Denver Galleries Offer Exhibits on Cannabis Hash and Magic Mushrooms | Westword

When Science and Art Collide: Exhibits Focus on Magic Mushrooms and High-Concentration Cannabis

Curators are high on the new shows at Bell Projects and Dateline.
Art by Noah Travis Phillips at Dateline Gallery.
Art by Noah Travis Phillips at Dateline Gallery. Via Dateline Gallery
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"Science-informed art" stars in two exhibits opening on First Friday: one focusing on high-concentration cannabis and the other on the magic of mushrooms.

, a group show celebrating mycology — the study of mushrooms — and its "symbiotic relationship with humanity," is opening Friday, June 7, at Dateline.

The exhibit includes work by thirteen artists, including Noah Travis Phillips, who wanted to explore and depict the various types of interactions that humans have with mushrooms.

"I definitely thought of the diverse array of mushrooms," the digital artist says. "All the ways fungus and mushrooms exist in the world, the different ways that humans interface with them — whether as food, or an intoxicating substance, or all of the bio remediation people are doing with mushrooms."

One of his pieces is a collage of images of mushrooms from his personal archive that dates back 25 years. Another is the culmination of Generative Adversarial Network art (AI) that he refined to probe the psychedelic aspect of mushrooms.

"It's much more colorful. They're all rainbowy. They're kind of melting. They're kind of bulbous," Phillips says. "I think they suggest interesting things about mushroom root networks — those mycorrhizae. Some of them look like they have spores drifting from them."

Phillips created a folio of 47 images that he cut out by hand; they are installed near the floor so that viewers have to engage with the images, even if that engagement is as simple as gazing down. "To me, setting them up that way makes it more reminiscent of mushroom foraging, or mushroom hunting, where people have to get low to go find them," Phillips says.

Although he has been making art for over 25 years, Phillips has been refining his work with GANs for six years, and some of his original research is in reverse image searching. He used a text-to-image GAN for this show, characterizing it as another digital art tool. "My relationship to the GANs is like a poetic visual synthesizer for producing improvisatory material to collage with," he explains. "I'm engaging in a dialogue with that kind of cutting edge of technology and seeing what its creative potential is."

While the Dateline show will have viewers looking down, Bell Projects is offering Grow Up, an exhibit of artwork focusing on the health effects of high-concentration cannabis by middle and high school students from Rise Up Community High School, McAuliffe Manual Middle School, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy and PlatteForum, in conjunction with the University of Colorado School of Public Health.

PlatteForum Program Director Alejandra Calvo has been working with students to help them interpret scientific data and express that in different forms. Even for adults, putting a scientific concept into art is difficult to grasp, she says, and Calvo loves seeing students flourish in an abstract environment.

"The beautiful part about bringing science and art together is [figuring out] how we interpret information and communicate it with a community in ways that are much more relatable or understandable, or challenge people to question what they're observing," Calvo says.

Grow Up
curator Shaunie Berry wanted to create a safe place to help the kids make healthy decisions. "We really created a space in which they could be open and vulnerable," Berry says. "We were just giving them a lot of information about the mental health aspect of it because they are young and their brains aren't fully formed yet; their decision-making skills aren't completely formed yet."

Berry is an artist, too, and has an exhibit focusing on work by adults on high-concentration marijuana opening June 14, so she was able to bring hands-on experience to help students understand the task. To determine how much they knew about high-concentration cannabis, they played a Family Feud-style game.

After that, Berry and Calvo worked to "fill in the holes" of things the students didn't know, Berry says. "I think kids just are naturally more creative. The older you get, it becomes a little more stifled. And you have to pull more strings to get them to do it."

Grow Up opens at 6 p.m. Friday, June 7, and runs through July 7 at Bell Project, 2822 East 17th Avenue; learn more here.

Mycloandia opens at 6 p.m. Friday, June 7, and runs through June 23 at Dateline Gallery, 3004 Larimer Street; get details here.
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