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Monday, December 27, 2010

Coldigioco Geological Observatory: winter holidays special issue

Mountains, traditional cuisine, natural landscapes, snow-covered trees: It’s Winter Holidays time!
Placed on a tiny hilltop, the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco is the ideal place to celebrate this very special moment of the year with a touch of GeoArt. In fact the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco is an independent center for research and education in geology, art, and cuisine.
Founded by Alessandro Montanari (geologist and “geo-musician”) and Paula Metallo (artist), the Observatory provides an unique cultural and natural scenario which inspired scientists and artists worldwide.
In a recent issue of this webzine, I interviewed Alessandro and Paula. Many questions remained unanswered, among which the possible existence of a 'Coldigioco School' of GeoArt. In order to explore Coldigioco’s geoartistic environment, I talked with Paula.

How important do you think it is for artists to know about geology, and why?
I thought it was more important for Geologists to know about art. When I started teaching drawing to our Carleton university  geology students I had to first think about how to approach scientific thinkers in a way that they could learn how to draw more accurately. So I started out with the two halves of the brain and our two eyes and looking for relationships in general. Counting and measuring lines and angles, and observing with a devoted attention. I ended up realizing that this is exactly what Geologists do already in order to draw (conclusions). From then on the teaching became a complete give and take experience.
I think the most important thing Geology has made me aware of is deep time. Actually grasping millions of years instead of just hundreds or thousands gives me a lot more data to compare with and the possibility to visualize cyclicity. The other thing I really like is the "slow motion" of mountain growth. A big reason why the handmade is still important in my work is to make space for "slow" in my life. Geology helps me to cope with the idea that everything is in constant change, it brings together impermanent and enduring elements right before my eyes.

What are your experiences in “expressing geology with art”?
My work has always taken inspiration from the wish to decipher and “fix” complicated situations by searching for the underlying symmetry, harmony, and natural beauty in things. I think it was inevitable that the work would pass from investigating people to relating to the planet that hosts them. Because I consider remaining contemporary an important consideration in my work, it was inevitable that environmental issues, having now become the most pressing of situations for all life on the planet, would eek their way into my research.
For example I started out making mock thin sections like those scientists utilize for microscopic analysis. Then collaged the thin section images to other objects like the tree pies and the copper sieves.
A series titled, MIMBRES BOWLS; MAN MADE HOLES, started when I read about the Mimbres culture, which was centered near the southwest region of New Mexico. Their pottery has a hole punctured in the center indicating that the bowl was ceremoniously “killed” allowing for the spirit of the image to be free, and so symbolically replenishing the “hole” left behind in nature. This struck me as such a just and romantic idea.
I have made a series of bowls with images of some of the largest and deepest manmade holes on earth, and so classifying the damage. I accompany them with their own Mimbres bowl in an attempt to remedy the damage done.
Mimbres Bowls (picture from Paula's Saatchi page).

A particular of Mimbres Bowls.
The work was shown in conjunction with a Penrose Conference, “The Late Eocene Earth: Icehouse, Hothouse, and Impacts in Italy in 2007. And at the Rieskrater-Museum in Nördlingen, Germany until March 2010. These avenues were in some way connected to the concept of holes in the earth.
In Waiting for the next one, Paula Metallo compares geologic hazard and the moment of recognition in Italian filmmaking. Can't you recognize the scene? Watch the video below!

The trailer of Fellini's masterpiece La Strada, which inspired Paula Metallo.

I am now working on a body of work title, WAITING FOR THE NEXT ONE; (ASPETTANDO IL PROSSIMO). The history of Italian filmmaking documents and confirms the great Italian ability to re-present the real. It is stereotypical that in the face of natural and human tragedies Italians tend to dramatize. But is passively waiting, and not preparing for earthquakes, particularly Italian? And can this be explained through the story of Italian cinema?  It seems that an honest and efficient reply to the geographical and geological reality of living on shakey ground is a response not inherent to the Italian people. Are Italians somehow attached to the drama connected with tragedy? The images in this body of work ask these questions. I have chosen frames from Italian movies that seemingly catch famous Italians in the exact moment of recognition that something is about to happen. I place these images alongside more abstract images of seismic activity, interacting as a riddle.

Another artwork from Waiting for the Next one (picture from Paula's Saatchi page). With the artist's words: "I have chosen frames from Italian movies that seemingly catch famous Italians in the exact moment of recognition that something is about to happen. I place these images alongside more abstract images of geological and seismic information. Through the images, I literally put the italians face to face with a tectonic reality".

Together with Dona Jalufka, you realized a crater themed show for the Penrose geological conference (Ancona). Please, explain your emotional journey in creating “Rimanare Colpiti | Awestruck”.

