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The Fungus Among Us

Term: First 7 weeks | Spring 2015 | Tuesdays 12:10 - 2:40
Professor Marina Zurkow
mz46@nyu.edu | 917 749 5326
Office hours



We live among the vast and relatively unknown Kingdom of Fungi.
Mycelial networks have been likened to social and communications networks. What do we have in common with mushrooms? What can we learn from them? Fungi communicate, remediate, and decompose. They are used as food, medicine, spiritual guides, and material building blocks. Some are crucial to the soil food web; others will kill you. Fungi are closer to Animalia than to Plantae, and only 5% of the Fungi have been classified.

Students will explore fungi through reading, research, writing and interacting with fungi, and making one case study and one project that explores the physical and conceptual material covered in class. Readings that span the biological, theoretical, social and creative will include Paul Stamets, Dale Pendell, Anna Tsing, and Gilles Deleuze. No technical skills are covered in this class, however students are asked to utilize "technologies" in the creation of projects, which might include digital media, cooking, mycotecture, or working with existent fungal communities.

This two-credit course will meet the first seven weeks of the semester.



Objectives: Research, Make + Document.

The class is structured as a short, focused foray into research and design. Together we will workshop your projects, look at prior and contemporary examples from the fields of science, art and design, and learn how to conduct self-directed investigations into your chosen subtopic about fungus. Students will break up into thematic working groups and share research. You are welcome to collaborate or work alone.

The areas of research are loosely organized as:
Ecology, Food, Remediation, Networks/intercommunication/Symbiosis,
Spirituality/Narrative/Culture, and Fabrication, and possibly Poison

Students shall demonstrate their capacity to:

Investigate your subject area (organize research strategies in a timely manner).
Translate research into form.
Make a written case study using semi-structured interview techniques.
Look at / give feedback on each other's work.
Analyze design strategies of initiating, implementing and documenting research.
Share/contextualize: Present your work in a framework your colleagues can understand in class presentations and for the final.
Keep a research and development blog. You're required to link to your blog here.

On your blog you will:
+ Track your progress / write / diagram / make associations / organize links and references in a usable order for later, creating a narrative of your research
+ Respond (sketch) all the way along in any quick form (doodle, collage, etc)
+ Document your proposal designs and prototypes for a final presentation




There are 2 assignments for this class. You are highly encouraged to work in groups.

1. Written (3-5 page plus images where applicable) case study on an individual who works in your area of focus, based on an interview and your research.

2. One 7-week project (proposal and prototypes) with periodic check-ins.

You are expected to work a minimum of 5 hours a week outside of class.
All work should be documented on your blog, and accessible from this link.


Fine print.

This class meets for one two-hour and thirty minute session per week.  Seven weeks.
No email or IM in class  (you will be asked to leave).

Laptops closed when people are presenting. You may ask permission to take notes on the laptop. Findings (here and here) point to the fact that note-taking and transcription lead to better absorption and retention.

Prepare for guest speakers. Look them up and come with questions. They are generously sharing process with you.

Grades are based on class participation (40%) and assignments (60%).
See below for absences and lateness.

NYU has a strict policy against academic dishonesty. Plagiarism is a serious issue.
Attribute, attribute, attribute, in word and code. Plagiarism is grounds for failure.
Please review the Tisch Handbook on Acåademic Integrity.

Assignment due dates are hard dates. 
Unexcused absences on project due dates will constitute a failure of that assignment. If you have an excused absence, you will have to arrange for an out-of-class appointment to review your work. If you are part of a team, your work will be critiqued on the assignment due date by the member who is present.

In exceptional cases, at the discretion of the professor, a student may be excused from class.  Leave will be considered 1 week (or more) before the class in question but not after that time.  This does not apply to sudden illness, a death in the family, or other last-minute exigencies.  Situations, which merit consideration for leave from a class, include:

-Unique and compelling professional opportunities relevant to your studies
-Important family events (weddings, funerals, and the like)
-Incapacitating or contagious illness  (NB: A student must call or e-mail the professor BEFORE the class time if he or she cannot attend as a result of serious illness.  Failure to do so will result in an unexcused absence.) 
-Religious holidays


Lateness (more than 5 minutes) or early departure from class translates into one half absence. 

An unexcused absence counts as one full grade demotion (i.e. A to A-)
Two unexcused absences will result in an academic warning
Three absences are grounds for failure.