Sunday, 26 July 2015

Small things

Here's one I made simply because I wanted to.  (You have to do things for the sheer joy of it every now and then or else you cut the nose off your practice.  We can talk much more about that later if you want.  Maybe in the pub.) Anyway the plant is a tiny Rhododendron lapponicum from Saana fjell.  A lovely thing, the leaves are aromatic when you stroke them,  I believe the leaves and flowers are sometimes used for tea, read a bit more about it on this nice site if you like.


The plant is protected here so no casual lopping off branches for dinner or specimens.  And as Saana is a sacred mountain you might want to be especially respectful of all its life forms anyway.  A person who wants to interview this plant here might to lie down on the fragrant mountain for an hour or two in the sunshine, patiently listening, making drawings and taking photos, trying not to trample.  You don't feel at all sorry for me for this, do you, and nor should you.

 It's about 3½ cm high as you can see ...



 or, if you like, here's a hare-shit for scale:


(Ok the bunnies are pretty big around here...


I think this is a Lepus timidus the arctic hare, with her big white feet.  I took the photo at midnight from my bedroom window.)

Here's where my rhododendron grows:

Still some snow:



I befriended this very nice mousey-type living nearby who consented to be photographed in exchange for sharing my cheese sandwich (don't worry, good black rye-bread, very healthy.)



Up here the moss grows taller than the trees


the plants huddle close to each other







the rocks appear greenish because they are covered in lichen.





It's a very nice journey to the top:

















Sunday, 21 June 2015

an Arctic adventure

I've come to spend the midsummer at Kilpisjärven biologinen asema to do a residency with the wonderful Ars Bioarctica.


The idea is to do some work and see if there is collaborative fun to be had anywhere, at any rate I'll be spending some quality time with these guys:



Kilpisjärvi is in North-western Finland.  We're in Sápmi, where the Sámi people traditionally live, also known as Lapland, or the 'land of the midnight sun', if you wish, a very special part of the world.

My house is right underneath Saana fjell, a sacred mountain, here it is in the actual midnight sun at actual midnight:




It's midsummer today but it's only the beginning of springtime


Still a bit of snow lying about.




It's a bit of alright here.





Sunday, 15 March 2015

Painting with eukaryotes

Right then, this time I'm making paint for muticellular organisms for a change, can you guess which?


Ha ha, that's right, humans, lovely, fantastic humans.  I've been teaching a wee course in 'Winter flowers in egg tempera' at the Botanics.


 It's a bit of a tall order as it's a very procedural business, you have to prime and gesso your own boards and then mix your pigments with your egg yolk and then get to grips with how to use the paint, which isn't quite like anything else.
If you want to know how to do it,  Koo Schadler is excessively good at it and generously shares her how-to expertise here.
We were doing this sort of thing:


I'm fond of doing this as it involves plenty of old-fashioned craftsmanship which is great for slowing down the thinking.  There's a lovely textility to the work, the paint is applied in lots of translucent layers of small brushstrokes so you get a very lively surface which is very appropriate for an animist-mechanist type like me, who likes to think of the joyful seething animation of everything as it cavorts about its business.
And there is something glorious about the organism-ishness of the thing you make, with its wooden support, and its rabbit-skin glue colloids, and its boney, chalky ground, and its fatty eggy skin.

Why flowers in particular? Simply because that's what we do at the Botanics, we look at flowers. 


What are we doing here?  These classes are marketed as opportunities to "develop your skills and abilities", the idea being that a person could choose to use them as a basis for all kinds of follow-up work later on, if they wished, or simply enjoy them as a sort of hardcore way of having quiet fun.  So they have to function as 'leisure' or 'hobby' activities and be transformative-educational at the same time.  I've been wondering, what is the difference between 'leisure' and 'culture'? *

Seems like a bit of a luxury, maybe. But I wish there were more of this sort of stuff in the world. A number of my students were very clear that they were doing it purely for the recreation, and yet each of their pieces emerged to have its own story, to be a small document of their being-in-the-world, their relationships with their plants and their materials, their thoughtfulness and their intelligence.

As for me, I don't have a scooby why the world might need an enlarged dissection of a cycalmen in egg tempera. But there you are, it's got one now, and it'll have to make of it the best it can.

One of the great things about this medium is that because you use food to make your paint, you are viscerally aware of the consuming nature of doing your doing. Especially as you only use the yolk.  I'd been  guiltily throwing out the whites for ages. (Sometimes after a long "gonna make you into meringues, honest," limbo at the back of the fridge, leading to the F.A.Q. in our house, "Um, is this some Art.... or Science....?") But look! The Universe provides me with a Marvellous Egg-white Dispenser, in the form of Blue, my wonderful studio neighbour's wonderful pal.





*The answer to that of course is; "If it's done by youngish men, then it's certainly Culture, and if it's done by older women, then it's certainly Leisure."

Friday, 14 November 2014

New Model Organisms

One of my projects at the moment is having a look at some of the wild and weedy legumes growing in my neighbourhood.  Here's some Medicago sativa, a.k.a. alfalfa or lucerne. It's a very important crop especially for fodder and makes great sprouts, not so common in the wild round these parts. I found it growing by the doorway of an industrial paintshop down by the Waters of Leith.
 


It's also a 'model organism' - a term that denotes a species that gets unusually prodded and pointed at and stared at by scientists.


I didn't set out to draw model organisms - scientist pals often lament that everyone studies one or two species and knows loads about them and next to nothing about all the others we live alongside. Never mind, sez I, it's not as if we'll know a right lot more about any of 'em by the time I've finished with them anyway.

Here's another one, a Nicotiana benthamiana. Unrelated project, unrelated plant, this one is a gentle tobacco relative that is always getting experimented on by virologists because it has so few defenses. 


  
I can't tell you what we're doing with it because it's Top Secret. 
(Ok it isn't really, just a Bit Secret.  I just said that to sound important. Look! There's going to be Red Lab Coats! Artists love lab coats because it makes us feel legitimate which we don't normally get to feel. It's one of the downsides to having an independent practice and nobody enjoys it but you just have to suck it up. Or get a job. Some artists try to compensate by making grotesquely inflated claims about their achievement and value but I don't think they should bother, do you? Anyway, a coloured lab coat scores extra points, the higher the biosecurity level, the more points you get. Perhaps we should put our Labcoat Kudos Points on our CVs instead of the grossly inflated claims. )



Anyway, this I can say: there will be viruses. Here's the babies in the nursery, 


 an infection-contraption
and an infected plant
 and a poorly one.

What will I add to these discussions about these so-much discussed plants?  Is there actually anything special about a picture that has been made by human hands, with this particular, direct, continuous bodily contact? Aside from it being easier to do certain ways of ordering ideas, prioritising types of information, ordering forms I mean.  I feel that there are special powers of storytelling but I couldn't tell you what exactly.


Romance, at any rate. Not that the work of scientists isn't work of passion, of care, of love of all kinds, it is of course, often profoundly so,  though it does sometimes lose a bit in the presentation. But I think it is actually very hard to do colouring-in without making that stuff explicit, visible, and readable.  Regardless of whether you think you're being "objective" or not.  What do you think?