shapes: with not a straight edge to be found, it reminds us both of how close these forms are to our bodily features – hairy, bulbous, delicate, ever-changing, organic, not conventionally pretty – yet alien at the same time, a paradox given their universality, and defying our ideas of what constitutes organised or ordered, when there’s no straight or level. It’s our relationship with this environment that lies at the heart of the exhibition.

Highlights for me are Victoria Adams’ detailed mobile Fluids Balance (Inner Torque), Virginia Verran’s imposing abstract paintings, Emma Talbot’s curling, exploring lines in watercolour on khadi paper, the fragile and thorny metallic rose-forms of Natalie Dray’s sculptures, and a book of English naturalist James Sowerby’s (1757-1822) illustrations – a reminder of the botanically-related research into fungi, much of it in Edinburgh.

Victoria Adam: Fluids Balance (Inner Torque), plaster, iron powder, magnets, wire, leather, 2017
Victoria Adam: Fluids Balance (Inner Torque), plaster, iron powder, magnets, wire, leather, 2017


Virginia Verran: Grey:Bue (Lament), oil on canvas, 2018-19
Virginia Verran: Grey:Blue (Lament), oil on canvas, 2018-19


Emma Talbot: 'Gemini' watercolour on khadi paper
Emma Talbot: Gemini, watercolour on khadi paper


Natalie Dray: 'Wild' pewter (alloy: tin, bismuth, copper, silver), haft promoter, 1k auto body paint, 2018
Natalie Dray: Wild, pewter (alloy: tin, bismuth, copper, silver), haft promoter, 1k auto body paint, 2018


A booklet has been published for the exhibition, carefully gathering cultural and historical angles on the organism, prompting the impression of hope, ecological connectivity and the promise of renewal, healing and reproduction and fertility, whose potential we are still discovering, as a counterbalance to human destructiveness.

Part of Edinburgh Art Festival

[Link image: Ithell Colquhoun – Gorgon oil on board (1946)]

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