Pat Frades’ 2nd solo exhibition with Galerie Stephanie entitled “II. Self-Medicate: Allure” remains consistent in her desire to share with the public her deep fascination with fungi. The exhibit is her attempt to “powerfully attract or charm” the public into knowing more about fungi, to educate the public on the important role that mushrooms and their kin play in ecology, and maintaining the fragile balance that allow other organisms to survive and flourish.

While it would be easy to lure the public by playing on the novel facts about mushrooms like knowing that the biggest living organism the Earth has accommodated is not giant trees or dinosaurs but a 2,000 year old honey fungus that is approximately 9.6 square kilometers in size; or that the split gill mushroom has over 20,000 sexes, while we and other animals and even plants are roughly just male or female; or that fungi can control insects and turn them into a zombie-like which became the inspiration for the tv series “The Last of Us”; Frades delves into ecology and the role fungi play. Being the “digestive tract” of nature, fungi are present at the beginning and end of life of other organisms in many ecosystems, allowing other organisms to grow, while they break down detritus and other organic matter. And yet, while they are there in both ends of the cycle, they also very present in the living as they are the essential network between plants, allowing trees to alert each other of threats like a swarm of pests that is attacking one tree for the other trees to grow their defenses, or allow one tree to share nutrients with another that is ill for the sick tree to survive.

The second of her five-exhibit exhibition cycle which Frades designed to be sensorial and collaborative in approach, Allure focuses on the sense of sight, and continues her partnership with the same collaborators as with her previous solo exhibition with Galerie Stephanie “I. Self-Medicate: Breathe” which happened to focused on smell. Her collaborators are restaurant consultant and urban farmer Iyay Ignacio, who also happens to be the founder of Mouldy Blooms, film producer and costume designer KC Contrevida, and a collaborator from her very first solo “Growth”, photographer Aia Solis.

For Allure, Frades continues with the inquiry she started a decade ago on the psychotropic nature of some mushrooms originally used by some shamanic cultures to heal, which was coopted by pop culture in the 1960’s psychedelia, and tangentially tapped into by the computer game “The Last of Us” which recently has become a popular tv series. Trying not to frighten her audience, Frades initiated her audience into this alien world by introducing cute pastel-colored characters with mushrooms growing on them to signify the various ecological, cultural, and belief-system associations to fungi.

While Frades’ main body of work for Allure utilizes different forms from paintings, clay, and for the first time, kiln-fired ceramic which visually take from the pastel hues, textures, and patterns of different mushrooms that she is aware of, her work with her collaborators extends her inquiry into her subject and fuse them with their own specializations much like how fungi latch on to some plants and create symbiotic synergy together. As collaborators, they augment Frades’ main body of work for the exhibit, and branch out to create different avenues of exploration.

Restaurant consultant and Mouldy Blooms founder Iyay Ignacio has a personal stake with mushrooms. Being part of the restaurant industry that was made to close during the lockdowns, Ignacio found “reason to get out of bed” by tending to mushroom cultures which she grew from her habitation in her attempt to find other things to do as her regular work was not feasible. Her attempt to grow mushrooms became the enterprise, Mouldy Blooms, which now sources mushrooms for restaurants in Manila from mushroom growers in Luzon, develops various recipes using them, and supplies mushroom growing kits to enthusiasts. For her part in the exhibition, Ignacio inoculated objects specifically chosen by Frades with information given by Ignacio on what media mushrooms would grow. These works will be living sculptures that need to be tended to during the exhibit and will allow the audience to see and experience mushrooms in the exhibition.

Film producer and costume designer KC Contrevida once again designs a costume made from repurposed materials like used tea bags, kombucha leather made from the scoby (short for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” with yeast, as we know, is a fungi) in her collaboration with Frades. Her fascination with fungi is more conceptual in how they are present in both the end of life for most organisms, and how the organic material they liberate from the dead organic matter becomes the stuff which allows other organisms like plants to live. She also is inspired by this cycle and tries to mimic it by using the pellicle (the gelatinous part generated by kombucha scoby) as an integral material in the costume as it is both a material being eyed for its sustainability, and a living material that gets activated with moisture.

Photographer Aia Solis has been a collaborator and close friend of Frades for a solid decade. Growing together as artists, she proudly says that she has photo-documentation of the highlights of the artistic career of Frades. The narrative style of Solis’ editorial photos sits well with Frades, and as Frades says, not only allows documents the ephemeral exhibition and works of Frades, but generously accommodates for new interpretations of her work. Coincidentally, as art is the product of the artist’s personal inner life, the photographs of Solis cover not only the artistic highlights of Frades’ life, but also her personal life.

Like the bacteria and yeast that symbiotically creates kombucha, the collaborative style of Frades’ solo exhibition allows for a richer material in her investigation of fungi. In this collaborative style, Frades puts forward a different way of doing the solo exhibition: partly curatorial and partly artist-collaborator, she allows us to question the construction of the exhibition as something clear-cut the effort of the solo artist, and instead, like fungi working with other organisms to create a stronger organism, they create works that approach the subject from different fronts.

Allure, Pat Frades’ second collaborative and sensory-inspired solo exhibition with Galerie Stephanie explores the fascinatingly rich and often alien world of fungi, and present ideas on how we can benefit and work with Nature to ensure our own long-term survival.

Written and Curated by Ricky Francisco
Photography by Aia Solis