‘Mycelium’ by Justus de Rode

Photography and painting allow father and son to find a shared experience and language amid Alzheimer’s
Mycelium is a series of images that represent the shared universe of a father, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, and son.

What is Mycelium and how has it come about? 

Mycelium is a series of images representing the shared universe of father and son. While Alzheimer’s disease distorts thinking and speech, visual language takes over from words. During joint forest walks, I try to bridge the increasing distance between myself and my father, Ruud, through photography.

A shared world of wonder grows in the forest. In addition to an attempt to form a bridge to his world through metaphoric imagery and an imagination of my father’s gaze, I ask my father to paint over several photographs. It opens the door to his mind, where existing forms take on a different meaning and colors come to life. 

Over 2 years, the series captures a chronological process documenting the progressing disease, for the prints are increasingly edited, to the extent that photographs are left unrecognizable or invisible, and figuration disappears. The interaction between the photographic works and painted-over prints is the physical result of our own Mycelium, which, in the forest, indicates an interwoven mass of live matter often submerged or embedded in another organic body. The forest becomes a world of connection, a separate universe in which speech and rationality become inferior to visual language and fascination, allowing me to get closer to my father in an increasingly divergent relationship.

Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

Due to my father’s Alzheimer’s, I felt him drifting away from me. I was losing him in conventional language, so I started looking for a substitute means of communication. As I noticed looking around together in the forest was what worked best, I started capturing this microcosm of ours. By experimenting, I started asking him to paint over prints of the photos I captured on our walks, allowing him to show me his perception of our shared experience. The visual dialogue opened up a world in which we found common ground, allowing me to slow down the pace at which I was losing my father.

Instead of showing the pain and loss that comes with dementia, the project gave me tools to communicate with my father, and offered me a microcosm we could take refuge in.

Justus de Rode

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

My work has been a means to research the world around me ever since I started my practice. The visual dialogue in Mycelium allowed me to research my father’s changing gaze and experience. The first print he painted on shows a stark contrast to the last, which spanned 2 years. Creating Mycelium allowed me to glimpse directly into his mind and gave me information I could use to better understand him. Instead of showing the pain and loss that comes with dementia, the project gave me tools to communicate with my father, and offered me a microcosm we could take refuge in.

How has Mycelium been received? 

After I published Mycelium last summer, the project and publication have been written about in several Dutch newspapers, and magazines, such as the New York magazine and Musée magazine. The articles triggered a flow of heartwarming emails from caregivers and people coping with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s. The project offered them support and inspiration for alternative ways to communicate.

This work is dedicated to: My father

Find more from Justus de Rode on his website and via Instagram.

What is a Spotlight?

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