Friday, January 11, 2019

Science storytelling

Me (left), the marine geophysicist, in the field and some of my sciart
about the exploration of space: my linocut portrait of astronaut
Mae Jemison (above) and mathematician and Space Race aeronautical
engineer Mary Golda Ross (below) 
I had not realized how few posts I made here in 2018. So, one of my New Year's resolutions is to post more frequently in 2019. I find my goals are sometimes too elaborate to acheive in the time I have available, so my pragmatic solution is to open up my criteria a bit and mix up longer posts with those briefly sharing some of my discoveries of wonderous items at the intersection of art and science.

To start off, let me share some of my own adventures in sharing science mixed with art, both #sciart and storytelling about science. Last fall, I gave a talk about my experience as an astronaut candidate for the Canadian Space Agency for Science Literacy Week. Since astronauts are both scientists and science communicators, I combined an introduction to my research with my science-art, since I usually use the medium of fine art to communicate science these days. This was the first time I had an opportunity to combine these two very different pursuits in one talk! I also, of course, spoke about the extraordinary experience of the astronaut selection process and getting the opportunity to go the the Astronaut Assessment Centre. I have since given a version of this talk to a troupe of boy scouts and visiting girl scouts. I will be giving this talk two more times this year at Toronto Public Libraries. You can catch me:

March 19th at 2 pm
Albert Campbell Library
496 Birchmount Road
Toronto, ON M1K 1N8


Tuesday April 2 at 6:30  pm
Coxwell/Danforth Branch
1675 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M4C 5P2

But even sooner, you can catch me next Monday, telling a tale about when marine geophysics goes wrong, at the Burdock (1184 Bloor Street) for The Story Collider, a science storytelling event series and podcast, where people tell personal stories about science. You can reserve your ticket here. The stories might begin at 7:30 but seating is limited, so unless you're happier standing (closer to the bar), you'll want to arrive by 7:00.

Friday, February 9, 2018

19th Century Diagrams and Infographics to De Stijl, Constructivism and Bauhaus

Oliver Byrne, geometric diagram from Euclid's Elements
You are likely to recognize the geometrical art of Mondrian, usually in primary colours and black, space divided into variable grids with rectangles of colour, and perhaps the work of Theo van Doesburg and others in the De Stijl (Dutch for “the style”) group. Their work, is often seen as a response to the chaos and horrors of WWI and a desire to impose order and structure by taking Cubism to its logical, geometrical extreme. "The Style" has been immensely influential on 20th century art, through other movements like Constructivism and the Bauhaus movement in art, craft and architecture. I don't just these artworks and movements as simply a rejection of chaos, but as an embrace of the tools of scientific and mathematical communication and data visualization of the 19th century.

Consider the 19th-century civil engineer and mathematician named Oliver Byrne and his well-loved 1847 edition of the foundation of geometry Euclid’s Elements. When you look at at his diagrams with modern eyes, De Stijl is what comes to mind. His diagrams in primary colours, red, yellow and blue along with black, on a white field, his use of space all look eerily familiar, though published almost seven decades earlier.

Oliver Byrne from The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid (public library)

Oliver Byrne from The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid

Oliver Byrne from The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid

You can see such striped down, elegant graphical design in 19th century data visualizations too. Consider this lovely diagram from  the superintendent of the US census for 1870, Francis Amasa Walker, aided by colour lithographer Julius Bien, and how he displayed the data on religious observance:

Francis Amasa Walker, Ninth Census of 1870 (with colour lithographer Julius Bien), chart of religious observance
which brings to mind not only the rectangular shapes of Mondrian but the colour field paintings of Marc Rothko and others (such as this painting by Robyn Denny from as late as 1960). Or this image of demographics by state;

Francis Amasa Walker, Ninth Census of 1870, Principle Constituent Elements of Population of Each State
In the mid 19th century, Elizabeth Peabody made quilts with abstract visualizations of American history so she could take them on tour and discuss drivers of history with students! She designed these grid quilts for her own U.S. history textbook (1856).

Elizabeth Peabody, historical visualizations quilt (1856 - Image by the Digital Humanities Lab at Georgia Tech)

Writer, sociologist, activist and Pan-Africanist William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois worked with his students in Atlanta to create beautiful, immediate and effective data visualizations of demographics and economic life in Georgia for the “Exhibit of American Negroes,” (organized by  Du Bois, Thomas J. Calloway and Booker T. Washington to represent contemporary black contributions to life in the US) at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Others have noted these images hint at the coming De Stijl movement; Alison Meier wrote in Hyperallergic, that “they’re strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky”.

W. E. B. Du Bois' data visualizations for the assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition

W. E. B. Du Bois' data visualizations for the assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition

W. E. B. Du Bois' data visualizations for the assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition

W. E. B. Du Bois' data visualizations for the assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition

Data visualizations which clearly made their way into artists' hands, and in fact were often made by artists themselves, include colour charts, like these by American artist Emily Noyes Vanderpoel (1842-1939) from Color problems: A practical manual for the lay student of color.

 But these are not dissimilar to scholarly works of analysis, not strictly aimed at artists, like this diagram:
Frontispiece to Annie Besant and Charles Leadbetter’s Thought-Forms (1905), ascribing colours to particular emotions – Source.

To me, it does not seem a large leap from these grids of colours squares, or clean, simple geometric data visualizations to De Stijl.

Theo van Doesburg, Kleurkwadraat, 1926

Theo van Doesburg De zaaier Design for Leaded Light Window 1921 Collection Museum Drachten.

A 1921 painting by Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian. Broadway Boogie Woogie. 1942-43

Or the near contemporaneous Constructivism movement in art, with monochromatic shapes "constructing" art and Suprematism with its limited palette, and geometrical shapes and lines, in Russia, and of course the Bauhaus school in Germany which cast long shadows across art, craft and architecture of the entire century.

Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923

Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935)

Malevich "Suprematist Composition"

"Walter Adolph Georg Gropius (18 May 1883 – 5 July 1969) from Bauhaus Manifesto

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Composition, 1937

See also:

Maria Popova, Mondrian Meets Euclid: An Eccentric Victorian Mathematician’s Masterwork of Art and Science
W. E. B. Du Bois’ Hand-Drawn Infographics of African-American Life (1900), The Public Domain Review 

Allison Meier, W. E. B. Du Bois’s Modernist Data Visualizations of Black Life,  Hyperallergic,  July 4, 2016 

Library of Congress collection W. E. B. Du Bois' data visulizations for the assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition 

Susan Schulten, 11 Of The Most Influential Infographics Of The 19th Century September 25, 2012

Jason Diamond,  Colorful Victorian-Era Illustratons for Euclid’s ‘Elements’

The Shape of History: Reimagine 19th Century Data Visualization” by Lauren Klein at Columbia University

 also, don't miss Helen Friel's 3D paper sculptures of Oliver Byrne's diagrams


Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsed - The art of the solar eclipse through time

Howard Russell Butler (1856–1934), Solar Eclipse, Lompoc 1923. Oil on canvas.
In honour of today's solar eclipse, the first of the century visible in this part of the world, I thought I would look at some of the artistic depictions of solar eclipses through time.

I'm a fan of the elegance and humour of astronomer Katie Mack's popular eclipse tweet:

As a science-artist, I often wonder how to portray astronomy, or earth and planetary science without reproducing actual diagrams, but some have done so in delightful and artistic ways. Artistic works incorporate both actual diagrams and abstractions, from Joseph Cornell's assemblages complete with scientific ephemera, through Roy Lichtenstein's stylized pop art with a true sense of movement of the celestial bodies, capturing the 4D event on the 2D plane. The always delightful Rachel Ignotofsky incorporates some diagrams in her retelling of the life and science of underappreciated Qing Dynasty astronomer and mathematician Wang Zhenyi (1768–1797) in her fabulous book Women in Science.

Joseph Cornell (1903 – 1972), Earth Eclipse
ca. 1960
Assemblage in box: wood, glass, steel, plaster, blue sand, and photograph
12.3 x 25.5 x 8 cm

Roy Lichtenstein, Eclipse of the Sun (1975)
Rachel Ignotofsky, spread on Wang Zhenyi and how she deduced the mechanism of solar eclipses, from Women in Science

Artists throughout time and across cultures have used the image of solar eclipses to bring a hint of the eerie or supernatural to their works and eclipses are not uncommon in religious art.

Raphael (and his workshop), 1483-1520, Isaac and Rebecca Spied on by Abimelech

Yoshitoshi Taiso (1839-1892), Mount Yoshino Midnight-Moon: Iga no Tsunone, from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885-1892), ukiyo-e woodblook print on paper
Egon Schiele, (1890-1928) Crucifixion with Darkened Sun, 1907, oil on canvas
Some more contemporary works are more evocative than direct illustions.

Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957), Portrait of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, 1915, makes reference to the poet's own mentions of eclipses and hints at the artist's own love of eclipses

Rosemarie Fiore's "Smoke Eclipse #52," 2015. Firework smoke residue on Sunray paper.

Russell Crotty's "Blue Totality," 2017. Ink and watercolor, fiberglass, plastic and tinted bio-resin on paper, 48 inches by 48 inches by 1 inch
Many of these works benefited from the artists' own observations of actual eclipses and art historians can often tie works to recent eclipses in a given region. There are also wonderful images created as science communication, to literally depict events for research or teaching purposes. Princeton University has a wonderful exhibit website for the scientific illustration eclipse paintings of Howard Russell Butler (1856–1934). The site brought my attention to many of the works here and you should view and read more context there.

