Hugo Tillman, Cancerfund - Galle Exhibition

It is indisputably and inevitably, creative expression that fulfils one’s soul. Art, in essence, is intrinsically linked to the landscape of one’s conscience aiding and facilitating the perspective and observation of the larger picture, of life and its purpose. It then becomes art itself that heals. It is through such efforts that the Cancerfund-Galle exhibition was founded upon; Pakistani artist and writer, Mariah Lookman established the exhibition in attempt to provide a medium through which cancer patients find solace and healing through art. The exhibition brings together twenty-four artists from across the globe to aid in this initiative. Artist Hugo Tillman is one of the twenty-four artists whose works will be contributed and showcased at the exhibition. Hugo, in his works, presents an alternate solution to healing, through his medium of creative expression in photography. He inventively presents depictions of medicinal mediums captured through the lens begins to create the conversation of pharmacological influences that provide this healing.

For ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’, Hugo Tillman offers silver gelatine photographs. They are to be used as a tool for day-dreaming and mind-walking. They are for contemplating the interconnectivity between all things. They can be used like Mandalas. They are therapeutic. They are images of Trametes versicolor (L:Fr.) Pilot. Yun Zhi or Turkey Tail mycelium and Hericium erinaceus Yamabushitake (Japanese for Mountain Priest) Lion’s Mane mycelium. The PSK found in Turkey Tail helps with cancer and is the active ingredient in the cancer drug Krestin. In “Growing Gourmet Medicinal Mushrooms,” Paul Stamets writes about Lion’s Mane stating that “Ingestion of this mushroom is said to have a remarkable effect in extending life of cancer ridden patients. Ying (1987) reports that pills of this mushroom are used in the treatment of gastric cancer and esophageal carcinoma.” In documenting the process and initiatives of the exhibition, as well as the artists’ works, we converse with Hugo Tillman on his work to be exhibited at Cancerfund-Galle, his intriguing journey throughout his years in the art industry, and the remedial influences that art provides.

Q | What inspired your journey in the arts?

A | I think there is a constellation of things. Of course, it all started with the classic Western Canon found in the American education system at the time. Cave painting, The Venus of Willendorf, Egypt, Greece, Rome, ‘The Jansen’s Art History Textbook’ published sometime in the early 1980’s. There was that, but my mental health and home situation growing up lead me first to theatre and then to film and photography. My projects became a safe place, legitimised mania. I did not really fit in at school apart from in the theatre. As a teenager, I soon got into directing plays. A scholarship to the Lee Strasberg Institute and an intern ship at Paper Magazine in 1989 opened up the downtown NY Art Scene to me, and the world was fascinating compared to the Upper West Side. My parents worked in the world of antiques and lived a life that did not intersect much with contemporary culture. There was this uptown downtown divide in New York City at the time, and pretty much everything was going on below 14th street. It was pretty wild. The city was alive and art, nightlife, cabaret, music, theatre, were all in it together. It was about showing up, not how much it cost. It was welcoming.

Q | To what extent do you believe art helps with the healing process?

A | Art can give you the possibility to exist outside of the body and even the mind per se. It allows for the manipulation and recognition of time and space. It allows one to work out what is happening inside oneself as well as in the world outside. Perhaps, at times, when one is in a flow state, to feel the interconnectivity of all things. From my own subjective mental health journey, art has been incredibly helpful. It allows one to work out things externally in what can be a very therapeutic way. As I do more and more projects while mapping out my process, I understand how my brain works. This understanding is great. From my perspective, art can be a brilliant non-pharmacological prescription. I do believe that it can help a lot of people with all sorts of conditions as well. Anything that brings you out of yourself and into the artistic process is rewarding at any point in one’s life.

Q | What are you working on/worked on for ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ and how do you believe that it will it play a role in contributing to the framework set?

A| My submission refers to medicinal fungi that help with some cancer patients. I have included 3 large black and white silver gelatine photographs of mycelium. The subjects were about 1 inch across. I photographed them with an 8x10 Sinar P2 camera with 2 meters of bellows between the film and the lens using Ilford HP5 Film; on the technical side, it was a great adventure. I had to ask for help. I’ve spent months with my friend Craig, a very talented Scottish mycologist, who found a way to grow mycelium with agar on black carbon. This was a breakthrough in the process after trying to photograph the stuff using cakes, terrariums, the kitchen sink.

Experiencing the work for what it is in person is really the only real way to understand my work’s role in the framework. The act of being with the work and just looking at it will be therapeutic. I assure you. I learned how interesting this scale of biology could be from first seeing Mariah Lookman’s work in 2009 when we were at the Ruskin together. The closer one looks, the more one sees. I have been doing experiments and making work in the realm of fungi, neural imaging, VR etc, over the past couple of years, and these images of ‘Cubensis’, ‘Turkey Tail’ and ‘Lion’s Mane’ mycelium are what I have been up to during Lockdown life here in Holloway. The brief from Mariah came at a time where I could focus entirely on making her some meaningful work that will hopefully prove to be useful. The work itself is to be used as a focus for mediation. Each fungi represented is also very therapeutic to eat or as a supplement. These represent both the beginning and the end. They wish to be useful, heal and are great teachers. It is my hope that this work plays a positive role within the framework of the exhibition.

