anna paluch

5

The Uncanny Feather

Using biological elements to create fluid forms of movement, artist Kate MccGwire takes bird feathers and assembles them into strange, intertwining forms. Playing with materiality, the artist uses feathers to mimic flowing water or curving scales, creating “images that both attract and disturb the viewer” – an unnerving beauty.

Is it a new creature, or a plant? Perhaps not even a representation of a living organism at all, making the objects exhibited even more uncanny; the fluidity of material yet stable nature of the pieces are like representations of an object in motion, yet frozen in time. The artist is “using the language of nature to create unnatural forms” challenging the viewer’s expectation of the use of material, manipulating it into “undulating, organic, otherworldly form[s]”, neither slick and on objects ready for flight, nor daintily soft and plumy on a pillow surface.

This connection of opposites allows us to think about how our perceptions of materiality and aesthetic influence our expectations of certain materials and objects.

-Anna Paluch

4

Home Sweet Home

Usually plastic and the environment do not go hand in hand, but artist Aki Inomata uses plastic to create an environment for her little pet hermit crabs in “Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs?” (2009, 2010-2013).

With the help of CT scanning to render a three-dimensional model of an empty shell, Inomata creates her base and then builds houses atop these shell renderings. These architectural wonders mimic the style of popular dwellings, from Tokyo house-style to Paris apartments. 

With these plastic hermit crab habitats, Inomata wanted to explore not only the hermit crab’s adaptability to new surroundings, but how we adapt as well. Immigration, relocation, even acquiring a new identity or nationality is more or less the human version of growing out of a shell, and finding a new one to call ‘home’.

Not only is this series an amazing symbolic representation of our will to adapt, but also a fun way to learn more about the life and physiology of the hermit crab, as the dwellings are completely see-through. Have you ever wondered what a hermit crab’s body looks like inside its shell?

A video of both the hermit crabs in action and how the artist came about designing the shells can be found here.

-Anna Paluch

4

Art as Aftershock

Earthquakes are dangerous phenomena, yet two artists chose to present these natural disasters, in a way that makes viewers contemplate, rather than fear them.

Luke Jerram and Carlos Amorales created works that comment on the 2011 Japanese Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, respectively. Their works allow viewers to contemplate the nature of earthquakes with the help of visualizations through seismographic data.

In Jerram’s piece, the artist took the seismographic data from the Tōhoku earthquake, and rotated it using a computer program to see the data in three-dimensions, later printing it in those dimensions. The sculpture, made in 2011, represents nine minutes of the earthquake, allowing viewers to calculate, and imagine, the severity of the disaster on their own.

Amorales approaches the 1985 earthquake in a more theoretical presentation, in “Vertical Earthquake” (2010). Rather than using data, the artist creates his own fault lines and cracks on the walls, drawing epicentres around each. The artist chose to capture the chaos and emotion of the event. Within the installation, newspaper clippings of the disaster are displayed, with fault lines drawn on them as well.

Where Jerram uses data to help visualize the severity of the earthquake in Japan, Morales plays with drama and emotion, creating a fragmented image which symbolically reflects the earthquake that he witnessed. Both pieces however, are sobering reminders of the immense power our Earth has over man-made constructions.

-Anna Paluch

Lifeline of a City

For many urban-dwellers, the subway is a vital part of our everyday lives. Sure, there are taxis, buses, bikes (and you can even walk if you really wanted to), but the subway system will forever be the most vital nerve of a city. Artist Takatsugu Kuriyama’s installation is a representation of one of the busiest subway systems, Tokyo, and displays it as a swirling set of tubes, pulsating with coloured fluids, like blood in our veins.

All the tunnels are shown, and it is amazing to see how they overlap, giving us an idea of how we travel within an urban space. There is a distinct artistic beauty in this urban landscape, that we never actually get to see, only experience.

The fluidity of the liquids in the tubes is even reminiscent of all the people, flowing in and out of the subway trains and stations. A visual representation of the inner-workings of a bustling metropolis!

-Anna Paluch

2

Crushed Goods

Using the medium of porcelain, artist Lei Xue’s series Drinking Tea (2001-2003) may be read as a commentary on how the production of commodities impacts the environment. It is a cluster of crushed cans, the intricate blue images distorted by grooves and bends, crushed into indiscernible shapes.

The environmental impact of creating porcelain goods includes extensive fresh water usage. As a result, the water put into the ground or rivers cause pollution. As well, air-borne particles from the sanding down of shapes impair breathing within the factories. Quantities of fluorine and lead are also potentially prone to leaking into the water or soil, around porcelain factory grounds. There are attempts to make this process more sustainable though. A recent paper suggested that is it possible to recycle up to 80% of the original water used in making porcelain commodities, towards the productions of the next batch.

