Bioartist training fungi to devour her when she dies

Bioartist Jae Rhim Lee is systematically training fungi to feast on her "body tissue and excretions–skin, hair, nails, blood, bone, fat, tears, urine, feces, and sweat." When she dies, she wants the mushrooms to devour her and remediate the industrial toxins in the soil where she's buried. She wears a fungus suit covered in her lee-phaghic buddies so that they can be close to her. It's all about death; Lee calls it "decompiculture."
The first prototype of the Infinity Burial Suit is a body suit embroidered with thread infused with mushroom spores. The embroidery pattern resembles the dendritic growth of mushroom mycelium. The Suit is accompanied by an Alternative Embalming Fluid, a liquid spore slurry, and Decompiculture Makeup, a two-part makeup consisting of a mixture of dry mineral makeup and dried mushroom spores and a separate liquid culture medium. Combining the two parts and applying them to the body activates the mushroom spores to develop and grow.
Infinity Mushroom (via Kottke)


    1. It’s all about planing ahead see? You could also say, keep pigs, and chop yourself up to feed to them when you die. Vultures would work too. This lovely lady keeps fungi as pets and afterlife assistants.

      1. I like your idea. Once I’m dead, I’m totally gonna go grab an axe and chop myself up.

        Er, wait…

        1. And that’s why using fungi is smart. She knew she’d run into that roadblock, and she cleverly employs fungi to get around the “chop myself up after I’m dead” problem. 

  1. I don’t suppose she’s interested in some clotrimazole in the interim? It’s all some folks can do to keep fungi in check while they’re still alive.

  2. So… if the whole point of this is to mitigate the amount of toxins involved in the burial, wouldn’t it be easier to just not dispose of your body in a way that puts toxins in the earth? Get cremated (which granted, does still release pollution, but not as much as embalming.) or donate the body to science/training hospitals.

    1. The sad thing, many places will STILL embalm the body before a cremation, whether you like it or not… As per the NFDA’s website:

      Q. Is embalming necessary for cremation?

      A. No. In most cases, it is your choice. It may depend on such factors as whether the family selected a service with a public viewing of the body, whether there is to be a funeral service, or whether there is refrigeration available. Embalming may also be necessary if the body is going to be transported by air or rail, or because of the length of time prior to the cremation.

      1. Direct Cremation, a term like Direct Burial is when no embalming, preservation or public ceremony is requested.  Your “Q” question is open ended.  Cremation is a “mode of disposition” such as burial, body donation, and cremation.  So, one may choose NOT to have embalming which is very realistic and happens possibly 50% of the time nationally.  Other people may have religious beliefs, a need to wait 3 days or 3 weeks for a funeral and viewing, really.  Temporary preservation may be covered by “dry ice” “refrigeration” and “embalming”.   

  3. Oddly enough, that’s actually a good idea. I never could understand why we bury people so deeply, and thus eat up precious space/waste perfectly good fertilizer.

    1. Curl the corpse into a ball, toss it in a hole and plant a fruit tree over it. A century later, the family will still be eating great aunt Bessie’s apple pie.

      1. Yes!  After reading ‘Rotters’, I was telling a woman about this story and she told me that this is kind of a tradition in Sweden, but they freeze dry the corpse first.  There are laws regarding the corpse’s juicyness.  I thought ‘That’s brilliant!  That’s how I want my body disposed of when I’m done with it’.  I was thinking a peach tree would be nice.

  4. no.  ++ no.  necrotizing fungi… i won’t even post the links. nightmares. ignorance = bliss.

  5. Personally, I love the idea of an “Alternative Embalming Fluid” – one that quick recycles your remains safely back into the system. However, I wonder how she plans to train the fungus to wait until she is dead…

  6. overly pretentious conceptual fluff masquerading as art. bio artist? seriously?  bet she can’t draw a stick man. it’s not art, that’s for sure. 

      1. So, can you explain how this is art (or ‘bioart’)? I’m not saying I don’t see any conceptual art in it (and stick men can be art too by the way), but you *have* to expect with something like this that there will be people calling it out as not being art.

        So given that conceptual art like this (especially without a physical thing embodying the art, which the outfit does not really qualify as in this case) is difficult for many people to understand, if you’re going to criticize someone for not understanding, it sure would be nice if you could explain it to them. If you can’t, or if you give an answer amounting to something like “you have to figure it out for yourself”, then you’re just a condescending asshole.

        That said – I can see the art in many things but can’t necessarily explain it in words. In those cases, I may say “yes, I think that’s art” but I won’t tell other people “you just don’t understand, pleb” if they disagree which is what you’re doing. In other words, I’m not an asshole.

        1. I don’t particularly get conceptual art. But that’s a statement about me, not about the art.

  7. I know in most areas of the USA you don’t really have a choice in how your body is disposed of after death. Cremation, embalm+mausoleum, or embalm+burial.

    A few cities are embracing green burials – I know there are some places in Marin County, California, where you can be buried without embalming and in a simple wooden box, but those are still rare.

    1. I looked into this in the state of Pennsylvania. In that state a body must be embalmed if the crematorium isn’t on the same premises as the funeral parlor. And most aren’t. Your state’s laws may be different.

    2. Most Southern states allow for burial without embalming. You can’t cross state lines with the body though, for that you must embalm or cremate.

    3. I wonder about this, actually… I might go look up some laws out of curiosity. My mother was buried in Illinois in a pretty simple coffin, and I don’t think she was embalmed (although I don’t know for sure, I was too young to know that kind of detail, and it was a Jewish funeral and we don’t do wakes). One thing I do remember is the lid wasn’t screwed into place, it was simply placed atop the lower half.

