White Fungus: Translucent, slightly rubbery in texture, and insipid in taste—readily available as a dried product from Asian supermarkets, it doesn’t sound like something that you’d think to chow down on, but in Chinese culture in particular, it’s considered a delicacy and known to have many health benefits. But searching for White Fungus over the Internet, what you’re likely to come across first on the list isn’t the edible kind… it’s the delicacy in paper form.
White Fungus Magazine was first published about ten years ago, taking shape as a handful of black and white, smudgy photocopied Zines distributed around the streets of Wellington. For Editor and Co-Director Ron Hanson, the impetus behind publishing was in protest against a proposed inner-city bypass which would railroad its way through historic buildings and artist’s studios.
Now a decade on, White Fungus is still left of centre. With brothers Ron and Mark Hanson at its helm, their vision is all about reaching outside of obvious parameters to connect with their audience. The publication contains a curious mix of history, politics, visual arts, noise, new music, comics and now–fashion, with contributors located across the globe–the material is eclectic and edgy. “Ultimately we view our readers as the kind of people with intelligence and curiosity to move beyond categories and across disciplines.”
Co-Director Mark Hanson (left) and Ron Hanson (right).
Though the magazine was first published in New Zealand, the brothers have been based in Taiwan on and off since 2000, and more permanently since 2009 where they now reside. The name White Fungus was indeed inspired by the edible delight– a canned version which Mark discovered in a local supermarket in Taichung City some years ago. Ron recalls that it became a point of fascination and the brand—‘KKK’ added to the intrigue. “The design was like hard-edge modernism with fire engine red, images of the Swiss Alps and these strange fungi. We didn’t know exactly how we were going to use it, but we knew that finding the can was the key breakthrough in our art project. In terms of our on-going interest in exploring and subverting the operations of consumer branding, (while teasing out their links to fascism and popular culture), this was and remains the ultimate object!”
Yes, the name has stuck and its obscurity hasn’t hindered the creative vision for the magazine, although early on the pair did encounter some opposition, with one gallery withdrawing an offer to advertise unless they changed the name. But those days are long behind them, along with hours spent ‘binging’ on the magazine to make it through to publication deadlines. They’ve sorted out their workflow with the magazine published annually, and good things have been coming their way–White Fungus having just signed a major distribution deal with London-based company– White Circ who work with more than 80 distributors in approximately 100 countries, meaning that the magazine will triple its exposure, and find its way onto shelves in international art galleries, fashion boutiques and quality bookstores.
White Fungus has been on a steady trajectory over the past two years, having found a home in the collections of (New York), (London), and The Museum of Contemporary Art (Barcelona) and of late, Ron says they’ve been dealing more intensively with major industry players. “I’ve learned quite a bit about the magazine industry over the years just from my own research, so it’s great to be able to communicate with people who are really at the top of their game and innovating the next wave. I think there’s a genuine desire to see something new happen in the industry.”
But whilst the creative team of White Fungus (of which there are five core members), strive towards bigger things, they’re not living the dream just yet. Ron maintains that with more ideas comes more work, and puts any success down to the combination of skill-sets and discourse that occurs throughout the process; likening the evolution of White Fungus to that of a punk band learning to play its instruments.
“We’ve gone from staple to perfect bound, but we embrace each stage of the journey and always put everything into what we’re currently doing. We’re always and never where we want to be at a given time. We’ve got a million ideas and plans, but the main thing is to continue growing…we’re doing what we want to do, meeting loads of incredible people and not feeling so isolated anymore.”
The next issue of White Fungus will be launched in Berlin, February 2014.
WHITE FUNGUS MAGAZINE GIVEAWAY!
‘LIKE’ Sly on the Wall Facebook and be in the draw to win a copy of White Fungus Magazine!
The winner will be announced next Thursday 12th December on Sly on the Wall. International readers welcome.
Continue reading below for more on Ron Hanson and Life in Taiwan + artist Betty Apple in action!
Ron Hanson Behind Closed Doors
Currently Listening To: Noise, Pop, electronic music, anything potentially at a given moment. Recently I’ve been especially enjoying Ancient Methods, Extrawelt and the Knife. I enjoyed revisiting Sinead O’Connor’s music after her recent communications with Miley Cyrus. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Prurient, Merzbow and Yoko Ono.
Currently Reading: I’ve just finished a book about Andy Warhol and am also reading the book transcript of the 1968 debate between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky, on the subject of “human nature”. The older I get the more firmly I find myself on Foucault’s side.
Currently Inspired By: It’s a sad sick world and yet there are so many amazing things that happen, and there’s always more mystery and surprises to come. My greatest inspiration comes from the people around me.
What Gets His Goat: Don’t get me started…ha ha… more than anything, passivity in the face of great potential and a constantly spinning world. Apathy and passivity get my goat more than anything else.
Most at Home in: I feel more at home in Taiwan than both NZ and America. I think its due to a combination of factors. Part of it has been the ability to reinvent myself and do what I do without being accountable to society or any power structure. Taipei is an international city and a lot has changed since I first arrived 13-years ago, back then there was very little street signage in English, few people who could speak English, no pedestrian lights, sidewalks and people often didn’t wear helmets and drove recklessly! I think that you make your home. I’ve got a really great group of friends and collaborators in Taiwan. I relate to the outside nature of Taiwan’s existence. Most of all, there’s no resistance in Taiwan to our project or me as an individual. That’s refreshing to say the least!
Languages: I can speak conversational Mandarin at an intermediate level. Studying Chinese is one of the best things I ever done. It really expands your brain. I found it incredibly difficult, but with perseverance it’s developed over time.
Favourite Artists: Two of my favorite visual artists in the world live in Taiwan: Chen Chieh-jen and Yao Jui-chung. The most dynamic area however is sound art and experimental music. It’s just exploding with the numbers of events, concerts and exhibitions. A few years back Taiwan dedicated its pavilion at the Venice Biennale to sound art. Can you imagine New Zealand doing that? This year Taipei sound-artist Hong Kai-wang was featured in the first ever major exhibition of sound art at MoMA in New York. Wang Fujui–(the God father of the scene, and a close friend and collaborator), is just going nuts. He performed recently at the re-opening of Queens Museum in New York. He had an exhibition at MOCA Taipei, at which Mark and I spoke. There are two independent organisations promoting and producing experimental music and sound art: Kandala Records and Lacking Sound Festival. And then you throw White Fungus into the mix and things are really starting to take off!
Being a Kiwi in Taiwan: It’s a curious thing and an interesting story which I think circulates easily here. New Zealand’s a pretty mysterious place to most people. Not much is known about it outside of utopian scenery images, Hollywood and HBO entertainment hits. I would say people don’t have a particularly favourable or unfavourable view of New Zealand. But I think we’re challenging this image and letting people into a whole other side of New Zealand. Yes, New Zealanders are also risk-taking artists, experimental musicians, great writers and independent intellectuals. People outside of Taiwan also have a pretty limited view of Taiwan, so we’ve become kind of cultural ambassadors for both New Zealand and Taiwan in a strange kind of way. I think it’s easy for Taiwanese to relate to New Zealand, both being small island countries with histories of colonization.
All images courtesy of White Fungus Magazine.
- World Press Photo 2013: Exhibition Review (transcend.org)
- Now Hear This: Sound Art Has Arrived (artnews.com)
- Inside Art: Adding Rauschenberg and Richter at MoMA (nytimes.com)
- Talk by BioArt founders Pei-Ying Lin and Fred Ku (yahsinhuangtw.wordpress.com)