NATALIE MAJABA WALDBURGER BIO
Natalie Majaba Waldburger’s current art practice is open-disciplinary and seeks to understand the complexities of respectful collaboration and participatory work in the context of anti-colonial research. In recent years, institutional critique has become the focus for collaborative art practices as a co-founding member of The Drawing Board. As an Associate Professor at OCAD U, Natalie has served as Chair for a number of programs in the faculty of Art including the inaugural Ada Slaight Chair of Contemporary Painting and Print Media and, most recently, Interim Chair of Sculpture/Installation and Life Studies and Grievance Chair for OCADFA. The Life Studies area was the focus of Natalie’s appointment at OCAD U. Life Studies is a specialization positioned in the Faculty of Art that brings together the arts, sciences, and humanities to cultivate interdisciplinary studio art practices. These pedagogical approaches speak to Natalie’s own art research practice positioned at the intersection of sustainability, social justice, and ecologically-respectful art practices. [INTERVIEW LINK]
COLONY: My recent body of artwork speaks to the generative and complex experiences of being a mother, artist, teacher, and collaborator. Through an engagement with materials that grow themselves, are shaped by their surrounding environments, and rely on care for their formation, I pursue methodologies of relational practices in my work and collaborations. Giving up artistic control, I seek unknown possible outcomes that are already part of, and embedded in, the experiences of collaborative artmaking and in the experiences of motherhood. These performative, transient and ephemeral approaches appear in several aspects of my art practice; installation work that is biodegradable and transient, time-based participatory performance and creative collaborations with the Drawing Board.
In my installation work I seek out those materials that, once the conditions of life are provided, will thrive on their own alongside practices of care. This work provides a metaphor, both material and experiential, that questions the imperative of the archival in artmaking while asking the viewer to appreciate the ephemeral and fleeting qualities of affect. It proposes the possibilities of an artwork’s lifespan, calling attention to the cycles of life and death. Similarly, participatory practices that engage the public bring together people in conversation and in play for a finite amount of time speak to collective experiences. It is this kind of playfulness and joy that frames my collaborative work with The Drawing Board, as mothers, artists, and teachers we thrive in those spaces of collective making. These approaches speak to my experiences as a mother and are central to my teaching philosophies.
In the series Colony, Victorian ceiling medallions are cast out of mycelium, the root system of fungus. Reacting with oxygen, the network of filaments expands into these moulds to take the forms of these ornate architectural embellishments made uncanny by the resulting soft suede-like and mottled surfaces. The imperfections and variations are simultaneously tactile and organic. Mycelium growth responds to ambient conditions during its ten-day growth cycle and varies from species to species. Temperature, light, bacteria, and other factors alter the bodies of this material resulting it a variety of differences in color, texture, and density.
Mushrooms are part of the fungi kingdom alongside other sporogenic organisms like yeast and mould, which reproduce through spores. Spores act as a metaphor in my work to describe airborne organisms generally that proliferate, reproduce, and colonize spaces, through invisible air-borne pathways often in darkness. In this way, mycelium shares its story of movement and thriving with other species in narratives of survival. Through an anthropomorphic lens, Natalie considers how the distribution of spores converges with human narratives of movement and migration. This biologically-informed comparison evokes “invasion” nomenclatures used to describe waves of immigration, the historical strategies of colonization through cultural appropriation and erasure, and the injection of cultural specificity to domestic spaces and familial relationships. The resilience of spores and their hidden proliferation in the ecologies of domestic spaces evoke the haunted presence of cultural longing and displacement caused by the diasporic experience.
By allowing materials like mycelium and wheatgrass to grow on their own the processes are left up to the organisms’ capacities for growth. In the case of this most recent body of work, Natalie selected mycelium as a material for its physical characteristics but also because of the very nature of mycelium as a living being. Mushrooms are more animal than plant in the world. The material held a significance greater than what I could initially have guessed. My research into mycelial growth patterns led to studies done using in which scientist observed mycelium to in relation to tumour research. Mycelial growth emulates that of tumour growth but with a shorter growth cycle. This characteristic of mycelium growth allows researchers to experiment with the material as a way of predicting the growth patterns of tumours over a longer duration.
Tumour growth patterns resonated deeply with me. At the age of nine my son was diagnosed with a brain tumour, undergoing brain surgery, rehabilitation, and a chemotherapy. Over the years, we have monitored the tumour, tracked its growth and changes, a slow and painstaking process filled with setbacks and tribulations along the way. Once I discovered this research connecting tumour research to mycelium I began to experiment with the material in a series of tessellated origami pieces. Fruiting mycelium was seeded in the folds of several curve-folded origami pieces. These pieces were cylindrical and spherical in their overall shape as a reference to both a petri dish and the human brain. Over the course of two weeks the hyphae of the mushroom, the long branching filamentous structures that are the main mode of mycelium growth, spread out in thin and ghost-like lines from the folds of the paper in radiating patterns. These networks act simultaneously as both drawings made by the mycelium and also maps of tumour growth, providing me with a physical, though speculative portrait, of the biological structure of my son’s tumour and how it might be moving through his body. The unsettling beauty in these “drawings” speaks to the tumour’s presence in our lives.
Glioblastoma 1: Glioblastoma 2
Two folded origami pieces: white one: Glioblastoma 1 & the red one: Glioblastoma 2
Info: Mycelium on paper, glass bell jar, petri dish
18 x 11”
Glioblastoma 1 & 2 with bell jar
The titles for the two folded origami pieces are for the white one: Glioblastoma 1. And for the red one: Glioblastoma 2
Info: Mycelium on paper, glass bell jar, petri dish
18 x 11”
Hanging Medallion Installation: Colony
Dimensions variable (ea. medallion approx 5 x 11-36″ diameter)
Mycelium, cotton string, ferns, English ivy, boxwood, wheatgrass, oyster/shiitake/lions mane mushrooms.
Two circular pieces with the dark frame: Portraits
11 x 11 ea..
Mycelium, wood frame