On The Origins of Loss, Longing, and Perhaps Love

The cyanobacterium Oscillatoria animalis is a very social bacterium that forms complex multicellular and gas filled bodies that allow it to float on the surface of water.


A gas filled multicellular body formed by Oscillatoria


In order to propagate these bodies, I cut the one above into two, and separated the two daughter forms on the surface of liquid media (see the image below)


The two newly split daughter forms


I left the two forms for two days before I observed them again but when I did, I found that not only had they healed themselves, but they had reached out across 10 cm of space to reconnect with each other (see the image below)


Reconnection of the two forms across 10 cm of liquid culture


Over the following week the two once separate forms,  gradually pulled themselves together and finally reunited once again (see the following images)






Die Urpflanze: cyanoglyphs and cyanomorphs











Shortly before Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen in 1790, he was exploring the concept of the Urpflanze, which he speculated was an archetypal prototypical plant, that contained within it, all the plants of the past, present and future. Whilst there is no reference to this speculative Ur-Plant in his book, it is described (as below) in his letters to Charlotte von Stein which were sent by Goethe during his stay in Palermo, Italy.


“Seeing such a variety of new and renewed forms, my old fancy suddenly came back to mind: among this multitude might I not discover the Primal Plant (Urpflanze)?”


If we extend Goethe’s concept of the primordial botanical entity, to our current understanding of evolution and contemporary science, then a type of microbiological life, the Cyanobacteria, Cyanobacteria, seem close to what he initially envisaged in many respects. In this context the process of photosynthesis evolved in this group of bacteria, as did the ability to make the important plant structural polysaccharide cellulose. Indeed, the chloroplast, the organelle within plant cells which carries out photosynthesis, actually derives from a process called endosymbiosis, where in the distant biological past, a cyanobacterium would have gained access to the cytoplasm of a primordial plant cell, and conferred upon instantly, the ability to make energy and assimilate carbon from sunlight and carbon dioxide. In a sense, this life form would contain, the latent instructions for the rich diversity of plant life that we see today, and can easily be imagined as Die Urpflanze.


The works here explore Goethe’s imagined Urpflanze using the cyanobacterium Oscillatoria animalis, by allowing it to autogenically generate complex, multicellular and prototypical plant forms in liquid media, and by observing it as it lays down complex glyphs, that perhaps reflect its evolutionary heritage, on sold agar surfaces.












Mundi Praeparvus

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 52.13 second exposure.

Mundus Praeparvus I

I first read “The War Of the Worlds” by H.G Wells as a young teenager, and its opening lines were my first, and career defining, introduction to the wonder and hidden power of microbiology. Here are those lines:

“that 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.”

I followed my early passion and became a microbiologist, and in a sense am now that “man with a microscope”.  If I take a drop of water from the cat food bowl (left outside without cat meat in it) above and observe under a microscope, I know that it’s lenses will reveal to me a frenzied world of microbial, as so eloquently described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

” 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 and Life, Death hunting Life and Life renewed and invigorated by Death … a many meaning cypher.”

I’ve been searching for a way to represent the dynamic but invisible worlds that I see,  beyond simple videos, and  to express Coleridge’s words. I think that I might have come quite close now with the process below

The photographs below are of a droplet of water taken from the cat food bowl at 100-times magnification, using a process that illustrates the activity of its microbes, rather than the microorganisms themselves,  by capturing their manifold activity trails. They remind me of images of radioactive decay, or atomic particle collisions, as they are seen using cloud chambers, and thus I have a strong sense that each species reveals its self as a unique biological wavelength and frequency. What would other waters reveal?

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 23.20 second exposure.

23.20 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 64.90 second exposure.

64.90 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 48.66 second exposure.

48.66 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 44.93 second exposure.

44.93 second exposure.


Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 37.76 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 21.91 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 18.39 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 24.68 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 52.13 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 54.73 second exposure.

The Hemmick Ablatives: maps on the anthropogenic

Sea glass is a physically and chemically weathered form of anthropogenic glass, ejected by the oceans, and found deposited  on beaches around the world.

Sea glass has a far less damaging impact on the health of our oceans than plastic, but it is nevertheless an obvious and persistent reminder of the of the impact of our industrial activities on our planet. Washed up on remote beaches it has become an important indicator of anthropogenic pollution.

Naturally produced sea glass originates as normal shards of broken glass, for example from broken bottles, broken tableware, or even shipwrecks. These fragments are persistently tumbled and ground by the sea until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded. In this process, the slickness and sharpness of the original glass is also lost, but it gains a beautiful worn and frosted appearance. Sea glass takes around 20 to 30 years, and sometimes even as much as 50 years to acquire its characteristic texture and shape. The most commonly found colours are green, brown, and clear and this type of sea glass normally derives from glass bottles.


Above is a small selection of some of the sea glass that I recently found on Hemmick beach in Cornwall over a period of collection of a week, and which forms the basis of a new series of work.



The glass itself is beautiful but when observed under a powerful microscope (as above), its surface is revealed as a highly detailed map that plots the long journey of each individual piece of glass, and its manifold collisions with sand grains and rocks, which could potentially trace back to the origins of the anthropocene itself. See below for examples:


Above is a relatively slick and thus new fragment of sea glass with limited etching



An aged piece of sea glass showing its journey and manifold impacts with sand grains and rock.


An aged piece of sea glass showing its journey and manifold impacts with sand grains and rock.

I find it extraordinary how closely these microscopic maps, revealed on anthropogenic surfaces, reflect the power and transformational properties of the seas.


Helion 14: updates


Helion, is a unique and living BioTextile 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. In the above images the textile is being grown in large flasks,  and without any instruction or influence from myself,  these are some of the extraordinary forms that it has generated using its intelligent and cooperative behaviour.