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





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:


Queer Monster

Nineteenth Century ideas of evolution and development form the basis of many artistic fantasies. This year’s video work by Alex Da Corte is called “Slow Graffiti” and mixes many of them: psychological, embryological and hierarchical.frankenstein-slide-LRLJ-master768.jpg

It seems to be far from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein fantasy. Mary Shelley’s monstrous allegory is approaching its 200th birthday and the story remains darkly resonant with artists and scientists alike.

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When you’re gay and grow up feeling like a hideous misfit, fully conscious that some believe your desires to be wicked and want to kill you for them, identifying with the Monster is hardly difficult.

But for the original Monster, being scary is always coupled with being sad. This melancholy is captured in Da Corte’s new film “Slow Graffiti,” which premiered in Vienna this summer. 

Da Corte recaptures the fact that the Monster’s rage lies in his anger from being abandoned and isolated. He is heartbroken. The video is an experiment in empathy for the supposedly unlovable, continuing the queer tradition of sympathy for the Monster: “Man will not associate with me.” Da Corte’s video fixates on odd dislocations of intimacy.

alexdacorteslowgraffitismall.jpg magazine says that the show is ‘A riot of ‘perfect’ pop culture references, Da Corte’s installation sees a video screened every 20 minutes in a seating area — a shot-for-shot remake of Jørgen Leth’s 1967 short The Perfect Human (1967), featuring the artist masked as Boris Karloff and Frankenstein’s monster set to a score by Devonté Hynes; lending an unease to the artist’s disjointed wasteland of Instagrammable aesthetic. The contemporary desire for perfection … we’ve created a monster.’

End of the World

Spiral Jetty is Robert Smithton’s Monument to Catastrophe, in Utah, and was featured in the New York Times on July 7th by H. Julavits.09spiral1-superJumbo-v3.jpg

(For scale, above, in the middle you see two people standing.)

It comprises more than 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks extending 1,500 feet into the Great Salt Lake. It is in the shape of a counterclockwise vortex, designed by Robert Smithson in the 1970s.

It is called the ‘Spiral Jetty’ though some prefer ‘The End of the World’ and gives a feeling of aloneness, in a place that is unsafe and somehow devilish.

During some winters the rock is covered by water. To reach the Monument you have to drive along 16 miles of unpaved road that is often flooded.09mag-09spiral.t_CA1-superJumbo.jpg

If you must visit, it’s best to go at this time of the year.

More than Meets the Eye

Milton’s Paradise Lost is 350 years old this month.


William Blake, a most brilliant interpreter of Milton, wrote of how “the Eye of Imagination” saw beyond the narrow confines of “single vision”, creating works that outlasted “mortal vegetated Eyes”.

In more than 10,000 lines of blank verse, the poem tells the story of the war for heaven and of man’s expulsion from Eden. a meditation on challenging and longing.

Milton is shown dictating Paradise Lost

The almost blind Milton dictates Paradise Lost to his daughters in an engraving after a painting by M. Munkacsy (Credit: Alamy)

In Paradise Lost, Milton conjures the spirits of blind prophets. He invokes Homer, author of the first great epics in Western literature, and Tiresias, the oracle of Thebes who sees in his mind’s eye what the physical eye cannot. As the philosopher Descartes wrote during Milton’s lifetime, “it is the soul which sees, and not the eye”.

Now, there are many ways to see through blindness. One is by scanning tunnelling microscopy which can give images on an atomic scale.

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Necessary Ambiguity

1930 was a good year for ambiguity. The artist from Iowa, Grant Wood, painted American Gothic and the Bloomsbury critic William Empson published Seven Types of Ambiguity.


p04cm1xz.jpg  Conventional wisdom sees Wood’s picture describing the puritan life-style of the American mid-west – dour rigidity about hard work and sexuality. But there are questions that the sceptical scientist will ask. Are the couple brother and sister or husband and wife?  Are their frowns normal or is there a recent tragedy? Why does the man hold the fork when they wear their Sunday clothes?

Even more sceptical scientific scrutiny reveals further ambiguity. Below the woman’s right ear there is a serpentine-shaped tress that’s fallen loose from the tied-back hair of the prim, apron-clad woman. Is her falling hair evidence of a recent ravishing?

She also wears a Persephone brooch, invoking the mythological story of that goddess’s rape by Hades. The man’s hayfork echoes Hades’ signature two-pronged weapon. Does this suggest a modern rehearsal of that brutal myth?

Can a scientist devise an experiment to resolve these matters? But that would remove our interest in the picture.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Today is William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

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Most days, we quote his words:

1. “With bated breath” – The Merchant Of Venice

2. “The be all and end all” – Macbeth

3. “Break the ice” – The Taming Of The Shrew

4. “Dead as a doornail” – Henry VI, Part II

5. “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI, Part I

6. “Wild-goose chase” – Romeo And Juliet

7. “Laugh yourself into stitches (in stitches)” – Twelfth Night

8. “Zany” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

9. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” – Othello

10. “What’s done, is done” – Macbeth

11. “At one fell swoop” – Macbeth

12. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (There’s method in my madness)” – Hamlet

13. “Spotless reputation” – Richard II

14. “Laughing-stock” – The Merry Wives Of Windsor

15. “Eaten out of house and home” – Henry IV, Part 2

16. “Fair play” – The Tempest/King John/Troilus And Cressida

17. “In a pickle” – The Tempest

18. “Send him packing” – Henry IV, Part 1

19. “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It