I’m testing different batches of Helion, a living textile made from just sunlight and air. Its basis is a type of photosynthetic bacterium called cyanobacterium, the filaments of which have a unique and “intelligent” self-weaving activity.
Helion 14 under the microscope. Demonstrating the “intelligent” and self-weaving properties of its filaments.
I was working with it the other today, growing it in small vats, when I accidentally knocked a bottle onto the floor. I was pretty pissed off by this as the mat of Helion, that had taken a few weeks to grow, had fragmented into bits forming a green and filamentous soup. However, when I returned to the lab about 40 minutes later, the mat had some how and almost miraculously reformed itself, as if it had never been disturbed. Here is a quick experiment that I conducted afterwards to confirm this observation and it really does repair itself. Below are images of Helion 14 before shaking and then after.
The bacterium has a unique type of self-organising multicellular behaviour that is able to repair itself after major destruction, and seems pre-progammed to form biofilms and mats.
Just after shaking
20 minutes after shaking
30 minutes after shaking
Proto-life: programming simple behaviours.
X-ray crystallography and incredibly powerful scientific tool used to identify the atomic and molecular structure of crystals. When matter is converted into this organised crystalline state and then exposed to a beam of incident X-rays, these diffract along many different, but specific paths. After measuring the angles and intensities of these diffracted X-rays, a three-dimensional picture of the density of electrons within the crystal can be generated. This electron density map can then be used to determine the positions of the atoms in the crystal, their arrangement, and their linking chemical bonds.
Proteins and nucleic acids can be coaxed into forming crystals, and thus X-ray crystallography has been used to determine the structure of these important biological molecules. Using the process, John Kendrew in 1958 unveiled the first protein structure ever to be seen by humankind, that of the protein Myoglobin, and then later in 1959 Max Perutz employed the same method to determine the molecular structure of Haemoglobin. Since these landmark achievements the structures of DNA, RNA, and over 90,000 proteins have been determined using X-ray crystallography, providing incredible insights into the molecular workings of life.
In this context of the above, I’ve had an obsession with the process of crystallisation ever since I read JG Ballard’s The Crystal World as a teenager. Here, I’m exploring this same crystallisation process and biology at a microscopic scale, and so I’ve mixed a culture of my own epithelial cells with a solution of urea. At first the molecules of urea move around my cells in a frenzied and random dance, but soon they start to slow down, and thus begin to recognise each other, and as they join together, this initiates an almost explosive crystallization event that rapidly consumes these minute parts of me. As they would be prior to analysis by X-ray crystallography, the protein and nucleic acids in my cells have been converted into crystals, yet they and their information is still preserved in persistent and recognisable islands, in a micrometre thin continuum of chemistry and life.
The chemical properties of pure water are universal, and unchanging, and what gives seas and oceans their unique identities, are the chemicals and minerals that exist within the water matrix, and between the spaces of its polar molecules. To make this work, the water was removed from samples of Atlantic seawater, in a manner that reveals the defining, but usually invisible, elemental signature of each. These images were taken using a Differential Interference Contrast microscope at 100-times magnification. It’s remarkable how the microscopic landscapes revealed by this process resemble so closely the ocean from which they came, as it might be seen from many thousands of metres above. The molecules have spontaneously arranged themselves into themselves into representations of waves and spume, and in a manner not unlike Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa and so in a minute spot, fractions of a centimetre in diameter, microcosm and macrocosm meet.
“ A superorganism is an ensemble of living organisms tightly integrated with their immediate material environment, so that the whole system behaves and is recognisable as an entity”.
Soil is such a superorganism, a complex physiological system in which microorganisms, inorganic particles, and water act together as a self-regulating entity. In this project soil is explored, as a vital and global scale organ, and the images here are of biopsies taken from this. Much like a histopathologist would use a microscope to examine samples of diseased human tissue to study the manifestations and origins of disease, these images form part of a histopathological study of the microbiological tissue of soil. The images here are of biopsies of the global soil organ, in its healthy and diseased state. In anthropogenic soils, the cells of the microbiome present in these biopsy samples, appear to have undergone a malignant transformation, and thus mimic the pathophysiology of cancer.
Heterosis/ Heterotic Practice: Artists and scientists working together, and far beyond the tired and rigid dynamic of the two cultures. Some of us at least, are no longer content to occupy our prescribed pigeon-holes, and speciated worlds, and seek the vigour and vibrancy offered by hybrid practice.