Adolf Fassbender (1884-1980), Sun's Total Eclipse, 1925, Gelatin silver print
William Langenheim (1807–1874)Eclipse of the Sun, 1854. Daguerreotypes, from 1 1/4 x 1 in. (3.2 x 2.5 cm) to 2 13/16 x 2 5/16 in. (7.2 x 5.9 cm). First known photographs of a solar eclipse

Illustration from Der Mond, 1876 by James Nasmyth and James Carpenter

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Love All Bodies Art Show Opening August 19th at Toronto Etsy Street Team Gallery

Come join us this Saturday, August 19th, from 6:00 to 9:00 for the Opening of the Love All Bodies Show. This show celebrates all human bodies and features new work from artists in various media including drawing, photography, printmaking, multimedia, textile art, and bronze sculpture. Guest curator Rebecca Rose Vaughan writes, "This exhibition aims to bring together a diverse and inclusive representation of all bodies through intersectional, body positive, progressive, and political work. ALL bodies deserve space and positive representation. We aim to create space to represent people that are particularly subject to systems of oppression and discrimination because their bodies are different. We highly encourage all POC, genderqueer, female identifying, trans persons, those with disabilities and queer people, to submit. Let us create new conversations about what it means to love our bodies specifically in a society where most are taught not to."

EVENT PAGE: Love All Bodies Art Show Opening

Find works by:

Tara Holtom

Carly Whitmore
Lesia Miga

Yahn Nemirovsky
Rron Maloku

Amarina Norris & Ron Caddigan
Sharon Hafner

Stephanie Venerus
Rebecca Rose Vaughan

Ele Willoughby

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Found Wood Assemblage Earth and Planetary Science
Veneer Theory, Ron van der Ende, 2014. Bas-relief in salvaged wood, 60″ x 61″ x 6″.

Dutch artist Ron van der Ende wanders the streets of Rotterdam, salvaging unwanted wood to make, amongst other delightful, enormous multimedia works, wood assemblages like giant diagrams of our Earth, celestial bodies and geological cross-sections.
Europa, Ron van der Ende, 2015. Bas-relief in salvaged wood, 168 x 168 x 14cm
Volcano (Moses and Geology), Ron van der Ende, 2012, Bas-relief in salvaged wood,  229 x 152 x 12cm
Watershed (Yosemite), Ron van der Ender, 2013, Bas-relief in salvaged wood, 180 x 200 x 12cm.
Don't miss his portfolio, where you'll also find minerals, gems, spaceships and more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Insect as Canvas, Real and Imaginary

Yesterday I encountered the work of two different artists using insects as a medium onto which they are building their art.

Japanese artist Akihiro Higuchi (also here) has created works like traditional Japanese lacquerware on beetles and painted on moths in patterns reminiscent of traditional Japanese-style Nihonga painting, Japanese washi papers as well as more kitschy vintage cartoon illustrations.

Akihiro Higuchi,

"MITATE - urushi" Hideyoshi Toyotomi - Hanbei Takenaka, 2015

Stag beetle specimen, Japanese lacquer, gold dust, silver dust, mixed media
25 x 20 x 6 cm
Akihiro Higuchi,

"MITATE - urushi" Mitsuari Ishida - Sakon Shima, 2015

Stag beetle specimen, Japanese lacquer, gold dust, silver dust, mixed media
25 x 20 x 6 cm
Akihiro Higuchi,

Meanwhile, UK illustrator Richard Wilkinson has a series of digital illustrations, so realistic in flavour they (at least at first glance) appear to be painted on insects. They are in fact imaginary insects which resemble pop icons. His delightful collection "Arthropoda Iconicus: Invertebrates From A Far Away Galaxy" allude to Star Wars of course. He expects the book to be released this fall.

Richard Wilkinson, 'Dokk volgatus'

Richard Wilkinson, 'Regio Tutanamentum'

Richard Wilkinson, 'Roboduobus Duoduobus'
I love the intersection of art, entomology, culture and the imagination and how each of these artists are bringing their own cultural touchstones to the medium of insect decoration.

Compare this with where entomology meets fashion.

Friday, May 12, 2017

WUNDERKAMMER: The Cabinet of Curiosity Show

I'm very excited to have curated the Toronto Etsy Street Team Gallery's first group art show, WUNDERKAMMER: The Cabinet of Curiosities from May 11 to 28. This art - or science art - show, is inspired by the Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosity, the immense, eccentric, encyclopedic natural history collections gathered by collectors since the Renaissance. Cabinets of Curiosities featured treasured zoological, botanical, anatomical, fossil and gem specimen, collected by early citizen scientists. WUNDERKAMMER features original sculptures, drawings, hand-bound books, prints, paintings, printmaking, ceramics, jewellery, generative and multimedia specimen of natural and unnatural history on all scales, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. We are featuring the work of local artists (myself included):

István Aggott Hönsch

Erin Candela
Gavin Canning

Andrée Chénier
Carolyn Eady

Leslie Fruman
Monika Millar

Heather Ibbott
Colleen Manestar

Peggy Muddles
Teodora Opris

Christine Strait-Gardner
Tosca Teran

Rovena Tey
Lauren Vartanian

Ele Willoughby

Explore our curiousity cabinet of wildlife biology, mathematics, chemistry, mycology, micro and cellular biology, marine biology, entomology, botany, and fantastical lifeforms through the lens of art.

Join us Saturday, May 13, 6:00 pm to 10:00 for our Opening! FOLLOW THE LINK TO RSVP


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