Fungus Never Dies is an exploration of the sensible and the scientific through an investigation of the genus Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus popularized by Traditional Chinese Medicine.
A stainless-steel medical instrument table is covered with an uneven layer of dirt, on which an assortment of glass vessels stand. The form of the vessels alludes to antique Chinese porcelain. A portion of them have their volume delineated by thin white lines. They are all containers of some sort; some hold substrate from which a worm-like orange fungus will grow, others hold water. The vessels are connected by tubes that turn the water to mist, dispelling it onto the Cordyceps culture. The isolation of the fungus from the water distills the two as if they were objects in a vitrine, though the exchanging of fluids indicates the contentious nature of their dependency.
The foraging of Ophiocordyceps Sinensis is the mainstay of rural economies across the Himalayan region. It is called, among other names, yartsa gunbu, dōng chóng xià cǎo, or keeda jadi, meaning “summer grass, winter worm.” Cordyceps was first recorded in the Qing dynasty, (1644-1912) though, the medical use of O. Sinensis did not reach widespread popularity until Olympic winners in 1993 claimed their victory was thanks to the benefits of the substance.
Defining O. Sinensis has always proven difficult, and users have fluctuated between considering it a food item or a drug before the P.R.C. officially ushered O. Sinensis into the category of dietary supplements in 2016.
Cordyceps is no longer in the spotlight of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but it is critical to consider when the drug reached its apogee. This was at the height of the 2002 SARS epidemic, when Cordyceps was toted as an immunity enhancer. Mention of SARS brings to mind the pandemic we have found ourselves in, especially for the fact that SARS is frequently compared to COVID-19 due to the similarities in the virus that caused the epidemic. It is a calculated move we are deploying to study the contentious relationship between government-sanctioned medical advice and alternative practices in the wake of a global health disaster.
When O. Sinensis was declassified, this enthusiasm was directed towards Cordyceps Militaris, another species in the same genus. In sterilized laboratories across Asia and North America, the fungus, named for its soldier-like appearance, is cultivated in sanitary jars and containers. It goes for about 1/300th the cost of O. Sinensis. C. Militaris has brought forth new biotechnological entrepreneurship, applying micro-farming practice contrary to the century-old Cordyceps harvests and markets. This transformation from the outside to the inside, from the natural to the controlled brings Cordyceps readily into the hand of the consumer, offering supply-chain stability never before associated with any genus of Cordyceps.