We were searching for a balance between the privileges we wanted from the art world and what we were actually able to achieve. So we asked ourselves what we really had to offer, what made us particular after looking over all our life experiences, in order to apply ourselves to those places that may be looking for those particularities so that we could manage to show our work annually in less ‘invisible’ places. We thought if we took our passion for art and mixed it with our life experiences with science we would find a solid originality.
Invitation to Rimanere Colpiti / Awestruck.

This was the beginning of an art/science collaboration, which seems to me now as a challenging approach to a new kind of comparison.
The show at the Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin titled, (un)Measuring The World, was inspired by Daniel Kehlmann's 2005 book, Measuring the World, a story of how Alexander Von Humboldt hoped to measure everything on the planet: “Whenever things were frightening,” Humboldt wrote, “it was a good idea to measure them”. The show was a meditation on the idea that there is more than one way to measure the world. This was an exhibition concentrating on integrating the artwork into the  science museum in unusual ways.

Crater themed show for the Penrose geological conference in Ancona, Italy, 2008

Paula’s words are very inspiring, but I have still many questions in my mind: How Coldigioco inspire visual arts? What is the role of geology in this process? Who are the artists revolving around Coldigioco?

The best way to answer these questions is to follow “Rimanare Colpiti | Awestruck” and chronicle the collaboration of Paula Metallo and Dona Jalufka. For this reason, I interviewed Dona Jalufka herself.

Dona, you and Paula realized Awestruck / Rimanere colpiti. Please give me some insight on your journey in making this artistic project.
 “Awestruck/Rimanere Colpiti” was a bit of a signpost for both of us. The exhibit was held in conjunction with an international conference entitled “The Late Eocene Earth: Icehouse, Hothouse, and Impacts” – organized as a Penrose Conference by the Geological Society of America and held in Monte Conero, Italy, in October 2007, and was to be the first of our art/science collaborations. The show was an expression of how we where struck by the knowledge of natural phenomena, and how we sought to provide an artistic response to the ever-increasing flood of scientific information.  We set out to generate a dialogue using art to examine new and prevailing ideas concerning science and the order they impose on our lives. Specifically focusing on geology, astronomy, climate change, and evolution, we began a comprehensive dissection of various concepts and perceptions. In essance, we became “scholars” in our studios, studying images, material, and concepts borrowed from the scientific community.
There were a significant amount of opportunities here for us to explore. For example, an imaginary crater was created by collaging two palindrome images of a postcard of the Bay of Monte Conero, in the Marche region of Italy. A small photograph of the Earth was preserved in a keepsake locket, and arranged on a table, together with other art objects, presented in a way that recalled a display case in a classic natural history museum. This image of the Earth represents the first time man saw himself far from his usual geocentric position, and constitutes an important historical moment in human visual perception. Other objects in the exhibit utilized scientific props, such as laboratory sieves, thin sections, slides, and steroscopes. Our goal: To show that imagination and reflection are common denominators between art and science.

You and Paula displayed Unmeasuring the World at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. What do you mean exactly with Unmeasuring the World?
The connectedness to both science and the creative challenges it evokes are in many ways artistic in nature. Paula and I believe that our work reflects the never ending fascination of the arts with the wonders of science. Because the Natural History Museum is a home for many disciplines, it makes it a good base for art/science cross-pollination, and allows to present the artwork in a scientific context, providing a symbol of such an interdisciplinary approach. A major influence for this exhibit was Alexander von Humboldt (the famous German naturalist, 1769-1859). His research and discoveries in all fields (from mineralogy to volcanology to biology and glaciology), and especially his approach to unifying all the aspects of the physical world, spoke volumes to us as artists. The title of the exhibit pays homage to Humboldt as well as to Daniel Kehlmann’s thoughtful book on Humboldt entitled “Measuring the World” (a phrase referring to Humboldt’s desire to measure everything in the world). It also provided us with an opportunity to compare the concepts of measuring and unmeasuring as in contrasting science with art. The word “unmeasurable” relates to “unconstrained”, “infinite”, and “untold” --- a kind of poetic version of the scientific measuring of the world that Humboldt set out to do. The year 2009 was the 150th anniversary of his death, and considering his historical influence and association with the Berlin museum led us to invoke his creative insight in our title “Unmeasuring the World”.
(Un)measuring the world: an art show by Dona Jalufka and Paula Metallo

With Paula Metallo, you realized an exhibit inside a meteorite impact crater with 14 million years of Impact Art. What was the emotional path in creating this artwork?
First of all, we were excited by the opportunity to exhibit at the Ries Crator Musem and to be able to tailor the art in such a way as to compliment their collection. Paula and I set out to explore artistic interpretations, some playful and some serious, of geological and astronomical topics related to impact cratering. The impact process can be looked at artistically from a variety of perspectives, both in terms of the medium and in terms of the interpretation. So it was only natural that our emotional paths took slightly different approaches in creating the work for this show. For me, there was a familiarity to the project, and I felt at home with it. It was exciting to have one of my art works displayed next to a piece of Moon rock!