    1.  He: That’s an, um, interesting outfit you’re wearing.  Did you make that yourself?
      She: Yes, it’s embroidered with mushroom spores which are intended to feast on my body tissue and excretions.  Do you like it?
      He: Excuse me, I have to go use the bathroom right now.

  8. Over here in Europe, people are usually not embalmed afaik. They’re placed in a casket, buried, and the whole body decomposes within a few years. (Or they’re cremated.) There also are environmentally-friendly caskets. In the US, I hear, open-casket-wakes are common (usually no wakes at all in Germany, for example), and so is embalming for better appearance. Which means there will be, say, 300 million dead in the next 100 years, and if each of them needs 4 Gallons of poisionous stuff for the embaling plus the casket, that’s 1.2 billion gallons of death poured right into the soil. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

    (That’s a gallon of poisonous embalming fluid every 2.5 seconds, by the way, for the next 100 years, if I calculated correctly. It’s like having a crop duster plane spraying this junk all over the US for the next century without rest, all out of sentimentality.)

  9. Julian – embalmed Americans are buried in a sealed concrete tomb. The casket is lowered into the concrete box during the graveside service and after everyone leaves the cemetery workers finish sealing the concrete box. We learned about contaminated groundwater from embalming fluids several generations ago.

    This method also reduces ground subsistence at the gravesite as the casket/contents decay.

    1. Okay, that’s better – but in the end, one day the concrete will crumble away, and I’m pretty sure most of these non-biodegradeable synthetic materials will still be non-biodegradeable in millions of years. So the issue is not really solved, only delayed.

      I personally am quite in awe of the fact that all of life, of evolution, all those processes and chemical as well as biological principles, tissues and so on always have been – above all their beauty and technological perfection – 100% recycleable. Nothing, not a single atom is not reusable in nature. Then man comes along, invents the plastic bag and calls it progress.

      1. Formaldehyde — the major toxic constituent of embalming fluid — is a strikingly simple, naturally-occurring organic molecule, and it breaks down readily in the environment.  Yes, it’s poisonous.  Yes, it causes cancer.  But given exposure to either sunlight or bacteria, it decomposes.

  10. Green concerns aside, what the hell  is “training” fungi? Like they won’t devour her remains unless they’re close to her during her life?

    Good art does  *not* have to be bad biology.

    1. If anyone commenting on this issue managed to read the article instead of the headline, he or she would read that ‘training’ fungi means systematic and rapid culturing of strains which are efficient for a specific purpose.  The suit in the picture would use the ‘trained’ culture after the individual’s death.

      1. Actually, the boingboing article doesn’t really say anything about culturing adapted strains, as in the breeding for desirable traits. I didn’t follow the link to source article, I was commenting just on the BB headline and post.

  11. Bad fungus!!! Bad!!! you’re supposed to wait until I die.  See, that’s better.  Who’s a good fungus? You’re a good fungus.

  12. JERRY
    It’s like when I think of dying. You
    know how I would like to die?

    No, how?

    I’d like to get torn apart by wild animals.

    Heavy! Eaten by some squirrels.

  13. How exactly do you “train” fungi? Last I heard, they aren’t exactly big in the brain department.

  14. I… well… hmmm… I don’t know, it has a strange “lovecraftian” thing -flesh eating fungus and stuff- but in the end is, like, what the fuck, man…

  15. I’d get one with magic mushroom spores so my friends could trip out on me after I’m goine…

  16. I’m not convinced oyster mushrooms – the only named thing I could find on her website – are ever going to eat a human body. Mushrooms in general like trees, and in general trees like them. The things that eat animal bodies are molds, aren’t they? (Long time since the last micro course.) Mold being, of course, not nearly as pretty as a mushroom.  And, if anyone has had, let’s say, Aspergillosis, they can testify it’s not nearly as romantic as a peaceful eternity growing golden ‘shrooms, either. Which may be why her suit isn’t impregnated with molds. 

  17. To all those talking about environmentally-friendly burials, the best I’ve heard is being buried in a “natural” cemetery… one that uses plain wooden boxes and no headstones, and is located in a beautiful nature area. Not only do you decompose naturally, the cemetery is protected by its burial ground status, hopefully preventing that area from being developed in the future.

  18. so, she’s breeding new strains of fungus that feed on human flesh? And this is a good idea because…?

  19. FYI–every Jewish funeral I have been to involved a plain box and burial in the earth, in an unlined grave, and an unembalmed body.  The family members then line up and ceremonially throw dirt on the coffn once it is lowered into the earth.

  20. coincidence – i was just re-reading Mary Roach’s book “Stiff”  – a rollicking adventure of the lives of cadavers. 

  21. I read it – I’m a biologist – it’s bull. Sorry. This is a woman who refers to herself as a “Decompinaut”. Like participating in a biological process makes her an artist. Well, I’m a “Digestonaut”. I’ve spent the summer training my gut flora to digest grilled zucchini with olive oil and paprika more efficiently. Get me a grant. 

  22. Cranky–EXCELLENT idea.  I also then require a grant for my ongoing project of turning coffee into piss during the day and red wine into piss at night.  It’ll be a fascinating study on social beverages, and I need a “materials upgrade” in order to explore the effects of, um, better more $$ coffee and red wine.  I’ll call it “Social Filtration” and publish daily numbers from a urine dipstick sampling showing creatine levels, etc as I indulge in different beverages during the day.  Hey, it’s ART!!
    If that’s successful I can do a study involving pickles and cheese–two culturally significant foods that develop via decay/fermentation–and sell the “end products” and use the money to buy more cheese and pickles.  I can call it “Cycle of Decay” or something.  Anyone want a pre-order on some, um, sculptures from that one? 

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