Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Sunday, 12 July 2009 14:57 UK

Mushroom woman's 3am plinth stint

Martha Crockatt in her mushroom costume
Martha Crockatt pictured in her mushroom costume before scaling the plinth

A Cardiff University scientist has spent her hour as a living monument in London's Trafalgar Square dressed as a mushroom and defending fungi.

Martha Crockatt, a research associate in Cardiff School of Biosciences, took her turn on the fourth plinth.

There was a crowd of only 15 watching her from 3-4am, but she called her unusual art experience "wonderful".

"Somebody shouted at me that I was part of a great big art project in front of the National Gallery - and I was."

The One and Other project, the brainchild of sculptor Antony Gormley, who designed the Angel of the North, involves a different person standing on the plinth for 24 hours a day over 100 days.

Those taking part can choose how they want to spend their time on the plinth, and Dr Crockatt used hers to raise awareness of the importance of fungi.

Many people think of fungi in a negative light but, in fact, human beings could not survive without them
Martha Crockatt

The 28-year-old, who is originally from Norwich but has been in Cardiff since arriving to study in 1999, said: "My time on the plinth was a celebration of an often overlooked section of life which is of vital importance to our planet.

"Many people think of fungi in a negative light but, in fact, human beings could not survive without them. For example, over 85% of plants obtain their nutrients and water from soil through fungi."

"Fungi are the main garbage disposal agents and nutrient recyclers of the natural world and are important in producing human food. Perhaps, most surprisingly, fungi are even essential for chocolate production as they actually produce its characteristic flavour."

Dr Crockatt added:"Penicillin is also produced by a fungus, as are many of the 'wonder drugs' of the 21st Century, including medicines for controlling cholesterol and preventing transplant tissue rejection.

"Clearly this vast kingdom, though often hidden from sight and unappreciated, is crucial to our very existence."

A dancer taking part in the Four Plinth project
A dancer taking part in the Four Plinth project

During her hour on the plinth was supported by fellow scientists who held a fungus fancy dress party at ground level, including Cardiff University's Professor Lynne Boddy.

Dr Crockatt described the whole experience as "very interactive".

She was lifted onto the plinth by a cherry picker for her allotted hour of fame, and then spoke to the small middle-of-the-night crowd via a megaphone.

Although her mushroom costume was made out of an umbrella, fabric and cardboard she did have some coconut mushrooms which she threw down to ground level.

More than 14,000 people have so far applied to take part in the One and Other project which will see 2,400 people taking turns on the plinth until October.

After her experience, Dr Crockatt, who has a PhD in the ecology of endangered fungi, advocated more people from Wales applying to be part of the project.

But she is coming to the end of a nine-month research contract at the university and will not be applying for another appearance.

Instead, she and her husband Mark Watson are hoping to go to the Alps as ski chalet reps.

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