Self-Organised Art

Fernan Federici’s microscopic images of plants, bacteria, and crystals are a fine example of finding art in unexpected places.


-fluorescent proteins from a bacterial smear

Federici has recently completed his work at Cambridge where he studied self-organization, the process by which things organize themselves spontaneously and without direction like a flock of birds flying together:



– urea crystals in polarised light

The website says that ‘More specifically, he was using microscopes and a process called fluorescence microscopy to see if he could identify these kinds of patterns on a cellular level. In fluorescence microscopy, scientists shine a particular kind of light at whatever they’re trying to illuminate and then that substance identifies itself by shining a different color or light back. Sometimes researchers will also attach proteins that they know emit a particular kind of light to substances as a kind of identifier. In the non-microscopic world, it’s like using a black light on a stoner poster.’


– more urea crystals

‘A recent post at says that ‘Federici grew up with photography as a hobby, so looking through the microscope at all the different colors and patterns he realized that the process was highly visual. He hadn’t seen many images like what he was seeing published for the general public, so he asked for permission from his adviser Jim Haseloff to post the photos on his Flickr site. Today that site is filled with pages and pages of microscopic images, some of which are from his work, while others are just for fun.’


– urea crystals




A show that runs until February is at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. “Mexican Red, the Cochineal in Art,” traces use of this pigment from the highlands of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica to Europe.

28redpaint1-master768.jpgThere, it became increasingly associated with the projection of power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Cochineal fell into decline in the 19th century, as synthetic dyes were introduced, but was sought out later by the Impressionists.

The cochineal is a Mexican insect that is the source of the dye. This specimen is on display at the exhibition.  (Credit Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles, Third Version”, 1889, uses cochineal. The artist likened the color to the “red of wine.” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris.)

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The cochineal insect feeds on the prickly pear cactus and was cultivated domestically in Mexico and Peru in pre-Hispanic times. The female can be dried and crushed to extract the red carminic acid. Additives of different acidity produce shades that range from light pink to a deep purple.  (New York Times, November 28th)













Lubaina Himid has become the first black woman to win the Turner Prize. She was born in Zanzibar and now lives in Preston. Her work challenges racial politics and the legacy of slavery.

The judges for the prize praised her “uncompromising tackling of issues including colonial history and how racism persists today”.


Her work uses many satires about the upper class, with the legacy of the colonies and how her own generation experiences racism. She is often compared to Hogarth, especially for her picture ‘a fashionable marriage’.



Anthropologists also continue to speculate about the taxonomy:

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and development of human groups:


A Chemist Beheaded

Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir Walter Raleigh (1654 – 29 October 1618). He was an English chemist, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer.

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As well as popularising the use of tobacco in England Raleigh was interested in chemistry.

220px-Execution_of_Sir_Walter_Raleigh.jpg   Walter_Raleigh_Statue.JPG statue in N Carolina

Raleigh was betrayed by Sir Lewis Stukley with evidence that he cheated the Spanish in war. For this, Raleigh was eventually executed. During a long imprisonment in the Tower of London he was allowed to study inorganic chemistry. This interest was stimulated by his experience as a miner in Cornwall and Devon where he owned large estates. Raleigh was also a popular poet. His friend, Thomas Tyndale, had a draft of verse composed to mark Raleigh’s grave in the Palace of Westminster:

On Sir Walter Raleigh /Here lieth, hidden in this pitt, / The wonder of the world for witt. / To small purpose did it serve; / His witt could not his life preserve. / His living was belov’d of  none, / Yet in his death all did him moane. / Heaven hath his soul, the world his fame, /The grave his corpse, Stukley his shame.


Lenticular Clouds

Weather Watchers from Argyll and Bute in Scotland captured some stunning photos of lenticular clouds, otherwise known as UFO clouds.


These clouds are rare and also unusual, because they appear stationary even when it’s windy. They get their name from the Latin word lenticularis, meaning “lens-shaped” and are often mistaken for UFOs. They are formed near mountains when the air is both stable and humid. As air is blown over the mountain, it produces a standing-wave pattern and these clouds form in the crest of the waves.



Here are your artistic results of the easterly wind that blew over parts of Scotland.

Pitchers and Crappers



  • Three species of pitcher plant, Nepenthes lowii, N. rajah and N. macrophylla, all produce modified leaves which serve as tree shrew toilets They capture nutrients from animal faeces in mountain habitats where insects (the diet of most pitcher plants) are scarce.
  • drawing by C. Thorogood, Oxford – New Phytologist website.


Meanwhile, in Chelsea, a plumber named Thomas Crapper designed a classic wc structure.  th-42.jpeg          220px-Thomas_Crapper_Toilet_Horta_Museum_Branding.jpg

His King’s Road shop is in the opening sequence of Joseph Losey’s 1963 film, The Servant.

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Vienna’s Modernism

Do scientists recognise and respect beauty? The question is considered at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. B. Reinhold writes that ‘the expressionist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is one of the most important representatives of Viennese Modernism. He irritates and provokes, and still attracts the attention of the censors one hundred years after his death.’

Schiele attacks popular ideals of beauty, with the primary source of irritation being the starkly depicted nudity and sexuality. Everything baulks at the feeling of sensuality and eroticism. 

The pictures have an uneasy physical presence because they are neither voyeuristic nor pornographic.

Squatting Female Nude, 1910 © Leopold Museum, Vienna

Naked Woman Reclining, 1916 © Leopold Museum, Viennaarticle-5-3.jpg

This art visualizes the massive tensions of his time. Vienna was a center of innovation in science and technology, yet also the capital of the crisis-stricken Habsburg multi-ethnic state. This led to nationalism and ultimately Hitler’s racial fanaticism. The social structure and gender roles started to fluctuate.