Theatre of the Roots - CODAworx

Theatre of the Roots

Submitted by The Lessick Empire

Client: Bilpin International Grounds for Creative Investigations

Location: Bilpin, New South Wales, Australia

Completion date: 2022

Artwork budget: $10,000

Project Team


Helen Lessick


Expeditioner, host

Yuri Bolotin



Dr. Monica Gagliano

University of Sydney


When you live in the forest, you see things. So begins Theatre of the Roots, a sculptural installation created for the Art Shed in Australia’s Blue Mountains.

Theatre of the Roots is an installation with performed creative non-fiction presented during a five-week artists’ residency to explore the drama of the subterranean, I framed an interior overhang in hand-crocheted mason line. A life-sized mylar ghost tree was the stage curtain, raised and lowered to reveal the root activity. My narrative explored the roots’ lifestyles, constructing and repairing the earth as it recovers from mining and high intensity forest fires. Theatre of the Roots was sponsored by science, made possible in part by research in plant cognition at the University of Sydney School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Sydney.

Strands of hand-crocheted mason line defined a delicate proscenium and root backdrop. The stage curtain was a life-sized mylar ghost tree, raised and lowered to reveal the activity below grade. The offstage narrative explored the roots’ lifestyles, mingling with nematodes while constructing and repairing the earth as it recovers from mining and high intensity forest fires.


This experiential artwork explored the ecology of the underground. The role of the subterranean in sustainable ecology and agroforestry is opaque to macro-scale, above ground humanoids, but vital to environmental recovery.
The goal was to explore the diversity of soils in the ancient Australian continent and explore the soil science done by pan-Pacific academics and researchers.


Theatre of the Roots drew on scientific research. It was informed in part by the work of University of Sydney research professor in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences Dr. Monica Gagliano. Through her scientifically replicated experiments and writings, we understand that roots have senses both like and unlike ours. Roots have distinct ways of interacting with the world. They can hear, smell, taste and feel. They detect vibrations, chemical signals and electromagnetic fields and respond to them. They send chemical messages to warn one another of dangerous pests. They exchange carbon signals through the fungal web. Roots create social networks and show signs of memory and learning.

Theatre of the Roots was made possible by the Bilpin International Grounds for Creative Investigation (BIGCI). Founded by scientist /artists /explorers Rae and Yuri Bolotin, BIGCI is a laboratory for art in the outdoors.

Additional Information

The Theater of the Roots is the performance below grade. It runs for many acts, for millennia. It is a drama and a comedy, a show of tragedy and pratfalls. Though we call it the Theatre of the Roots, it has an astronomical cast of players. But the Roots are such divas, they insisted on top billing. ‘We bring the audience and the energy’ they say, ‘we fill the seats.’ The fungi reply, ‘What are we, chopped liver? We do everything you do but backwards, in darkness and heels.’ The roots and fungi live together, like we live with our family, bickering over chores and play dates, offspring and inheritance. Roots and fungi are interconnected, literally within one another’s cells. Roots and fungi have relations, through fungi’s mycorrhizal threads. These threads sequester carbon and improve the neighborhood. They also promote bigger root growth, something both fungi and root appreciate very much. Fungi live mostly underground, rising as mushrooms and truffles to release spores to the sky. It’s an open relationship.