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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
A pioneering woman of science re-emerges after 300 years
Maria Sibylla Merian, a German-born woman living in the Netherlands worked as an artist, botanist, naturalist and entomologist.
Three hundred years after her death, Merian will be celebrated at an international symposium in Amsterdam this June.
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.
London’s National Gallery’s Australia’s Impressionists exhibition last until 26 Mar 2017. The exhibition shows the global scope of impressionism in the late nineteenth century and its leading picture (below, left) is Arthur Streeton’s Ariadne. Is there some hidden characteristic in these pictures that means they can only be landscapes of Australia?
Above, right, is A Holiday at Mentone by Charles Conder, 1888.
Australia is the lowest, flattest, and oldest continental landmass on Earth, with a relatively stable geological history. It is situated in the middle of the tectonic plate, and therefore currently has no active volcanism.
The terrain is mostly a low plateau with deserts, rangelands and a fertile plain in the southeast. Tasmania and the Australian Alps do not contain any permanent icefields or glaciers, although they may have existed in the past.
Below is John Peter Russell’s Les Terrasses de Monte Cassino. Geological forces such as tectonic uplift of mountain ranges or clashes between tectonic plates occurred mainly in Australia’s early history, when it was still a part of Gondwanaland. Its highest peak is Mount Kosciuszko at 2,228 metres (7,310 ft), which is relatively low in comparison to the highest mountains on other continents. Erosion has heavily weathered Australia’s surface.
One of the most important technological inventions is the mobile phone, complete with its photographic accessories. That science now drives art and politics.
London’s Saatchi Gallery is planning an exhibition of the early impact of The Selfie. The pictures appear to be a long way from the self-portraits of Rembrandt and van Gogh.
Now there are the politicians David Cameron, Helle Schmidt and Barack Obama:
the British astronaut at the International Space Station:
and many celebrants at the Oscars:
Since last week’s blog ‘Moonbow” I have found another kind of rainbow, a ‘fog-bow’, photographed over Rannoch Moor in Scotland.
Melvin Nicholson was out on the moor, south of Glen Coe, on Sunday when an ‘unbelievably beautiful’ white rainbow appeared.
Mr Nicholson said to the BBC: ‘It is a colourless rainbow that is made up of tiny water droplets that cause fog.
‘It’s an amazing thing to witness and can generally only be seen if the sun is behind you when you are looking at it.’
Another fog-bow has been photographed in the Cairngorms by A Luke, near the summit of Cairn Lochan.