Caveat is a collective research into the ecology of artistic practice. It is initiated by Jubilee, in partnership with Open Source Publishing, No New Enemies and Été 78. Caveat tries to find more sustainable, balanced ways of operating within the existing legal frameworks. And when the limits of the existing system are reached, it tries to come up with possible new narratives that open up space for reflection.

Report of Reading Room #3, a collective reading of a fragment of Anna Tsing's book, The Mushroom at the End of the World

Introduction by Florence Cheval: We are very happy to share an excerpt from a book by Anna Tsing, called The Mushroom at the End of the World, published in 2015. Anna Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she codirects Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). She is the author of Friction and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (both Princeton).

Her book explores, as its title suggests, the possibilities of life in capitalist ruins, in spaces abandoned for asset production following a specific kind of mushroom called Matsutake. Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: What manages to live in the ruins we have made?

More specifically, and that will be the red line for todays' discussions here, we want to address the sometimes unexpected entanglement of capitalism and freedom, searching and selling: the story of this mushroom shows that salvage - taking advantages of value produced without capitalist production - is an essential element of capitalism. This raises the following question, quoting Anna Tsing: How, then, can it be that, "the thrill of private ownership is the fruit of an underground common"?

Today's presentations will go into that back and forth movement and try to focus on the fact that things are closely intertwined, from commons to private ownership and back again...

Excerpts from The Mushroom at the End of the World:

Sometimes common entanglements emerge not from human plans but despite them. It is not even the undoing of plans, but rather the unaccounted for in their doing that offers possibilities for elusive moments of living in common. This is the case for the making of private assets. Assembling assets, we ignore the common—even when it pervades the assembly. Yet the unnoticed, too, can be a site for potential allies.
...
Foresters told us of the horrors of other Yunnan areas, where village pickers spread out before dawn, combing the commons with flashlights. This is chaos, they said. Besides, small mushrooms are picked before they achieve their highest market value. Contracts, in contrast, order the forest, blocking such wildness and inefficiency. Chuxiong forests offer a model for making private assets: an example for forest reform for Yunnan and for all China.
...
But can matsutake thrive in private forests?
...
When one spots a mushroom, it is a thrill; and since no one picks the matsutake here, they rise out of the duff into neat umbrellas. Visitors come from many places to admire this matsutake forest. But foresters know enough to worry: there is too much duff. The humus is too rich. The matsutake are still coming, but perhaps not for long. Matsutake prefer more goings on.
...
Far from serene and graceful, the forest is a busy intersection of traffic both for human needs and for the benefit of their plant and animal domesticates. Yet these forests are the much-praised model of individual-access enclosure! How can they also be the sites of so much traffic?
...
Little L did not mind; he showed us the richness of the forest’s mushroom harvest, emerging in the midst of all that traffic. And he explained the interplay between traffic and enclosure, clearing up my confusion.
...
This is not an official plan. Provincial foresters and experts do not talk about seasonal enclosure; if they know about it, they put it out of their minds as something international authorities would surely censure. Seasonal enclosure would defeat the program of the “privatization-is-conservation” creed, because local residents are using resources in common in just the way those experts frown upon. Besides, those experts would hate the way this forest looks: young, scarred, full of traffic. This is not the plan. And yet, might not this way of enacting privatization be the saving grace for matsutake? The traffic keeps the forests open, and thus welcoming to pine; it keeps the humus thin and the soils poor, thus allowing matsutake to do its good work of enriching trees.
...
Matsutake thrives in this fugitive commons. It is only matsutake incomes that can be raised through individual access.
...
Privatization is never complete; it needs shared spaces to create any value. That is the secret of property’s continuing theft—but also its vulnerability.
...
The fungi require the traffic of the commons to flourish; no mushrooms emerge without forest disturbance. The privately owned mushroom is an offshoot from a communally living underground body, a body forged through the possibilities of latent commons, human and not human. That it is possible to cordon off the mushroom as an asset without taking its underground commons into account is both the ordinary way with privatization and a quite extraordinary outrage, when you stop to think about it. The contrast between private mushrooms and fungi-forming forest traffic might be an emblem for commoditization more generally: the continual, never-finished cutting off of entanglement.
...
In household forest contracts, contractors can extract the value of the mushrooms, which in turn is drawn from an unacknowledged and fugitive commons.
...
As for the forest, at the very least it lost its diversity—and the beauty of its flowering trees.
...
Rural bosses are replacements for socialist heroes; they are models for human aspirations. Bosses are embodiments of the entrepreneurial spirit. In contrast to earlier socialist dreams, they are supposed to make themselves, not their communities, wealthy. They dream of themselves as self-made men. Yet their autonomous selves bear comparison to matsutake mushrooms: the visible fruit of unrecognized, elusive, and ephemeral commons.
...
However, there is something peculiar and frightening in this dedication to salvage, as if everyone were taking advantage of the end of the world to gather up riches before the last bits are destroyed.
...we see close-focus models for how to salvage fortunes from the ruin.
...
However we begin, I don’t think we can afford to forget the connection between value and latent commons. There are no matsutake mushrooms without such evanescent mutualities. There are no assets at all without them. Even as entrepreneurs concentrate their private wealth through building alienation into commodities, they continue to draw from unrecognized entanglements. The thrill of private ownership is the fruit of an underground common.