I’m fascinated by the creativity, inherent in nature and chemistry, and in releasing this to generate autogenic art works. In the past, I’ve explored this using pigmented bacteria and there interactions with each other to generate a series of unique textile designs. Here’s a variation of this process, where a liquid chemical solution has been added to a textile and as the solution dries out, and the solute begins to precipitate out, unique autogenic designs are generated by its ordered crystallisation.
“We live now in the “Age of Bacteria.” Our planet has always been in the “Age of Bacteria,” ever since the first fossils—bacteria, of course—were entombed in rocks more than 3 billion years ago. On any possible, reasonable or fair criterion, bacteria are—and always have been—the dominant forms of life on Earth. Our failure to grasp this most evident of biological facts arises in part from the blindness of our arrogance but also, in large measure, as an effect of scale. We are so accustomed to viewing phenomena of our scale…as typical of nature.” Stephen J. Gould.
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 water itself, and between the spaces of its polar molecules. In this unique artwork, the water has been removed from a sample of Atlantic seawater, in order to reveal its defining and usually invisible elemental signature. These images were taken using a microscope with 100-times magnification, and I’m struck by how this microscopic landscape resembles the same ocean as seen from many thousands of metres above, and how the microcosm and macrocosm appear to meet here.
“as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.” War of the Worlds, H.G Wells
“These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things–taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many–those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance–our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow” War of the Worlds, H.G Wells
These are some of the opening and closing lines of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a narrative bookended by powerful descriptions of microbiological life. I read this book in my early teens and became obsessed with this invisible, yet vast and powerful domain of life. Little did I know then, that I would spend a career scrutinizing and studying these life forms and that, in some sense, I would become that “man with a microscope”, and that whilst using far more powerful methods to study microbes, I’d never tire of gazing at them down such a simple microscope.
” as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were
scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a
microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and
multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to
and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their
assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the
infusoria under the microscope do the same.” War of the Worlds, H.G Wells
100x magnification, Differential Interference Microscopy.
This is a new collaboration with artist Alice Dunsheath that brings to light the vast diversity, and activity of the human microbiome. Each individual video here is of an actual member of my own microbiome, observed at 1000x magnification using a Differential Interference Contrast (DIC) microscope. The work illustrates differences in cell type, size and shape, and also motility. Some of the bacteria here are non-motile and seem happy to drift along on microscopic currents, whilst others move with a frenzied intent.
A massive thank you to Alice Dunsheath for her help with this.