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Research Putting Down Roots

Trees and Fungi

Trees and Fungi 

Trees and their fungal symbionts form a complex, interdependent bond through their roots (Simard, 2021, p. 4). A symbiotic relationship is a close relationship between two dissimilar organisms (National Geographic Society, 2022). The symbiotic fungi are called mycorrhizal, which translates to ‘fungus root’ (Simard, 2021, p. 60). Mycorrhizal fungi attach to tree roots, help the tree take up nutrients from the soil and protect the tree against parasitic fungi (Sheldrake, 2020, p. 92). In return, the fungi receive sugars from the trees, which they cannot produce themselves as they cannot photosynthesise (Wohlleben, 2017, p. 5). Mycorrhizal fungi also branch off to other trees and plants, forming a complex root network through which trees can communicate and share nutrients amongst themselves (Simard, 2021, p. 5). This subterranean network, called the wood wide web, is vital for the health of the forest (Wohlleben, 2017, p. 249). As most of this collaboration happens underground and on a microscopic level, I searched for new modalities to enter their hidden world.

How trees secretly talk to each other, BBC


Forests are an invaluable force in the Earth’s ecosystem. Their trees provide oxygen and clean the air, their roots hold water, soil and CO2, their trunks shelter organisms, and their falling leaves provide a rich humus layer for new life (Climate and Forests, n.d.). Their underlying fungal networks break down organic matter, transform nutrients for plants and are important carbon sink (SPUN, n.d.).


Putting Down Roots is an ongoing research project 


I stepped into sympoietic relationships with trees and fungi on the Buitenplaats: an art collective located on the Brienenoordeiland in Rotterdam. At this ‘rehearsal space for the future’, artists come together to create, perform and play. The abundance of trees, fungi, soil and space makes it the perfect ground for observation, research, experimentation and the development of sympoietic relationships. Here I have the time to dive deeper into the soil and put down my own ‘roots’ alongside the trees and fungi. I hope to continue my artistic career here after graduating from the Willem de Kooning Academy (WDKA).

Hugging a tree 

Sympoietic Relationships

Extractivist Relationships

Since the start of human civilization, the total number of trees has almost been halved (Climate and Forests, n.d.). Deforestation and forest degradation are mainly due to human activities: industrial agriculture, urbanisation, over-exploitation of resources and climate change (Deforestation: Causes and How the EU Is Tackling It, 2022). The consequences of these activities are forests struggling with biodiversity loss, massive wildfires, droughts, floods, soil degradation, air pollution and invasive pests (Deforestation : Causes and Consequences, 2022). The extractivist logic behind many unsustainable forestry practices is based on Western ideologies and capitalistic economic models that have reduced trees to a resource that can be abused (Hagolani-Albov, 2022). Extractivism describes the way humans engage with natural resources and their surrounding ecosystem, where the sole emphasis lies on deriving financial capital from their exploitation (Hagolani-Albov, 2022).

Sympoietic Relationships

When I step into the world of trees and fungi, I am committed to acting with mindfulness, care and reciprocity. Nature is full of gifts and abundance. Our responsibility as humans is to be grateful for the gift and to reciprocate by taking care of nature (Kimmerer, 2015, pp. 380-384). I seek to avoid harming, instrumentalizing, extracting, appropriating or objectifying. Instead, I aim to form a partnership with nature, through sympoiesis. Donna Haraway describes sympoiesis, as ‘making with’, a co-creative mode of collective, non-linear and dynamic interaction between organisms and their environments (Haraway, 2016, p.58). This approach aims to blur the boundaries between human and nature, emphasising our mutual dependencies and interdependence (Haraway, 2016, pp. 58-76). With sympoietic artmaking, I collaborate, co-create and co-adapt with trees and fungi.



Deforestation : Causes and Consequences - Re-green the Planet.” Re-green the Planet, 31 Jan. 2021,

“Deforestation: Causes and How the EU Is Tackling It.” European Parliament, 25 Oct. 2022,

Deleuze, G., Guattari, F. “Introduction: Rhizome.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (First edition), 1987. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 3-25

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees. 2017,


Hagolani-Albov, Sophia. “Apple Tree Care and How One Relates to Resources.” Showing Theory Press eBooks, 2022, doi:10.22215/stkt/hs60.

“Mycorrhiza.” Phaser App,,'rhiza'%20(root).


National Geographic Society. “Symbiosis: The Art of Living Together.” National Geographic, 31 Oct. 2022,


Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life. First Edition, Vintage, 2021.

 Simard, S. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. First edition. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.

“Sympoiesis: Symbiogenesis and the Lively Arts of Staying with the Trouble”. Haraway, Donna J. Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. 2016. pp. 58-98

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