Maine-iac

Mount Katahdin (Maine) was painted in 1939 by Marsden Hartley, and is soon on show in a new exhibition of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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The show opens with an inspired stroke of scene-setting: a mural-size film projection of waves crashing against a bleak stretch of Maine’s Atlantic coastline.

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The artist had conflicted feelings about his spiritual home at Lewiston. His father was an English immigrant and worked in a textile mill. His mother died when he was eight. Hartley was inconsolable and stayed that way. The earliest picture in the show, “Shady Brook ” from 1907, is a landscape in a wispy Romantic style and may depict a scene he recalled from childhood.

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“Log Jam, Penobscot Bay,” is from 1940 (Detroit Institute of Arts) and hints at other plants of the Maine landscape, long extinct.

These are the famous Early Devonian fossils from the cliffs where New England faces the Atlantic. Psilophyton grew there 400 million years ago.

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A well-known Hartley figure is more recent and is on show at the Met:

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Books Smell

On March 4th the New York Times asked whether books smell the same. The question was inspired by Vladimir Nabokov who wrote:

“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”

For many people, the smell of books, in particular, is one of memory’s most powerful messengers, especially as the printed page gives way to the digital.

Over the past year, a Columbia University preservation expert and a curator at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan have been engaged in an unusual poetic-scientific experiment in the little-visited olfactory wing of history, trying to pin down the powerful connection between smell and memory — in this case, collective memory.

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Jorge Otero-Pailos, director and professor of historic preservation at Columbia University, smells a bookcase in Pierpont Morgan’s study at the Morgan Library & Museum.

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Robert Prather, assistant to Carlos Benaim, master perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances, preparing fragrance samples
Thousands of molecules will be categorized to determine which of them constitutes the smell profile of objects and surfaces from the Morgan Library.

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Rorschach Tests

Nearly a century after Hermann Rorschach invented his ink blot test, a controversial assessment that he used in psychiatric clinics. Patients gave many different interpretations of the shapes and figures in Rorschach’s blots.

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Now, in the journal Plos One, R. Taylor et al at the University of Oregon, claim to have an answer. They analysed ten Rorschach ink blots and found that the five black and white patterns varied in their fractal complexity. The less complex the fractals in the blots, the more images people tended to see.

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Rorschach’s Blot Seven is shown at the top (a). Note the tell-tale fractal signatures of irregular curves or shapes at the edges of the symmetrical image. Some people see a woman’s head with a ponytail. Below (b) the inkblot has been altered with the fractal borders removed. The ability to see hidden patterns is reduced.

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Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves over different size scales. The most familiar ones appear in nature, in the branching of trees, the edges of clouds, and the contours of coastlines. When the ratio of fine to coarse details is high, scientists say the image has a high fractal complexity.

“Your eyes are amazing pattern detectors, but why are they getting fooled? It’s almost as if they are getting trigger happy, seeing things that aren’t there,” Taylor told The Guardian. His work on fractals began with studies of Jackson Pollock’s spectacular drip paintings

Mirrors

Not known for her interest in science, the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama shows such applications in her exhibition at Washington DC’s Infinity Mirrors at the Hirschhorn Museum.yk-infinityrooms-img-05.jpg

The mirrored environments are too small to take beyond the inner detail. They take the images away from the artistic and make the viewer search for technological and scientific explanations rather than any senses of feelings within the content.

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Dexterity

Back in 2013, The Dotted Line Theatre performed The Engineer’s Thumb
at the Little Angel Puppet Theatre. It was inspired by a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Using rod and shadow puppetry, light and object manipulation, it encountered experiments in hydraulics, memories coming to life and a terrifying coach ride along a dark country lane.

More recently the same theatre company  has performed The Lonely One:
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Last week’s Nature (volume 542, page 294) discusses how such dextrous actions by artists are used by science researchers. It cites the difficulties an analytical chemist had bisecting kidney stones – and how a sculptor working with glass cut the stones with their glass-grinding lathe.

th-7.jpeg  There are more examples of such help from teachers at the Art Workers’ Guild. It is so-called Haptic Learning and involves the transferable skills such as the use of brushes, surgical instruments, implements for sewing and embroidery, and musical instruments.

Maria Merian

A pioneering woman of science re-emerges after 300 years

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Maria Sibylla Merian, a German-born woman living in the Netherlands worked as an artist, botanist, naturalist and entomologist.

24tb-merian01-superJumbo.jpgThree hundred years after her death, Merian will be celebrated at an international symposium in Amsterdam this June.

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In December 2016 “Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium”, first published in 1705 was republished. It contains 60 plates and original descriptions, along with stories about Merian’s life and updated scientific descriptions.

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Vertical Forests

Nanjing Vertical Forest, which is scheduled to be fully built by 2018, and will bring thousands of trees and shrubs into the highly populated Pukou District of the city, absorbing tons of CO2 and producing a wealth of oxygen at the same time.

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The structure will have 1,100 large and medium-sized trees on its facades, along with 2,500 other plants and shrubs. The plants are expected to provide 60kg of oxygen per day while absorbing over 25 tons of carbon dioxide every year.

The architect M. Boeri has also designed and built similar forests in Milan, a pair of adjacent towers.

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The New York Times reports that construction began in 2009 and was completed in 2014. The Nanjing project is much larger in scale and ambition, more than doubling the number of plants as well as increasing the total height of the towers themselves.

The Guardian‘s artist has a bigger fantasy:

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