This is where the conceptual message of the piece goes deeper. Aluminum cans are recyclable, so why shouldn’t the process of creating porcelain goods (or any goods for that matter) be? The artist’s work echoes the consciousness of the new generation, a more eco-friendly generation, attempting to find equilibrium between commodity and conservation. It is a juxtaposition of tradition and evolution in the world of goods production.

-Anna Paluch

3

The Optical Illusions of Kohei Nawa

Using crystal beads and prism sheets, artist Kohei Nawa manipulates the audience’s perceptions of the images. In his PixCell (Beads) series (2005-2009), taxidermy animals are covered in clear crystal beads, obstructing our perception of the surface, and thus, the true image of the animal. In his PixCell (Prism) series (2003-2009), Nawa encases objects in acrylic boxes, but, with an added layer of prism sheets, that cut the light travelling into the boxes in two, and creating the illusion of multiples of the object, much like a hologram. In the latter work, the sculptural pieces are placed in a room that optically flattens the space and the works; the artist is taking already three-dimensional objects, flattening them by playing with the configuration of the space to appear two-dimensional, then placing prism sheets in the acrylic boxes to render the images three-dimensional by playing with the configuration in the smaller spaces of the boxes.

Distortion is a key element in the artists’ work. The skin of the animals in the PixCell (Beads) series is altered, creating a different view of the structure of the animal as a whole, and through each individual bead. The artist himself described the animals as being “replaced by ‘a husk of light’, and the new vision ‘the cell of an image’ (PixCell) is shown”, where the beads become the new ‘biological’ make-up of the animal. The random grouping of some of the beads can be seen as a direct commentary on how we perceive images, especially how the public is fed information, and the fact that sometimes even seeing the whole picture, with all the information, can still obscure the original intent of a piece. It is all in perception; two people seeing a piece will go away from it with two different perspectives on its intention or meaning.

-Anna Paluch

3

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nature

There’s a cool record out on the market by Swedish group Shout Out Louds. Why is it so cool? It’s made of ice.

Bad puns aside, the band’s record, “Blue Ice” (2012) defies expectations of audio playing, creating a record that you have to maintain over time, either keeping it in the freezer after one play, or making yourself a whole new one again. When you purchase the record, it comes with a silicon mold and a bottle of distilled water, which apparently is better than regular water as it minimizes the “formation of air bubbles in the ice that made the needle jump”.

If records melting over time aren’t your thing, perhaps a laser-cut wooden record is? Artist Amanda Ghassaei, who previously used a 3-D printer to make her own record, has moved on to laser cutting slices of wood. For “Laser Cut Record” (2013) Ghassaei created a program that is “modified for any song, material, cutting machine, record size, and turntable speed”. The artist even provides instructions on how to make your own laser-cut wooden record.

Artist Bartholomäus Traubeck managed a similar feat, except instead of embedding music onto wood or ice, he uses the already present markings on his material to create music. In “Years” (2011) the artist takes a slice of a tree and through a specially designed machine is able to ‘play’ the tree rings that have naturally formed over time (you can literally say that these records took decades to produce). Instead of using a conventional needle, sensors are used to “gather information about the wood’s color and texture and use an algorithm that translates variations into piano notes”, creating a hauntingly beautiful symphony.

-Anna Paluch

2

Shadow Play

With the help of geometric sculptures, artist Fabrizio Corneli constructs intricate shadow-images. The artist plays with light and its reflective abilities to create human faces, animals and geometric patterns. It may seem like the artist’s work is made by simply cutting a stencil into a metal object, but the artist’s shadow pieces are actually made by placing specifically shaped, abstract metal objects on the projection surface, with the light bouncing off and through those objects, to cast shadows which mimic features such as eyes, mouths, or even a girl on a swing.

The end result is an intangible piece of art; yes, the sculptural elements are tangible, but the image, the actual focus of the piece cannot be touched without distorting it, nor can it be seen without the use of light.

With the help of mathematics, the artist is able to carefully position his abstract sculptures in a way that will optimally project the result of the light reflection. As the artist states, “light is energy which creates form”; all the artist has to do is create a vessel into which light can travel, and then step back, to allow the light itself to form its own work of art. Light not only reveals the shape, but also creates it.

The results are almost like non-images, as in, the shadows on the walls are residues of what should be there, or was there, or could be. The images create an environment of the anamorphosis, combining science and poetry, mathematics and art.

