‘Bloomsbury Scientists’

This is the 300th blog at scienceandartblog.com, a series of ideas that I began over three years ago. And I’m pleased that this one is to announce the publication today of the book that I’ve been writing through those same three years.

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Bloomsbury Scientists: science and art in the wake of Darwin is published by UCL Press and is available through their website as well as amazon.co.uk ,  blackwells.co.uk  , and bookshops. It is free as an e-book, £15.00 paperback and £30 hardback.

Here are portraits of some of the characters in my story. To confirm their identity you have to read the book.

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On September 7th Nature magazine said the book: ‘paints a group picture of biologist energised by Darwinism, including Ray Lankester and Marie Stopes, rubbing shoulders with cross-disciplinary intellects such as Roger Fry and H.G. Wells. Although marred by the intrusion of eugenics, this heady era saw the rise of fields from ecology to genetics.’

Nature Printing

Pulse, the Linnean Society’s newsletter 34, June 2017, has an article entitled Lampblack and Lead,  by E. Rollinson.

220px-Nature_print_(Bradbury).jpg     Nature_print,_Alois_Auer.jpg(H. Bradbury, 1843, 1859)

It tells how G. Cardano gave instructions back in 1550: ‘A fresh leaf is rubbed with verdigris and carbon; soaked in the right amount of colour it is printed on one of two large sheets of paper, so that an almost life-like image remains.’ (De Subtitilitate, Book XIII). Earlier, a physician named Conrad von Butzbach, in his 1425 Codex Auratus, coated paper with oil and used soot from a candle flame to make an impression of a plant specimen.

Summer Frieze

This year’s sculpture exhibition in Regent’s Park London is brought forward to the summer, many weeks before the Frieze Art show. As usual, some of the exhibits have a scientific theme.takuro-kuwataunt-0.jpg

T. Kuwata’s ceramic shapes look like excrement or blue slime on golden or pink phalluses.

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The aluminium Silver Moon by U. Rondinone reflects the vegetation and human onlookers around it. But it is a dead tree with broken branches. Without life it has a ghostliness in the late afternoon sun.

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M Barcelo’s elephant has an unnatural balance and a rough texture. It is 8m high and wants to penetrate the earth.magdalena-abakan.jpg

A headless figure beside the wheel is by M. Abakanowicz, compares fragile organic form with heavy machinery. That is the painful business of war and of working the land.

Fake Demons

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is at the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice, 9 April – 3 December. The show is from the same artist who put a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde.

Detail from Demon with Bowl
Demon with Bowl D Hirst  (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst)
Hirst now claims a role of archaeological impresario. In 2008 the wreck of a treasure ship called the Apistos (Unbelievable) was found on the seabed off east Africa. According to the myth, it sank about 2,000 years ago. This is its cargo and Hirst has assembled an underwater grotto in his mind where artefacts and monsters live.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst.

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)
Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst.
Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst (Andrea Merola/AP)
Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops Examined by a Diver.
Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.)

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi.

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd)

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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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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