Foraging for art offers escape from the ordinary

· The Pulse

In the early hours of a Saturday morning, dozens of hand-crafted mushrooms cropped up around Edmonton. Cardboard polypores rooted in the brick face of an Irish pub. Stained-glass amanitas dripped off tree branches along walking trails. Knitted toadstools and psychedelic polymer caps lay in long grass, waiting for collectors – or curious passersby – to discover them.

All of them were made, placed, and hunted as part of the underground holiday known as Game of Shrooms. Started in 2019 by artist Daniel "Attaboy" Seifert, the one-day event on June 11 now has thousands of artists worldwide creating original pieces and leaving clues on social media for seekers.

"You get to be both Santa Claus and the kid on Easter morning. You get to be the mischief-maker and that person looking for something," Seifert said, describing the out-of-the-ordinary mindset Game of Shrooms kindles in participants.

Seifert began crafting and hiding mushroom-themed artworks in 2016, as a way of coping with what he described as his first real depression. While travelling to meetings in L.A., he would have a "secret agenda" of dropping off one of his creations – and dropping hints about it online. "No matter how bad my day went, I would change the narrative of my day, so I got to have a little bit more of a sense of control. It was a form of therapy, I guess, art therapy."

The idea has now grown well beyond Seifert, with the day marked on calendars in Tasmania, Hong Kong, Canada, and beyond. The original spirit behind it, of creating a moment outside the day-to-day hustle, is still largely embraced by the artists, Seifert said. Some pieces would normally sell for thousands but are instead placed as freely as those made by first-timers.

"You're gifting it to a world not knowing if anybody's going to find it. It's an art of giving it to the world."

That act of giving was the inspiration behind another art hunt that captured the imagination of Edmontonians. In the doldrums of the pandemic, sculptor and metal artist Slavo Cech began producing works to be "hidden in plain sight" around the city.

A blue and purple mushroom sculpture placed in long grass as part of the Game of Shrooms day

Artists in Edmonton placed dozens of hand-crafted mushrooms around the city on June 11 as part of the underground holiday known as Game of Shrooms. (Brett McKay/Piece by @duchessofdinos)

"It was kind of a way of giving back for the support that I received in terms of sculpture sales that basically kept me afloat during the start of the pandemic," Cech explained.

Over time, Cech's hiding places became more elaborate, and his clues more cryptic. Unlike Game of Shrooms, which is a "leave no trace" event where all art is collected by the end of the day, Cech's pieces stay part of the landscape until his tweets are deciphered and the sculptures are found. In one case, his friend Dr. Darren Markland ferried a piece out to an island in the North Saskatchewan River. Indicative of the interest in Cech's game, the sculpture was claimed 10 days later.

"People treasure these," Cech said of the response to his gifted works. "People still post them. They move them around, and they'll send me an update in terms of it in situ. They're very much appreciated."

Seifert said one of the unexpected outcomes of his project is the way it has made people investigate their own communities with new eyes, connecting them with networks of local artists. For some, the mushroom is the first original artwork they've ever owned, and it's a gateway to a new world of art appreciation.

"They're actually starting to collect art. They're given permission to own original art. They thought that they had to go to Ikea and just buy something that looks OK on the walls and fills a blank space. And now they're funding original work that's affordable from artists that are in their local neighbourhood. And that's something that we were not planning for, and I'm very happily surprised."