-Anna Paluch

God’s Prototype by Ian Crawley


As if ‘playing God’ artist Ian Crawley is taking found objects in nature, such as stones, sticks and moss, to recreate the human body. Humorously, the artist describes these pieces as what he imagined God’s first 'sketches’ or prototypes of the human body would look like, with the materials that were available.

But this work isn’t focusing on Creationism or who (or what) created whom, but the connection we as humans have to nature. Reflecting on the natural-made versus man-made. These natural objects have always been used by humans to sustain them us nutrition, or protect them us weapons. Even though we now have processed foods and more advanced weaponry, there is still a need for natural objects. We need trees for oxygen, don’t we? Coexistence is the main theme in this work.

In the end, God’s Prototype is there to remind us that we aren’t above or below stones, sticks, and plants. We are part of the same level of natural objects, and though we’re made out of flesh and not leaves, we’re still as natural as a leaf or a rock. 

-Anna Paluch

3

Camila Carlow’s Eye Heart Spleen

When we look at human organs, sometimes their imagery can be off-putting (though fascinating!) but artist Camila Carlow uses our organs, at least pictures of them, to create her intricate Eye Heart Spleen series; human organs made from foraged plants.

The artist combines different plants, such as flowers and leaves, already themselves unique living organisms, to create one piece, one organ, of another living organism; the human. It is interesting to look at her series in regards to the place of humans in the world; how we pick flowers, tear down trees and stomp around in the grass, only to then have our bodies be consumed by the earth, covered by flowers, trees and grass. The plants sustain us, as either food or helping to create oxygen, just like our organs, and just like plants, we sometimes too forget to take care of our organs. As the artist states, “regardless of whether we fill ourselves with toxins or nourishing food, whether we exercise or not - our organs sustain us, working away effortlessly and unnoticed”. Both plants and organs are delicate structures, and both need to be taken care of, in order for them to take care of us.

To learn more about Camila Carlow’s work, you can visit her website, or if you would like to purchase one of her prints, they are available on Etsy.

-Anna Paluch

2

The Art of Our Bodies

The intricacies of the human body are explored in The New Cruelty’s work, where the production company based in Brooklyn took photographs of the famous BODIES: The Exhibition.

These photographs both fascinate and repulse, but most importantly, like the exhibit, they educate viewers, allowing us to get a glimpse of how our bodies function. After the initial shock of seeing our insides so exposed, viewers begin to discover the great detail in our veins and the spectrum of colour found just in and around the heart. Our bodies present themselves as works of art, in this case, exhibited and then photographed.

The aim of BODIES: The Exhibition is to “[allow] visitors to see the human body’s inner beauty in educational and awe-inspiring ways”, with bodies and organs preserved using “a revolutionary process called polymer preservation, in which human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber.” Every aspect of the body is covered, allowing curious minds to see up close that which most of us never get to see.

The exhibit, and especially the pictures taken by The New Cruelty, shows just how much a part of nature we are; our whole-body vein system looks strikingly similar to the veins seen on leaves, and our pulmonary veins and arteries (attached to the heart) look more like coral reefs than human organs.

-Anna Paluch

4

Helen Friel’s “Here’s Looking at Euclid”

Mathematics is like art; you either understand the concepts (i.e., you ‘get it’), or you become completely lost when coming into contact with them. Some people are able to understand both complex theories and expressions in art, and equations that, for some people, look like a bag of numbers and symbols exploded onto a piece of paper. In 1847, Oliver Byrne, a civil engineer and author, published a book called “Euclid’s Elements” which used coloured graphic explanations of each geometric principle. The style of graphics is similar to that of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements, but since the book predates each, it could very well have been an inspiration for the creativity of the modernists.

Fast forward to the present, and a new rebirth of this book’s mathematical illustrations is inspiring paper engineer and illustrator Helen Friel to create three-dimensional sculpture replicas of the exact graphics in the book. The artists’ series, entitled “Here’s Looking at Euclid” (2012) uses the instructions found in Byrne’s book to create tangible mathematical theorems in the palm of your hand. Sure, it is a cool sculpture all on its own, but it is also an amazing tool to help teach people these theorems, especially those who are more visual learners and have difficulty concentrating on a page full of numbers.

If you would like to make one of these sculptures yourself, you can download and make your very own paper model of Pythagoras’ Theorem here.

-Anna Paluch

2

Fragile Viruses

Viruses are scary enough as small micro-organisms that we cannot see with the naked eye, but artist Luke Jerram takes these deadly microscopic agents, and blows them up, literally, as glass sculptures.

Instead of the usual cartoons found in textbooks, these viruses can be examined from various angles, to understand their structures better. Great detail is put into each piece, making the glass sculptures practically exact replicas. Aesthetically, the work is beautiful, and few would even know that what they are admiring are the structures of an HIV virus, E. coli or even Smallpox

The sculptures allow viewers to better understand, or at least to finally see for themselves, what attacks their immune (or other) systems, and especially what causes them to be sick. Of course, this does not mean that it will be easier to fight a virus if you know what it looks like, but for science, the sculptures are a great learning tool to understand the virus’ structures, and possibly even to recognize them better when looking under a microscope.

-Anna Paluch

3

Art That Gets You Thinking!

The brain is a complex biological structure, which works like a machine; or perhaps it is the machine that works like a brain? Two artists, Greg Dunn and Nicolas Baier approach the subject of the brain in different ways, yet both are able to portray the beauty and complexity of one of our most important organs.

With a PhD in neuroscience, Dunn has seen the inner working of the brain under a microscope many times. Working with neurons, he began to see patterns which inspired him to become an artist. Painting these neurons “in the sumi-e (ink wash painting) style”, Dunn used as few brushstrokes as possible to mimic the intricacy of the neurons. Soon, the patterns became more fluid, not exact replicas of the neuron patterns Dunn witnessed under his microscope, but almost ‘new’ neurons, ones which could only be seen on paper, rather than under a microscope.

Artist Nicolas Baier takes his inspiration more from the function of the brain as a memory holder. His works “Engrams (the world of ideas)” (2013) and “Neurones” (2013) play with the “complexity of the living reticular system compared to the rigidity of computer servers”, juxtaposing a computer system-like sculpture with an image manipulated to look like neurons within the same exhibition space. Baier’s work “questions access to the knowledge of reality and the very complex transmission of knowledge” and also what impact this knowledge structure has on our memories and brain function.

Two artists, working in various mediums, but both creating art that makes us think!

-Anna Paluch

4

The Bees of Sarah Hatton

The work of Ottawa-based artist Sarah Hatton is a strong political piece, specifically raising awareness of the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) happening to honey populations worldwide. Early this year in Chelsea, Quebec, two whole hives fill of bees died from frostbite. The artist jumped at the chance to not let these bee deaths be in vain. Using thousands, yes thousands, of the dead bees, the artist creates geometric patterns, at times almost crop circle-esque, to display the enormity of the issue of CCD.

Patterns are also an important part of the bee’s life. The geometric honeycombs produce food and places to nurture larvae, and the bees used an intricate pattern of ‘dance’ movements to search for crops and fields or pollinate. Some of the patterns are even specific to the life forces of the bees. The composition Florid (2013) uses the Fibonacci spiral that is seen in the pattern of a sunflower seed, while Circle 1 (2013) and Circle 2 (2013) represent patterns typically found in crop circles. According to the artist “Both of these patterns have symbolic ties to agriculture, particularly the monoculture crop system that is having such a detrimental effect on bees” with the use of pesticides. The artist’s work is a call to awareness of not only the importance of these little buzzing creatures in our lives, but also just how devastatingly damaging the destruction of two hives can be to the bee population.

-Anna Paluch

The Telegarden

Between the years of 1995 and 2004 the University of South Carolina, and subsequently the Ars Electronica Centre in Austria, were home to an innovative project called “The Telegarden”. This garden featured an area of dirt and plants inside a planter, which also held an industrial robot arm, which could be controlled through the internet.

How the garden worked, was that people from all over the world were able to observe the garden through a camera in the robot arm, but also, have the power to water and tend to the plants. If there was a free space the robot arm even allowed an individual, through the internet, the ability to plant a seed and take care of it. 

Professor Ken Goldberg explained that the decision to use a garden for this interactive project was that it is “very human, very immediate, very tactile”, a stark contrast to the idea of the internet and anything associated with it as complex, mathematical and machine-like. The internet is fast-paced, connecting us to other people and information in milliseconds, but the garden cannot be rushed, it must be cared for carefully,

As Randall Packer states:

The Telegarden creates a physical garden as an environment to stage social interaction and community in virtual space. The Telegarden is a metaphor for the care and feeding of the delicate social ecology of the net.” – San Jose Museum of Art, April 1998.

-Anna Paluch

4

Encased

A frame is not the only way to encase an artwork for display. More artists are experimenting with plastic resins or glass to create their pieces. The resin preserves the work, more so than a wooden frame would do. The results are often similar to prehistoric sap with various objects from leaves to bugs, found within them.

If it wasn’t for plastic resin, some of artist Peter Alexander’s works would not even exist, as his piece “Cloud Box” (1966) consisted of “introducing water vapor to the liquid resin during the casting process” which created the cloud within. The artist was actually able to ‘catch’ a cloud, or technically, create a cloud and trap it forever, thanks to the resin.