What is one of your favorite pieces in this show and why?

Lunataler: impact geology and cheese.
I don’t normally single out certain pieces as being a “favorite”, as there were many that I felt good about once I saw them in place in the museum. The piece that I feel had the strongest relationship with impact geology and the core of the museum would have to be “Lunataler”. This piece is a playful interpretation of an old saying that the moon is made of cheese. The wedge shape is universally recognized as that of cheese, and the craters, taken from the “Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Moon”, have been painted onto the form. Placed under a glass dome, this sculpture serves as a literal allegory for Moon cheese. Displayed in proximity to large scale lunar photographs and other impact-related exhibits, I thought it was a humorous yet thoughtful way to get people to think about craters.

Impact geology has a consistent role in your art. Why?
Oh --- that’s easy! My husband is a very prominent researcher in the international impact cratering community. To say that he has not had an influence in directing my attention to impact geology is laughable! The evidence is everywhere: antique lunar maps and crater photographs hang on our walls, there are hundreds of relevant books around, I frequently accompany him on field trips and conferences, and of course there is my exposure to planetary geology from my NASA days.

In your website you quote Cicero: “Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature”. How do you express this idea in your art?
Boundaries: geological sections in art.
The whole idea that art is born of the observation and investigation of nature is a timeless and borderless concept. Nature, being the entire natural and physical world that we inhabit, is inseparable from the inspiration and approach I take with my art. Only in examining visually and intellectually, natural phenomena and processes (in essence, taking in all of nature), am I able to make art of any kind that is meaningful.

You realized many works focused on nature and science. Which of these works do you consider “geologic”? Why?
There are a few works that I might consider purely “geological” because they deal with the Earth (for example, “Geological Evidence”, which you  mention next, and works such as “A Day in the Life of Evolution”, or the computer-altered mixed media series– e.g., “Boundaries”, “Earth Stories”, and “Fire and Ash”). There are some that take a geological process (impact cratering) and interpret them from a technical viewpoint – i.e., a series of oil paintings of atomic bomb blasts, or in the purely minimalistic approach in the triptych, “Space, Sky, Earth”, which attempts to bridge the gap from the Earth (geology) to the sky (astronomy).

You named a triptych Geological Evidence. Is it because that is how you see your artwork? Or did you mean something else?
The title of the triptych “Geological Evidence” is actually from a figure caption in the book “Biological Processes Associated with Impact Events”, edited by C. Cockell, C. Koeberl, and I. Gilmour (Springer, 2006). This particular figure of magnified thin sections of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) mass extinction boundary was very inspiring. The notion of showing evidence (in effect, proof) of a meteorite impact of this magnitude is a rather abstract concept. While this is a relatively realistic depiction of what one would see looking through a microscope, from an artistic perspective, it is pure abstract expressionism. The artwork in this case is interpreting the evidence which just happens to look like a piece of art.
In Geological Evidence, Dona Jalufka presents the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction through microscopic geological proofs. As I said for Zheng Shoui's foraminiferal sculptures, geological objects extend over a wide range of scales.

You are a resident artist at the Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco. What is the influence of the natural environment of Coldigioco on your art?
The influence that the natural environment in Coldigioco has on my art is quite a contrast from that of the city environment. While living in Vienna with all its distractions (both positive and negative), the natural distinction between the two can be worlds apart. I find the landscape of the countryside in general, and Italy in particular, to be very inspiring. This of course benefits my landscape and abstract work just as much as the art/science work. Geology is never far away, as is astronomy (we have a small observatory in Coldigioco), and the abundance of insect and other animal life, to name a few of the natural influences that eventually (and perhaps subliminally) find there way into my art.

The triptych Space, Sky, Earth attempts to bridge the gap from the Earth (geology) to the sky (astronomy). These elements are very present in the natural landscape of Coldigioco.

What is the role of the social environment of Coldigioco on your art?
The social environment in Coldigioco per se has a certain degree of influence on my art, obviously because it is such an eclectic community in so many ways. The creativity of everything, from geology and art and to regional cooking classes, makes for a much “energized” breeding ground for my creative processes. My time spent with Paula Metallo (who resides in Coldigioco) as friend and collaborator, is enormously engaging and productive. There are constantly new things happening there involving resident Coldigiocans, visitors and students of varying backgrounds, a recording studio and vibrant music scene, rich, cultural excursions to local towns and cities, etc, etc. Whatever the venue, there is always this current of  creativity running through it. Something in the air there—the food— the wine— the people….

Coldigioco: where art meets geology! Picture from the webpage of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco.

The words of Paula and Dona clearly expresses the vibrant artistic scenario of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco. Within a unique social and natural environment, Coldigiocans traces shapes and colors which are continuously dancing with the Earth's interior. However, dance is often accompanied by music: at Coldigioco rock layers are singing! 
Are you surprised? Earth's sounds are coming soon, on the Geology in Art Webzine!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coprolite time!

From the Paleolithic fossil pendant to Hannah Ingalls's wooly trilobite, geologic objects are often used as items of personal adornment. For this reason, it should sound trivial to speak - again! - of geologic fashion accessories, but this time I will tell of fecal fashion: coprolites!

Coprolites are fossil dung. They are prized objects for paleontologists as they provide direct evidence of the diet of extinct organisms and they can shed light on paleoparasitological issues.
In the late 19th century, the British geologist John Stevens Henslow understood the potential of coprolites as a source of phosphate and soon coprolites were mined on an industrial scale for their application as fertilizers.

The coprolite mining area was located in the Cambridgeshire (Eastern Britain), while the refining process was carried out by the Fison Company in Ipswich. For this reason, nowadays you find  "Coprolite street" in Ipswich!

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa
Click on the picture to walk around Coprolite street!

The true nature of coprolites was discovered in the 19th century by William Buckland, one of the most influential figures in the history of paleontology. Known for his eccentric habits, Buckland possessed a table made entirely of his coprolite specimens. If you think that this was his weirdest behavior, you are wrong. Indeed he had the reputation for eating everything that had a pulse, including bluebottle, panther, crocodile and the preserved heart of the French King Louis XIV.

Buckland's Coprolite Table. I have to acknowledge Chris Duffin for  precious comments on the subject. Picture from the Disillusioned Taxonomist Blog.

In William Buckland's times, nodules with coprolites at their nucleus received the name of 'beetle-stones' and they were often used as ladies' ornaments. This habit did not end with the 19th century.Indeed Artya designed 'Coprolite', a luxury watch blending art, geology and horology. With a sectioned coprolite as dial, Artya's watch transformed dung into gold.

Artya's Coprolite Watch, made of actual fossil dung.
Despite its creative timekeeping, Artya's 'Coprolite' is not the first example of the relationship between dung and time. Indeed coprolites appear in the first illustration of 'deep time', that is the concept of geological time. As early as 1830, Henry Thomas De la Beche painted "Duria Antiquior, a more ancient Dorset", inspired by the paleontologic discovers of Mary Anning.
Famed as the first scene with deep time, Duria Antiquior shows the first stage of the production of coprolites, that is... well, see the watercolor for more details.

"Duria Antiquior, a more ancient Dorset" by Henry de la Beche

In conclusion, coprolites are waste products only apparently.  Indeed, fossil dung is precious either for scientists or for artists. With the words of the 19th century author Francis Buckland:

Geopoetry: "Approach, approach, ingenuous youth, And learn this fundamental truth:The noble science of Geology is founded firmly in Coprology." Click on the image to read the whole book!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Foraminiferal Sculpture Park: a question of scales

Geological objects extend over a wide scale range: from tectonic plates to mountains, from glaciers to sand grains. Intriguingly, distant scale ranges are often interconnected and the same phenomenon can hold on very different scales. In order to explain this concept, I invite you to a relay race through orders of scale.
Variations in the Earth's orbit change the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth. At the same time, the motion of tectonic plates reconfigures Earth's topography, consequently affecting both global and local patterns of atmosphere-ocean circulation. Plate tectonics influence also volcanic emissions (gases and particulates), which have a significant climate-controlling role.
These (and many other) elements shape the Earth's climate, including ocean temperature and marine currents, which controls the distribution of marine microorganisms.
From 150 million kilometers (Earth-Sun distance) to half a millimeter.

Some of the levels of scale dealt in the text. Left: 150 million kilometers (Earth-Sun average distance). Center: Thousands of kilometers (plate tectonics); Right: Less than one millimeter (foraminifera).

Conversely, variation in the ancient Earth's orbit can be figured out from fossils smaller than a sand grain. Likewise, microfossils are used to reconstruct past climate, ocean currents and sea depth.
One of the most important groups of microfossils are Foraminifera ('forams', for friends). They are a large group of unicellular organisms with fine strands of cytoplasm that branch and merge to form a dynamic net. They typically produce a test, or shell, which is often preserved in marine sediments.

Geologists usually study forams through a microscope and obtain information from their complex morphology. The shape of Foraminifera already captivated the artistic talent of Earnst Haeckel, who depicted several specimens in his “Artforms of Nature”.

Foraminifera  in Ernst Haeckel's Artforms of Nature.

Recently, the morphology of Foraminifera became the key point of a sculpture garden: the Foraminiferal Sculpture Park in Zhongsham, China. The Zhongsham park is the world's first park dedicated to Foraminifera. It hosts sculptures of Paleozoic to modern species, carved out of marble, granite and sandstone.
The Foraminiferal Sculpture Park of Zhongsham (China). From the website of the Cushman foundation.
A question might arise: How did the Foraminiferal Sculpture Park come to light?
The answer is given by the Cushman Foundation, one of the world's leading micropaleontological associations:
“The germ of an idea for a sculpture park first began some ten years earlier when marine geologist Bilal Haq of the National Science Foundation visited the lab of marine biologist and academician Zheng Shouyi at the Institute the Institute of Oceanology in Qingdao”
Indeed Zheng Shouyi, one of the world’s leading foraminiferalogists, sculpted palm-size models of over a hundred of Foraminifera for educational purposes. She enlarged the tridimensional morphology of microfossils by sculpture, in order to render their form – otherwise indistinguishable to the human eye.

Walking between gigant forams: this is possible at the Zhongsham Foraminiferal park! Image from Nfdaily.
A variety of the sculpted forams. Image from
Bilal Haq, admiring the abstract and organic beauty of these models, proposed to Zheng to enlarge the sculptures. As reported by the Cushman foundation, “Zheng, a woman of action and a politically influential scientist, took the suggestion seriously” and supervised local artisans for a period of over five years.

The result of this elaborate creative process is breath-taking: 114 permanently-sited sculptures in landscaped surroundings, covering a time span from Paleozoic to recent times. The Foraminiferal Sculpture Park in Zhongsham is an astounding celebration of biological diversity through geological time.
True Artforms of Nature, in the best Haeckel's tradition.

Interpretative structures corroborates the artistic experience. From the website of the Cushman foundation.
Art is a great opportunity for scientific entertainment and geotourism!

More micropaleontologic art. From

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wearable Trilobites: a Prehistoric Update

In a recent post I discussed about 'wearable trilobites', that are trilobites used as items of personal adornment. 
The oldest example of ‘trilobitic fashion accessory’ is the drilled fossil that has been found in a 15 000 year old archeological site, hence named La Grotte du Trilobite (French for 'the Trilobite’s Cave'). At the time when I wrote the post, I was looking for a good picture of the trilobitic ornament, but without luck. Today I browsed Mammoth Science and I found it!

The object found in La Grotte du Trilobite: humans used fossil trilobites as items of personal adornment since prehistoric times! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Geological Observatory of Coldigioco: where art meets science

<< It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident. >>
     Theodor Adorno

Geology is expressed in art through a plethora of media, styles and movements. For instance, it seems very difficult to find an order or a “common line” between Leonardo da Vinci and Per Kirkeby.
Accordingly, I defined Geologic Art as “a collective term for artistic phenomena in which geology brings its own aesthetic and conceptual baggage” (Baucon, 2010). Indeed Geologic Art cannot be regarded a style or a movement; nevertheless, it is a definite, peculiar field as it records the work of ‘geologic thinkers’ (sensu Andrews, 2003).

Thomas Cole, Oxbow or the Connecticut River near Northampton, 1836.
Some places are special for ‘geologic thinkers’. For instance, the 19th century saw artists and scientists celebrating the geology of the Hudson River. According to Rebecca Bedell (2001): “Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederic Church, John F. Kensett, William Stanley Haseltine, Thomas Moran, and other artists read scientific texts, participated in geologic surveys, and carried rock hammers into the field to collect fossils and mineral specimens. As they crafted their paintings, these artists drew on their geologic knowledge to shape new vocabularies of landscape elements resonant with moral, spiritual, and intellectual ideas”.
This phenomenon – known as the Hudson School – involved geology in its scientific and artistic expression.

Thomas Cole's Rock Collection (from Explore Thomas Cole, a comprehensive website about the founder of the Hudson School).

Special places continue to inspire geological thinkers still nowadays. In fact, geology and art meet at Coldigioco (Italy), a hilltop village sitting among mystical peaks and lyrical woodlands. In this unique scenario Alessandro Montanari (geologist and “geo-musician”) and his wife Paula Metallo (artist and educator) restored and rebuilt an old town, creating the Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco (Geological Observatory of Coldigioco),  which is described as “an independent center for research and education in geology, art, and cuisine”.
Alessandro and Paula are Coldigioco's permanent residents, but the geological observatory  is a vivid meeting point for geological thinkers from all over the world. Indeed Coldigioco provides extensive facilities for geoscientists and it is intensively involved in artistic initiatives.

Monte San Vicino and the surroundings of Coldigioco. Coldigioco is located near the center of the image along one of the ridges ascending toward the mountain. From the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco Website.

Since 1992, the Geologic Observatory of Coldigioco has hosted numerous science, art and culinary programs and conferences. Geoscientists use it as a base from which to study the amazing geology of the Apennines. Its vibrant cultural and natural environment is a vivid source of inspiration for artists.
It appears manifest that the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco could be considered a sort of 'GeoArt's navel'.

For exploring this unique cultural scenario, it is necessary a 'first-hand' opinion. For this reason I interviewed some of the artists revolving around Coldogioco, starting from its founders: Alessandro Montanari and Paula Metallo.
1. What led you to found the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco?
A love for spontaneity and a sort of naive trust in coincidence.

2. Could you define Coldigioco Geologic Observatory?  
What is Coldigioco? Here are a few of the things we love about Coldigioco .... the rural landscape that is so beautiful, the peace, the sense of community, the many stimulating conversations, the give and take in learning about each others disciplines - and how we always feel a creative jump start. But most importantly for us we love sharing with students, the Coldigioco life and all of our accomplishments, and  that special-Coldigioco-something that each person who visits feels changed for the better and connected to everyone else who loves Coldigioco. That in and of itself if we have accomplished nothing else (which we have) is an extraordinary feat!

3. What are the greatest challenges facing the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco?
Financial. It is often small or emerging organizations that generate provocative ideas, reframe an issue, or look at persistent problems in new ways. I think we are particularly effective at challenging old ways of approaching problems. Especially university level education and research. Even though it should be said that we have yet to find a formula to penetrate and participate in the Italian university system in a way that could begin to transform its inertia.
The initial energy and excitement we and our group of friends had was enough for the initial push but long-term growth has been difficult to keep up with as we get older. As organizers, caretakers, educators and researchers, Sandro and I are just now able to deligate those jobs that took time and energy away from research that permitted us to offer quality work. 

The above lines suggest the existence of a 'Coldigioco School' of GeoArt. Is it really true?  Who are the artists revolving around Coldigioco? And who are the geoscientists? What is the relationship between Coldigioco, music and geology? How Coldigioco inspire visual arts and what is the role of geology in this process?

The answers - and much more - are coming soon: this December, on the Geology in Art Webzine!

Coldigioco Special Issues are coming soon - on these pages!

Andrews S. 2003. Spatial thinking with a difference: an unorthodox treatise in the mind of the Geologist. AEG News, 45(4) and 46(1-3)

Baucon A., 2009. Geology in Art. An Unorthodox Path from Visual Arts to Music. /, 120 pages

Bedell, R. 2001. The Anatomy of Nature: Geology and American Landscape Painting 1825-1875. Princeton, Princeton Press, 185 pp.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Record of Life

Owen Gatley and Luke Jinks authored a nice short movie: "A Record of Life". What is it about?

Triceratops, Volcano, Iguanodon. Shark, Jellyfishes, Buffalo.
"A Record of Life" isn't all about geology, but it deals also with biology and the diversity of present-day life.
You might ask: 'Is it about Earth Sciences or Life Sciences?' This does not matter. Indeed the fossil record is a crucial proof of evolution and explains the diversity of the present-day biological world. Earth Sciences and Life Sciences are connected through paleontology.

Equations, Diagrams, Charts.
'A Record of Life' celebrates the diversity of life through science. Indeed the visual space is filled with objects derived from scientific papers and field notebooks. All on a very physical paper-like texture. 
Owen Gatley and Luke Jinks seem to suggest that science is a coherent language to describe the beauty of the natural world. Furthermore, the final metaphor (a man which dives in...well, watch the movie!) seems to express where we come from: evolution, as recorded by the geologic record.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cephalon: Emotional Trilobites! (Trilobites in Visual Arts part 2; Triple Trilobite Special!)

When I realized my book 'Geology in Art' I had the honor to record tens of first-hand opinions of contemporary geologic artists. Indeed I based my research on the belief that the opinions and statements of artists are valid source materials for the study of Geologic Art.
During my research, I interviewed a young paleoartist who occupies a place of relevance within 'trilobitic art': Glendon 'the Flying Trilobite' Mellow. The nickname reflects the double gaze of the painter, staring simultaneously at science and at fantastic atmospheres. Here is a short excerpt of the interview:

"The Flying Trilobite" is a recurrent element of your artwork. Why?
Trilobites with wings started to appear in my artwork about 13 years ago. I was always a fan of the realistic fairy paintings by artists like Arthur Rackham and Alan Lee, and wanted to blend my interest in palaeontology. I looked at numerous trilobite orders, and found that Balcoracania dailyi had these excellent pleural spines perfect for depicting support for insect or bat wings. The concept behind flying trilobites is an attempt at whimsy and intrigue. Evolution by natural selection has generated some amazingly diverse organisms; what can human imagination do, playing with forms and re-imagining what had evolved? The juxtaposition of an extinct sea creature with modern wings appeals to me.

Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil III, by Glendon Mellow. More artworks are featured on the artist's blog and website.

Your portfolio includes paleoart, fantasy art and commixtures of these aspects. How do you reconcile fantastic atmospheres with science?
I have always enjoyed images of environments and organisms I had never seen before. Science fiction and fantasy are often inspired by real scientific discoveries. The technical challenges of depicting a pachycephalosaur skull or chrysalis with an eye are both inspired by my sense of wonder at these fascinating objects. Whether the subject is real or imagined, the impetus to depict them feels similar to me.

Tell me a personal experience about expressing geology in art.
My wife brought home some shale roof tiles and thought I might paint on them. It was a challenging surface to work on. I created my "Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil" paintings on them, and had to learn how to work with the surface. The toughest thing is how much damage they do to a soft brush!
But I would never give up soft brushes, they are great for blending colour. 

 Haldane Precambrian Puzzle (A and B), by Glendon Mellow. You can see more artworks on the artist's blog and website.

Why do you feel the need to draw and paint about science? 
I'm in awe of science, and it is so inspiring, and learning about it is fun. That's the selfish part. I feel lucky to live at this place in history, with the past spread out, and the present so rich with knowledge. In my way I hope to contribute somehow. I hope to inspire investigation, questions and scepticism. I hope to inspire a young person to seek wonder in the natural world, and understand how rationality requires them to learn from their mistakes. Science and rationality are still far from the normal way many people in their day-to-day life. Most people rely on intuitions and portents rather than analysis and intellect. It's vital that everyone has a greater scientific education for their own health and happiness.

Speaking of "Flying Trilobites"...Peter Lynn produces a gigantic trilobite kite. The Megabyte holds the Guinness world record for the largest kite: the Megabyte! Watch it in action on this video!

Glendon Mellow is not the only contemporary artist who approaches trilobites from a symbolist perspective. In fact, I recently discovered the colorful world of Tricia Dewey. Her trilobites moves in a vivid world  constituted by changing shapes and colors. The sculptures are realized through a complex process combining encaustic wax, oil painting and fossil replicas realized in polymer clay / alcohol inks. The result is amazing!

 Some of Tricia Dewey's sculptures.

Vivid colors are also the base of Peter Bond's prehistoric paintings. I particularly enjoyed his warm  and somehow abstract synthesis of trilobites leaving tracks on the seafloor. It is also worth of note to mention Jung Hee-Lee Marles, an artist who realized a series of paintings dedicated to fossils.

Peter Bond, Trilobites.

Fossil trilobites as depicted by Jung Hee-Lee Marles.

Tony Cragg is one of Britain's best known and most inventive sculptors. He brings to his personal work an interest for science and biological shapes; it makes no surprise that he realized a series of trilobite-inspired sculptures. The representation of trilobites is carried through a synthetic attempt of grasping the essence of arthropod morphology.
By capturing the aesthetics of biologic body plan and re-creating the sensation in the eye that views the subject, I can say that there is a sort of plastic impressionism in Cragg's trilobites.
As reported by, the artist declared: "Sometimes pictures are puzzled together. For example, Darwin's theories and a mass of  geological studies have together led to visualisations of trilobite-infested primeval seas and vast tropical forests, dinosaurs, mammoths, and last but not least, man".

 Tony Cragg's trilobites.

The plastic beauty of trilobites have been grasped and synthetized also by the ceramic artist Stephnie Craig. Indeed her sculpture richly encapsulates biologic and paleontologic shapes, as well as geologic metaphors (i.e. 'fossilized memories'). As concerns her 'Trilobite', the sculptor use of the relief varies between investigation of segmented morphologies and exploration of biological textures. If you believe that my words are only empty art criticism, enlarge the picture below and note the detailed, 'biomorphic' texture of the work, blended with a beautifully segmented bauplan.
Stephnie Craig, Trilobite.

Maybe you could think that the weirdest and funniest trilobitic sculpture  is the chocolate trilobite on the left (you find it at Juniorgeo). If this is your idea, wait to see the Electrobite. It's a car. It's a trilobite. It's a neon-'o-rama. Well, it is better that you watch the pictures and videos below to understand what is it!
The Electrobite shows the double-facing aspect of trilobites: they have an alien morphology but they are also very cute.  Intriguingly, the Electrobite was presented at the Burning Man Festival 2009, therefore it could corroborate the 'open air festivals' issue of this webzine, where I discussed the influences of GeoArt on the famous artistic event in the Black Rock Desert.