Q |In your work ‘Art of Change: New Directions from China’, how have you utilised each medium to capture the essence of the landscape and its concept?

A | This was a group show curated by a friend, where my work was a very small part of the exhibition. I had introduced the curator to my contacts in the art world in China as well as a French benefactor to a large part of the exhibition which made up the archive. I don’t think I should have been in that exhibition to begin with. I think my inclusion was really a thank you from the Hayward. I had not been thanked in the catalogue for all my help, so this was probably a sign of gratitude? Perhaps this was a taste of how the London art scene works. I am not sure. Although it was an amazing experience, I am not sure it was my place to be doing that work in China when I did as a British White Male. Edward Said might have had a few things to say if I had the opportunity to discuss it with him. The show was the last of a trajectory of China Ghetto shows that had started with China Power Station in 2006. Although under the umbrella of the same title, my stuff was a side show of my portraits of different artist’s dreams and seminal memories at the Royal Festival Hall while the main exhibition, with all of the Chinese artists was in the Hayward Gallery building.

Q | Can you tell us about the contemporary art scene in your country and how they’ve grown throughout the years.

A | I must say I am a bit of an outsider looking in. I grew up in the world of Christies and Sothebys where my parents worked. I remember when the auction houses started to move away from the old masters to contemporary. Of course contemporary art had an endless supply of product where old things had a limited supply and thus not at the same potential for upscaling the business. I live in London. I have lived here since 2008, the age before Crypto. The international galleries found in Mayfair and St James occupy grand buildings and exude great wealth. They feel grander than the luxury flagship shops on nearby Bond Street which some of the biggest collectors own. Of course, most young artists struggle to become part of the art world. Many young people enter various jobs or internships which are massively underpaid and do not provide a living wage that enables the workers the possibility of supporting themselves in the city, let alone make art work. This means that the majority of people who can participate need to be subsidised by their families. Thus, the “art world” is a rather exclusive place in general leaving out those who cannot afford to work for such low wages and who have not been given the opportunity to go to one of London’s elite art schools due to lack of funding. Of course, the entire art world in London is far from being entirely corrupt. That is primarily due to the market and how it sells itself through the museum shows. Thankfully, there is a decent amount of government funding of the arts, and the level of curatorship across the board at London’s institutions is brilliant, and the quality of work they do is a wonderful service to the nation.

Based in Holloway, London, A Tillman takes the position of the multi special feminist working towards a Mycoptopia. Tillman has an artistic practice that focuses primarily on fungi, specifically mycelium. For the past 3 years, Tillman has dedicated his enquiry into fungi and psychonautics. His studio practice spans from conducting experiments on the effects of specific species of mushrooms on the human focusing on the space where real time brain imaging crosses the line from medical to art, growing mushrooms and making a lexicon of 35mm photographic “sketches” of his specimens. In late 2020, Tillman modified an 8x10 camera to be able to take ultra close up images of mycelium, technically opening up a visual experience undocumented previously at this scale. Tillman is deeply interested in how we humans can learn from and work with fungi to save ourselves and the planet. The work being presented here is the first Tillman has shown in 7 years. Before dropping out of the DPHIL program at the Ruskin, Tillman forged a great friendship with Mariah Lookman and Muhanned Cader. Both Lookman and Cader inspired Tillman with their incredible intellects and talents.Tillman was made aware of the possibility of micro organisms becoming fine art through Lookman’s painting and her journey with cancer.

Tillman had matriculated at Oxford in 2009 when he met Lookma. Influenced by Tim Ingold’s “Lines, a Brief History” which had come out in 2007, Tillman was to respond to a collection of Indonesian textiles at the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam. The research would look into the constellations created by how a collector puts a collection together in a Warburgesque mapping of the brain of an ancestor. Having left the Ruskin, Tillman continued his research which resulted in collaborations with weavers throughout the archipelago over a period of about 5 years as well as a long collaboration with, now deceased, Slamet Gundono with a Wayang project in Java. After showing Betwixt and Between in 2014, a series of photographs taken in Natural History, Scientific and ethnographic museums around Europe, Tillman withdrew into his studio and has not exhibited since. Hugo Tillman will showcase his works next at the Cancerfund-Galle exhibition. The exhibition will begin at the esteemed Barefoot Gallery on the 17th of November 2021 till the 28th of November 2021 and will also open at the Galle Fort Art Gallery on the 20th of November 2021 till the 5th of December 2021.   

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10th September, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings