As above, so below: from macrocosm to microcosm, towards an aesthetic of a familiar freshwater microbial ecosystem.
“That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above.”
A common interpretation of the above verse refers to the correspondences between the macrocosm and the microcosm. In this context, here is a garden pond, a familiar freshwater ecosystem and microcosm of much larger freshwater bodies in the wider natural world.
The pond is a magnet for wildlife and its surface teems with insect life: flies, beetles, and dragonflies. Here, the activity of these is converted into trails, using algorithmic photography, as these lifeform skim over the pond’s surface. As is also the case for larger natural bodies of natural freshwater, the life that exists above the surface of the pond (in a sense the macrocosm) is supported by, and dependent upon, a usually invisible microbiological ecology (in a sense the microcosm) that thrives beneath the pond’s surface. Samples of pond water were taken and imaged with DIC microscopy at 100-times magnification. In real-time the microbes appear as small illuminated motile (moving with apparent purpose) cells against a dark background. When imaged with algorithmic photography the movement of these is converted into tracks that can be seen in the still images, in which they appear as dualities, that is combined particles and waves. The tracks that are straight lines, are made by motes of microscopic detritus as it moves in a constant microscopic current.
Throughout the history of art, flowers have been one of the most popular subjects for painters. Their visually striking blossoms have, historically and presently, provide(d) artists with inspiration, with some dedicating their careers to produce still-life paintings of these botanical forms. Indeed, few things are as beautiful as flowers, but beyond this they provide rich opportunities to play with colour and form, and the results of these explorations can be found, at any one time, in art museums around the world, from 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings to works by John Constable, Gustav Klimt, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jonas Wood. Whether painting sunflowers, roses, irises, water lilies, blooms in a vase, or painting flowers directly from Nature, each artist brings their own unique style to the finished artwork. The many notable flower paintings, and artistic interpretations of these inflorescences, are important reminders of the diversity that both Nature and consciousness generate, each painting encapsulating a moment in time, both in the history of art, and also in the life of the artist who painted it.
The subject of the work here is also flowers, in fact a vase containing them, in a living room, in a home. Here though the flowers are dying, a process which is initiating the subsequent process of their decay. However, as the beautiful blooms dwindle and deteriorate, and their biological tissue begins to breakdown, they begin to release nutrients into the water in the vase that once sustained them, and this in turn, fuels a less visible, but vastly more diverse, and arguably more important community of microbiological life. A “Vase of Flowers” thus becomes unstill, an intimate and unintended household microbial ecology that mirrors the natural world beyond, and its planetary scale and perpetual biological cycles of death and re-growth. This thriving and dynamic, yet domestic microcosm, reminds us that our own existence, is entangled intimately with Nature, and we cannot ever, therefore, be simply excised from it and hope to live independently of it.
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.“
― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Samples of “vase-water” were taken and imaged with DIC microscopy at 100-times magnification. In real-time the microbes appear as small illuminated motile (moving with apparent purpose) cells against a dark background. When imaged with algorithmic photography, the movement of these is converted into tracks that can be seen in the still images or in motion in the videos, in which they appear as dualities, that is simultaneously combined particles and waves. The tracks that are straight lines, are made by motes of microscopic and lifeless detritus as it moves in a constant microscopic current. Only cells imbued with life can deny this physical current.
Cities and their environs, where we jettison our rubbish, now sustain far more Herring Gulls than the birds’ former natural marine habitat, coastal cliffs. As we have evolved in, and adapted to, our urban milieu, so Herring Gulls have followed us like badges of our own creation, tracking us and our activities like no other bird. We have unintentionally honoured these birds and given them “The Freedom of Our Cities”. Moreover, they exemplify one of life’s central themes, adaptation, and we can all learn from their determined lesson. Here, tracked in the blue skies above Manchester, they seem to question our own concept of freedom. Media: Herring Gulls and Sunbeams, algorithmic photography.
Rotifers, also called wheel animalcules, are microscopic animals that are very common in freshwater environments throughout the world. The word “Rotifer” is derived from a Latin word meaning “wheel-bearer” because of the appearance of the corona around the mouth, which draws in water containing food particles, and which because its concerted sequential motion, resembles the motion of two moving wheels or two circular saws. Here Rotifers collected from my garden have been mixed with white watercolour paint and imaged with DIC microscopy, and algorithmic photography, in order to reveal and map, not the particular Rotifers themselves, but their reach and impact on their local environment as they generate powerful and far-reaching (on their scale) microscopic currents and flow. In a sense, much as a human artist would move paint around in order to paint, these are also paintings, but microscopic ones made as these animalcules move paint (here microscopic particles of a white watercolour) around the natural canvas of their own environments.
In realtime the powerful currents generated by the rotifers, as they feed and suck in prey, can be seen as rapidly moving white dots, which are particles of the watercolour paint. By using algorithmic photography the movement of these can be tracked in order to reveal trails of light which map the powerful currents generated by the microscopic rotifers. Magnification, 100-times.