The Fifth Kingdom

Jody Guralnick’s walk in the woods

Aspen-based Jody Guralnick revels in nature. She derives so much pleasure from it that she’s training to become a master naturalist with the Forest Conservancy. Her area of interest is lichen, but apart from studying the tiny, leafless branches of these plant-like organisms, Guralnick is also known as a painter and sculpturer. Her paintings and sculptures depict the merging of the many universes of nature and its diverse inhabitants. But Guralnick’s recent works are more microscopic in nature, depicting the intricate patterns that lichen form on several surfaces of the forest such as rocks, bark, and leaves, and even on themselves.

Guralnick’s series the “Fifth Kingdom” refers to levels in taxonomy that include the Monera Kingdom consisting of unicellular organisms; the Protist Kingdom which is similar to monera, but are more complex because they have a nucleus and are mobile. The Fungi Kingdom—Guralnick’s area of interest—has 144,000 known species that includes yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews, molds, and mushrooms, but also slime molds and oomycetes. The Plant Kingdom such as trees, grass, flowers, and algae, and are capable of making their own food using water and sunlight, and can grow just about anywhere. Finally, the Animal Kingdom that consist of organisms that are multicellular and dependent on other organisms for food.

She writes on her website concerning her lichen studies, “I’ve observed lichen growing on rocks, slowly, slowly digesting the minerals from the rock and nutrients from the air and I’ve sought to replicate the universal order and form that that growth takes. I’m interested in the symbiosis of the forest, the connecting and dismantling that goes on in equal parts. We can look at human vascular systems, or brain slices, or the view from an airplane window and see over and over again systems of networks working in partnership. We are attracted to these patterns because they are a part of us. I am painting a vision of pattern and connection.”

Guralnick’s interest in taxonomy can be traced back to her familial ties in medicine. The two vocations came together during an artist’s residency at a biology lab at the School of Visual Arts in New York City where she was able to cultivate her own slime mold. An avid mushroomer, Guralnick has incoporated them into her bio art. In the Deliquesing series, Guralnick has photographed inky cap mushrooms that ooze and decompose on paper creating what she calls self-portraits.

In an interview with The Aspen Times, Guralnick linked her use of nature and its byproducts as an equal partnership. “It’s not just working with with a blank piece of paper and tube of paint, but finding something in nature to work with you.”

For more information about Jody Guralnick, please visit www.jodyguralnick.com.

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