Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, more commonly known as “zombie fungus,” is a tropical fungi that infects the minds of insects, commonly ants. An ant ingests the fungus spore, which enters the brain and manipulates the ant. The infected ant is forced to climb up a plant or tree until it reaches the proper height and temperature for the fungus’s reproduction. The ant then crawls onto the underside of a leaf, clamps its mandibles into the plant, and is killed by the fungus. The fungus grows a stalk out of the ant’s body, where it can rain down spores on other unsuspecting ants to repeat the cycle.
When I initially heard about this fungus in one of my liberal arts classes, I was intrigued and a bit repulsed by the mind-controlling fungi. I blocked it out of my mind until I started researching for my Nature Lab inspired final project. It immediately popped back into my mind, and I decided to step out of my comfort zone and work with this unsettling topic.
The finished 8’ handwoven wall sculpture was inspired by the chaotic yet strikingly beautiful movement of the spore stalks. I tried to capture the tangled manipulation of the ant’s brain and the the sprouting stalks out of the dead body. I created a deadened background surface with poisonous-colored plasti-dip ropes that rip their way out of the woven structure.
A selection of exploratory samples for the final piece: