On The Poetics of Water. Water vibrates with the activity of usually invisible microorganisms. 100-times magnification, Three found water samples, DIC microscopy, algorithmic photography. Different waters scribe different poems.
My 56- year mission to explore strange new inner worlds, to seek out internal invisible life, and novel ecologies. To boldly go where no human has gone before. I. and we all, resonate to these invisible wavelengths and frequencies. Various aspects of my gut microbiome at 1000-times magnification, DIC microscopy.
‘So in a single drop of water the microscope discovers, what motions, what tumult, what wars, what pursuits, what stratagems, what a circle-dance of Death & Life, Death hunting Life & Life renewed and invigorated by Death … a many meaning cypher.’ – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Natural waters act as mirrors, not only to the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars, but also to the changing health of our biological environments and planet, and especially in the context ofthe impact of human activity upon them. The microorganisms that are present in these watery systems underpin, and vitalise, all of the visible macro-biology, yet relative to these conspicuous higher taxa, the empowering microscopic ecology is largely ignored.
The works here explore the indelible nature of this microbiological domain, its omnipresence, and its near immortality. As natural ecosystems continue to bear the brunt of human pursuits, the videos here reveal the beguiling activity of microbial ecologies that have become established in mundane urban and anthropogenic environments. For example, in a discarded child’s toy lorry, an old cat food bowl, or a plastic tray.
Some of the apparently mundane environments sampled for microbial ecologies
Via Differential Interference Contrast (DIC) microscopy (100-times magnification) and algorithmic photography, the artworks (complex and moving glyphs are produced by the activity of the microorganisms themselves and by their interplay in what could described as a nonhuman performance.
“Nature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope.” Theodore RoszakWater
The Neurology of Soil. Here the soil superorganism emerges from minute drops of soil, and across an agar surface. It’s easy to imagine some kind of biological signal passing down these complex arrangements of fibres, comprising mostly bacteria. Read more about this work, and other wonderful contributions here:
Caddisflies are a group of insects that have aquatic larvae and flying terrestrial adults. The aquatic larvae can be found in a wide variety of habitats such as lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. The larvae of many species use silk to make protective outer cases, and these are strengthened with material from their immediate environment like gravel, sand, twigs, pieces of plants, or other debris which also act as camouflage.
This ongoing project, seeks to highlight the problem of plastic pollution. Moreover, it seeks to emphasize the human impact of runaway plastic pollution, and how this anthropogenic material is insidiously incorporated into natural ecosystems and also individual animals. It takes inspiration from Hubert Duprat’s work and is a new collaboration and project with Caddisfly larvae. When these larvae are placed into a watery ecology that contains small fragments of plastic (that had been collected from rivers, lakes and ponds), they immediately use these fragments, combined with their own secreted silk, to create their own gaudy, semi-natural, and hybrid synthetic/natural, post natural sculptures.
Entanglements. Many of our clothes contain synthetic plastic materials such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. Unfortunately, every time we wash these fabrics they shed millions of plastic microfibres into the wash-water. These synthetic threads are so small they drain out of our washing machines and pass straight through wastewater treatment plants and into our rivers, lakes, and eventually, into the sea, where they contribute to the overall burden of plastic pollution. Specifically, plastic microfibers account for 85% of man-made debris found on shorelines worldwide.
Entanglements is a series of closely related works that explore and reveal the ubiquity, and impact of, microplastics in the environment. Using specialised nets, microorganisms and plastic microfibres (because they are of a similar size) are trawled from rivers around the world and observed using sophisticated microscopy and algorithmic photography. In particular, the works explore the permanency of polluting and synthetic plastic microfibres (the unmoving coloured strings) compared with the ephemeral, and dynamic nature, of the natural microbiological life that underpins all earthly watery ecologies (the dark moving tracks). These iterations, which are autogenerative, are specifically from the rivers Thames, Wey and the Panke (Berlin) but these samples are sadly representative of all of our planet’s natural waters. 100-times magnification, DIC microscopy and algorithmic photography.
Large numbers of our clothes contain plastic materials such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. Unfortunately, every time we wash these fabrics they shed millions of plastic microfibres into the wash-water. These synthetic threads are so small they drain out of our washing machines and pass straight through wastewater treatment plants into our rivers, lakes, and eventually, into the sea, where they contribute to the overall plastic pollution. Plastic microfibers account for 85% of man-made debris found on shorelines worldwide.
The diptych above shows a collection of plastic microfibres that have been isolated from Oysters and observed at 100-times magnification, using bright field and Differential Interference Contrast microscopy.
Physarum polycephalum, also known as the many headed slime mould, is a single celled Eukaryotic microorganism that grows in damp and dark places where it consumes other microbes, such as fungal spores and bacteria.
Here this yellow pigmented slime mould was given a choice of four naturally pigmented bacteria as its sole source of food, Serratia marcescens (red), Micrococcus luteus (yellow), Arthrobacter polychromogenes (blue) and Chromobacterium violaceum (purple.
After overnight incubation, it had moved towards and begun to assimilate the yellow and blue pigmented bacteria but seemed to be avoiding the red, and to a lesser extent the purple pigmented bacteria
After further incubation, the slime mould continues to assimilate the blue and yellow pigmented bacteria whilst avoiding red.
After further incubation, and having assimilated the yellow and blue pigmented bacteria, the slime mould now begins to feed on the purple pigmented bacterium having avoided it at first.
Eventually it approaches the red pigmented bacterium
Eventually, the slime mould has consumed the yellow, blue and purple pigmented bacteria leaving some pigmented residue but still has not consumed red and sporulates rather than doing so.
Scum is defined as a layer of unpleasant or unwanted material that has formed on the top of a liquid. The same word is derogatory when it often used to describe very bad or immoral persons. In the image above, a rather unpleasant looking scum has formed on the surface of a bucket of collected rainwater. The microscope reveals a different reality here in that the scum is actually a molecular forest where chains of photosynthetic cyanobacteria form green and vine-like strands in between which a thriving population of animalcules move and hunt for prey. This usually invisible community is as diverse as the visible life in any life-size forest. Please see the videos below taken at magnification of 200-times and more.
I came across this murky and leaf filled puddle today in Old Down Wood (Hampshire). Macroscopically it is unexceptional, mundane even, and so easy to overlook amongst the bluebells, birdsong, and beneath Spring’s vulnerable new greenery.
However, when a few scant micro litres of this murky fluid are viewed using my portable Newton NM1 microscope, and at 200-400-times magnification, a thriving and dense microbial ecology is revealed (please see videos below).
I suspect that there is more biodiversity in this puddle than in the rest of the visible woodland, and I can’t resist extrapolating this observation, multiplying the volume, to a few millilitres, to the puddle, to all the puddles in the wood, and then beyond this. It is in these moments that I find a biological sublime amongst this multidinous frenzy of usually invisible commerce and exchange
Moreover, the magnifications used here reveal the viscous nature of water. As the larger animalcules move, they move the smaller microorganisms, as if they have a gravitational pull, or that the water has some elastic property. Water is the agency that interconnects all infusorial life here, as it is the medium that supports the biochemistry of our own bodies.