Another artist who tampers with their resin to create unique pieces is Michal Macku, who in 1989 began working with ‘gellage’, his own invention of combining collage elements and gelatin. Working with gelatin prints, the artist is able to reshape his photographs, “changing their relationships and endowing them with new meanings during the transfer”. He then combines this process with state-of-the-art technology to great his large scale glass gellages, which trap his images in a 3D setting, rather than flat like a photograph.

Roni Horn’s “Well and Truly” (2009-2010) plays with illusion, where the work at first seems like a container holding water, but inspecting the piece reveals the work’s true medium; a solid cylinder of glass. The artist emanates the characteristic of water, its changeability, by allowing air to come into contact with the top of the glass as it sets in its mold, creating a smooth gloss. The artist undermines “all certainty about [the piece’s] solid or liquid nature” changing the physical experience of the viewer.

Changing physical materiality is also present in Kirsten Baskett’s pieces, such as “Autonoma”. Baskett etches delicate images onto fine Japanese kozo paper, later encasing them in clear resin, and the once “fragile paper becomes indestructible and untouchable”. The artist sees her pieces as frozen in time, permanently available to view, but never to experience the true materiality of the object captured within.

-Anna Paluch

4

Flower ‘Bulbs’

Though designers make pieces that are commodities of everyday use, a lot of the functional pieces created by designers can still be considered ‘art’ in their own way.

German designer Miriam Aust of Aust Amelung created the “Vase & Leuchte” (2011) table lamp that functions as both a lamp and vase. The act of combining the element of light and plants into the design is like an experiment, giving the piece a laboratory aesthetic. The plants are placed in the main bowl structure with water, and the light bulb is protected by a glass structure, similar to a laboratory glass beaker, in the middle of the bowl. This allows for the light to travel through the plants, highlighting unique elements such as the vascular tissue of leaves or reflecting root patterns onto walls. You can order your very own “Vase & Leuchte” at the dua shop.

Japanese product designer Yuma Kuno has created a slightly similar piece, involving light bulbs as vases. In 2007, Japan’s Ministry of Environment asked companies to stop using inefficient incandescent light bulbs. Kuno saw a chance to use these obsolete objects and change their function to something useful; the bulbs can hold small flowers, and even the filament is used as a stem holder.

Whether highlighting the aesthetic biology of a plant or merely being used as a simple holder for one, both the works of Miriam Aust and Yuma Kuno are great design ideas!

-Anna Paluch

3

(Microscopic) Winter Wonderland

Most of North America might be freezing due to the Polar Vortex, but don’t let some cold weather stop you from enjoying this amazing display of geometric snow crystals, otherwise known as, snowflakes.

Under an electron microscope, these tiny specs of snow begin to reveal just how much detail and symmetry is in something as delicate as a snowflake. It’s amazing to think that such ‘structures’ can melt away the second they fall on our skin, or can be crushed to oblivion just by stepping on them. 

The Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), located in Maryland, photographs the hidden world of these delicate snow crystals. Hydrologists use their findings to determine the water content in snow during winter, which can then be analyzed to determine water supply and chances of flood when the snow melts. Aesthetically, the shapes these crystals create are pretty cool, with some, almost looking like parts of a machine, or a fallen city.

Whether you like winter, or really hate it, there is no denying that the formations of snowflakes are an incredible phenomenon; almost like there’s some sort of microscopic team of engineers up in those clouds, designing these intricate shapes.

-Anna Paluch

4

Art of the Lepidoptera

Moths and fabric are often two words that not many people like to see together, but artist Yumi Okita actually makes moths (and butterflies!) out of various pieces of cotton fabric, embroidered and painted on for detail, with fake fur accents. The fabric sculptures average about six inches in height and nine inches in width for butterflies, and four inches in height and ten inches in width for moths, creating slightly larger copies of the insect’s real life counterparts.

These moths and butterflies (belonging to the order of insects known as Lepidoptera) are great tools for admiring the detail in the insects’ scales on their wings, or designs on their bodies.

There is another artist though, whose practice is to go even more into detail, by creating watercolour paintings of butterfly and moth wings up close; so close, that you can see every detail in the scales. Artist Chelsea H-A even makes custom watercolours, based off of an individual’s favourite colours or favourite species of moth and butterfly, yet still staying true to the aesthetic of these insect’s wings.

A cool idea would be to display a sculpture of Yumi Okita’s with a corresponding watercolour of Chelsea H-A’s, which you can do yourself, as both artists sell their art on their respective Etsy stores!

Check out more of Yumi Okita’s work here.

And have a look at Chelsea H-A’s work here.

-Anna Paluch