Medical Research Council and University of Exeter

Performing the Mycobiome

Performing the Mycobiome was an important part of a bigger project, becoming fungi, becoming forest, developed by sirenscrossing artists in 2021. Multidisciplinary across forest/tree knowledges, mycology (in the body and in the world), polyphonic singing, poetry, performance, wild yeast foods and drink-making, with specialists and the public, the project was inspired by Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change our Minds, and Shape our Futures. To begin, the artist collaborators immersed themselves, along with members of the public, in experiential sessions, out of which developed materials and actions for a series of public performances in early December presented by Coventry 2021 UK City of Culture. The entire process ran from autumn into winter, from flourishing fungi/forest to a retreat into soil and dormancy. The performances developed literally from the ground of the previous months of interaction. An accumulation of soil, trees, wild yeast experiments, organic materials, growing mushrooms, and microscopic fungi/mycelial imagery became elements in the sequence of performance sites that audiences visited to experience the final piece.

Research with MRC CMM included conversations between sirenscrossing’s lead artist Carolyn Deby and scientists Jane Usher, Alex Brand, Tina Bedekovic, and Darren Thompson. These were supplemented by attending several MycoTalks and reading articles suggested by the MRC CMM team. Images (both video and still) provided by these scientists and others (full credits below) were invaluable to taking the project (both artists and audiences) deep inside the mycobiome. Some of this microscopic imagery became a critical element in one of the five ‘scenes’ in the piece. Here, audiences entered a derelict shop which was bathed in projected images, featuring a live performer dressed in a white lab coat, taking skin impressions on petri dishes from audience members. The performer (Jia-Yu Corti) then seemed to enter inside the microbial world, channelling the strangeness of the mycobiome’s more-than-humanness, a strangeness that nevertheless flourishes both inside and on humans. Over the week of the performances, the shop in question accumulated a growing collection of sealed petri dishes seemingly displaying traces of skin microbes from audience members, encouraging the audience to contemplate their own unseen mycobiome.

It is recommended that you view the mycobiome scene within the full context of the entire piece. A short taster video is available at For a longer version, please go to

For more information about the project:

Fun with Fungi: MRC CMM in Coventry

On 25 October, MRC CMM scientists Jane Usher and Tina Bedekovic came to Coventry to run a children’s fungi science workshop called Fun with Fungi. Children (6-10 years old) and their parents found out about the microscopic good and bad fungi that naturally live on human skin and inside the body. They played games, had a peek at some tiny critters through a microscope, grew their own “skin fungi” palm print on a petri dish. A competition to do drawings of different body fungi produced several award-winning results. We were so pleased to have Jane and Tina with us!


becoming fungi, becoming forest: performing the mycelial city was created collaboratively by sirenscrossing artists.


Katye Coe (The Tank site), Jia-Yu Corti (New Union St shop), Camilla Nelson (Britannia Hotel treed square),
Carolyn Deby, Lisa Franklin, Rosie Harris, Jamie McCarthy, Debra Salem, Mary Savva, Tom Simkins

COMPOSER Jamie McCarthy

PROJECT DIRECTOR Carolyn Deby / sirenscrossing


PHOTOS Adele Mary Reed

HEADER IMAGE Mycelial People by Ryan Alexander (

SINGERS Rosie Harris, Jamie McCarthy, Debra Salem, Mary Savva, Tom Simkins . . . with Katye Coe, Jia-Yu Corti, Lisa Franklin, and Camilla Nelson


New Union Street shop: video projections edited by Carolyn Deby; video material generously provided by Dr Darren Thomson (MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, University of Exeter), Dr Sergio Moreno Velasquez (University of Manchester, now University of Wurzburg), Dr Jorge Amich (University of Wurzburg, now university of Instituto de Salud Carols III), Prof Nick Read, and Dr Patrick Hickey (NIPHT Ltd, Edinburgh).

Commissioned by Coventry City of Culture Trust and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, with support from MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at University of Exeter, British Mycological Society, Arboricultural Association, and Coventry Tree Wardens.

This project was part of #GreenFutures, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Severn Trent Community Fund.