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.  

DIC microscopy and algorithmic photography reveal the activity of the usually invisible microbiological community that supports all life above and beneath the pond’s surface.
DIC microscopy and algorithmic photography reveal the activity of the usually invisible microbiological community that supports all life above and beneath the pond’s surface.
DIC microscopy and algorithmic photography reveal the activity of the usually invisible microbiological community that supports all life above and beneath the pond’s surface.
DIC microscopy and algorithmic photography reveal the activity of the usually invisible microbiological community that supports all life above and beneath the pond’s surface.
Algorithmic photography reveals the activity of the visible life that lives just above the surface of a garden pond.
Algorithmic photography reveals the activity of the visible life that lives just above the surface of a garden pond.
Algorithmic photography reveals the activity of the visible life that lives just above the surface of a garden pond.
Algorithmic photography reveals the activity of the visible life that lives just above the surface of a garden pond.

Still Life [?]: a vase of flowers

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. 

The source of nutrition for the domestic microbial ecology
The unpromising cloudy water in the vase conceals a dynamic and thriving household microbial ecology

Adaptation: a creative collaboration with urban Herring Gulls

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. 

The Protist Paintings: Rotifers

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.

On The Poetics of Water.

On The Poetics of Water. Here natural waters seem to vibrate with the biological activity of usually invisible microorganisms. Usually, unnoticed, and not considered, these lifeforms underpin the biology of all else that lives within or upon the waters.

Samples of a number of natural waters 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 activity tracks that can be seen in motion in the videos, in which they appear as dualities, that is simultaneously combined particles and waves.

Set the controls for the heart of my microbiome (an internal meditation after Pink Floyd).

Traditionally what we consider to be “self” is restricted to the collection of 10 trillion or so familiar eukaryote cells that make up our bodies and well-known organs such as our skin, the heart, and the liver. However, the “omic” technologies of the 21st century have radically redefined this view, so that “self” can now be seen to extend well beyond the traditional precinct of our visible form, and to now include our resident bacterial community, that is its invisible human microbiota. These bacteria that reside on or in our bodies are not merely present as passengers and we exist in a state of dynamic and mutual symbiosis with these inhabitants. Moreover, it seems likely that these organisms are able to influence our wellbeing, our mental health, and even our ability to learn. Such findings are challenging radically our anthropocentric view of life and are revealing a new kind of microbiologically influenced subjectivity.

Here is an internal, intensely personal, and visible meditation centred upon my ownl microbiome. Perhaps, a culmination of my 57- 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 all of us, resonate to these invisible internal wavelengths and frequencies. Videos of various aspects of my gut microbiome at 1000-times magnification, and imaged using DIC microscopy.

Water Poems: many meaning cyphers

 

‘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: planetary scale connections

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:

https://www.crcpress.com/…/Toland-Noll…/p/book/9781138297456

 

Camouflage for the Anthropocene: some life adapts.

Collection

 

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.

 

 

 

Collection

Entanglements: between nature and the synthetic.

 

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.