Nets of Hyphae – Diana Policarpo at Galeria Municipal do Porto
Nets of Hyphae by Diana Policarpo, curated by Stefanie Hessler (Director of Kunsthall Trondheim, Norway), at Galeria Municipal do Porto until April 25 [reopening at April 6], 2021, is an expanded rhizome in space, a network of similarities between ergotism, sexual and reproductive health and psychedelics. All of this makes this question possible: if women used ergot for abortions and were then accused of witchcraft, how are these facts related to the rise of capitalism? How did traditional medicine become the object of repression? How does the study of sexuality continue to be undervalued in the contemporary world?
In the curatorial text lies the exhibition’s motto: “The parasite of ergot that infects rye is known as the cause of ergotism, or St. Anthony’s Fire. In small doses, the fungus has traditionally been used by healers to cause abortions (…) [and] has been eradicated by the advance of patriarchal capitalism, which has replaced it with obstetrics”. The curator reveals that researchers speculate that this fungus causing “convulsions, hallucinations and burning sensations” may have been one of the causes of the witch-hunt, or the dancing plague that ravaged practically the whole of Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. She also stresses that “ergot is the natural component from which, in 1938, the chemist Albert Hoffman accidentally synthesized LSD-25 when seeking cures for postpartum haemorrhage”, a substance mainly known for its use by the 60s counter-culture movements.
Diana Policarpo is based on research on the ergot fungus or cockspur and its presence in western society over the centuries, the study of its life cycle, how it is related to the reproductive system of plants and women, and also the analysis of bibliography on psychedelics. In Nets of Hyphae, there are three videos: The Oracle (2020), where we see a historical perspective on ergotism, gynaecology and obstetrics; Cyanovan (Protocol), 2020, a documentary where the artist extracts the ergot fungus from rye, together with the transfeminist biohacker Paula Pin, in her mobile lab in Galicia, and Bosch’s Garden (2020), a digital animation of The Temptation of Saint Anthony (c.1501) by Hieronymus Bosch, a painting that fueled speculation, in particular about its connection to St. Anthony’s Fire disease. Besides the moving images, Policarpo also creates a plot through textiles (Bodies We Care For, 2020), light design and sound installation (Drift, 2020), in an immersive environment that interconnects all discourse and reflections and allows us to enter the invoked imagination. Despite the abundance of information and the countless sounds that come from different media, which unite and permeate the entire exhibition space, Policarpo’s study of ergotism and analogies with sexual health, the rise and globalisation of patriarchal capitalism, the psychic state caused by hallucinogens, and how she develops it artistically is a deeply pertinent, urgent and contemporary gesture.
The composer and multimedia artist – whose practice is based on visual arts, electroacoustic music and performance, investigating power relations, pop culture and gender politics, as in Overlay (2020) at Lehmann + Silva, or Death Grip (2019) at MAAT, also on a fungus (Cordyceps) -, in this most recent exhibition, develops and strengthens her artistic work, addressing a still taboo subject such as sexual health and the medicinal effects of hallucinogenic substances. It is no coincidence that it is only now, according to some scientists, that psychedelic drugs are beginning to be considered effective in the treatment of depression and alcoholism, and that the first anatomical study of the clitoris was published in 1998 by the urologist Helen O’Connell, and there have not been a considerable number of studies on the female genital organ since.