Madeline Cass (b. 1993) is a native of Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned a BFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2017. She has exhibited work around the Midwest, and recently debuted her work on the West Coast with a solo show at Popular Kids in Portland, OR. Using photography, video, installation, bookmaking and poetry, her work focuses on plants, fungi, and how humans interact with them.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Earth Magic
2015 – 2017
As humans, we are constantly reminded of our own immortality by fleeting phenomena. Mayflies, flowers, and fungi appear, disappear, and reappear again. Spores, the invisible seeds of fungi, grow into dense fibrous root-systems called mycelium. These networks act as a primeval internet that is a powerful interface between multiple biological kingdoms. Symbiotically, they bridge life and death. In earth magic, I use photography to explore the cyclical relationship between growth and decay.
When and where did Earth Magic begin?
In 2015, I had dropped out of college (for the third time) and was driving around the western United States alone, seeking some sense of purpose and direction. Once I returned home to Nebraska, it hit me that most of my energy while traveling had been focused on making photographs. I’ve been making photographs since about age 13, but after this trip, photography really became the center of my artistic practice. The earliest earth magic images are from this trip.
Dually, my interest in mycology (the study of fungi) expanded while I was in Portland taking a course with my friend Peter McCoy of Radical Mycology. Fungi fascinate me because they are incredibly important to ecosystems, as decomposers, but also in relationships that nourish plants. They are absolutely fundamental to a healthy environment, because of how they assist in growth and decay, inseparably. I delved much further into the world of mycology, and began cultivating mushrooms and molds in a pseudo biology lab / darkroom in my basement. Fungi became the source material for my work. The project turned a corner when I began finding formal relationships between the walkabout images and the fungi images. My process was able to be more fluid, more loose and intuitive, which I liked. It seemed to transform the work from something that felt didactic to something more metaphoric. I began seeing this metaphor in other aspects of my life.
Soon it became clear that the work needed to be a book to really feel the importance of the sequencing and visual juxtapositions that were at play between images.
Where do you see this body of work going?
I am fortunate to have received a grant from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts' Endowment Fund to self-publish an edition of 90 books. The publication of the book definitely felt like a parenthetical for the work. I would love to eventually exhibit the book or prints. Regardless, the ideas are continual in my life and artistic practice and will likely continue to recur throughout future work.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
It’s goofy, but I’ve been driving a motorcycle for a couple of years and am totally obsessed! It’s my jam! I didn’t expect how much it was going to effect my lifestyle, but it was a definite shift in perspective for me; a way of commuting that is immersive and sensory and interactive. And fast. Can’t explain how much I love it. Motorcycle people get it.
On the weekends, I try to ‘saunter’ (a word best defined by Thoreau) with my friends at the New Tree School, a group of naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts that usually meet in the beautiful Loess Hills of western Iowa. Together we walk through the landscape, using our observational skills, sharing thoughts and poems and stories. Spending time outdoors is very important to me, as it feeds me spiritually. I feel lucky to have this intense connection to the landscape, and somehow it keeps growing.
What’s next for you?
Much to my mother’s dismay, I am still a tumbleweed and will probably always be a bit of a nomad. Despite that, I look forward to building a work space that can function as photo studio, fungi lab and greenhouse. I am interested in more collaboration with other artists and scientists and researchers. Publishing and bookmaking also continuing to play a role in my practice. There are a couple of new zine and book projects in the works, stay tuned!
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
Thalia Rodgers @ratskullll
Robert Stewart @wet_rats
Hudson Gardner @rivrwind