A test drive on the Electrobite, a work of art by Jon Sarriugarte.

More Electrobite!

Jor Sarriugarte was not the only with a trilobite at the Burning Man Festival. Spencer Kane realized this beautiful rolled trilobite.

Another point of reference in trilobitic art is Michael Gagné, who is well known for his work within the animation field. Indeed Michael's short Prelude to Heaven recieved an Annie Award nomination (animation’s industry equivalent of the Oscar) for best animated short and became very popular within the animation community. His creativity is behind some of the best-known animated movies by Pixar (Ratatouille, the Incredibles), Warner Brothers (Space Jam), Disney and Don Bluth Animation (the Land Before Time). Michael authored some beautiful artworks inspired by trilobites. They appear as oniric origamis floating in the night.

Trilobic Unicorn, by Michael Gagné.

Trilobite 1 and 2 by Michael Gagné.

Intriguingly, Gagné curates with Andrew Scott a website dedicated to trilobites in art. The curators describes their Trilobite Show as "a visual celebration of an amazingly diverse, truly ancient, and fantastical group of creatures known as trilobites. Though they have been extinct for many millions of years, their preserved remains have set the imagination of men on fire since their discovery. The Trilobite Show's mission is to showcase the works of those people whose passion for trilobites motivates their expression".
Through their Trilobite Show, Gagné and Scott demonstrate an aesthetic passion for the classics of trilobite illustration: Ernst Haeckel and Joachim Barrande.

 Haeckel was a 19th century scientist, philosopher and artist who coined many terms in biology, including phylum, phylogeny, ecology. In my opinion, these trilobites inspired the visual landscape of Gagné's trilobites.

Joachim Barrande was a French geologist and paleontologist born in 1799.

Andrew Scott, an artist himself, curates the most extensive blog on trilobites in art: Triloblog! If you are a GeoArt enthusiast, the Triloblog is the right place for you. Scott shares with Gagné a passion for the classics, united by a particular taste for contemporary artists. Thanks to the Triloblog and the Trilobite Show, I rediscovered some of my favorite artists and... I explored new areas of trilobitic art. Hic sunt trilobita!

 Using polymers and hand made wire armatures, Andrew Scott designs inspiring sculptures of trilobites.

Diversity of trilobitic art. Right: Laura Passow used a Viking era technique of fabrication called naalbinding for her trilobites. Left: Peter Cameron is a geologist photographing geologic places and objects (from Triloblog).

For instance, the Triloblog cites the wonderful art of Jud Turner, which merges metal materials with biologic shapes. This apparent oxymoron is explained by the artist himself:
"Between seeming contradictions, lie greater truths.Quantum physics tells us that apparently solid objects are comprised of vast empty spaces, populated by tiny particles whose individual relationships create the whole. And that a single particle can exist in two separate places during one moment in time.I explore such dichotomies in my sculpture. Using welded steel and found objects, I create artwork which embraces opposites -- the tension between humans and nature; the perils of balancing biology and technology; or the combination of ancient fossils with modern machinery". This statement seem to occur throughout Jud Turner's art.
Jud Turner, Trilo Temporalis. It reminds me of H.R. Giger, but also of the illustrations of Renaissance naturalists.
Trilotable by Jud Turner.

Trilo-femoral mechanicus by Jud Turner.

Trilobite Show and Triloblog are the most prominent Internet resources on the subject 'trilobites and visual arts', but they are far from being complete. This happens because the subject is amazingly vast and in continuous evolution. Trilobites are a deep source of inspiration for human creativity. A question might arise: Why?

Trilobites and human creativity: a pout-pourri. From left to right: 'Trilobite' by Ludy Feyen. 'Prius Torik', an art car by Ken Duffy. Trilobite encaustics by Michele Barnes. A costume by Betsy the Divine. Trilobite jewelrly by ThisNext. Trilobite Origami by Sipho Mabona. Bob Heffner's trilobite terror. It is not visual art, but it is worth to cite: 'Trilobites' by Breece D'J Pancake. The coat of arms of Dudley; note the trilobite. A trilobitic beer label by the Kniver brewery. A cute trilobite by Brigette 'Weird Bug Lady' Zacharczenko. Dirk's 'Fresh Trilobites'! Trilobites being served at Dirk's.

The answer is quite difficult. For this reason, I will try a personal answer. Indeed, trilobites tickled also my creativity and I realized trilobitic sculptures and video-art.

Introduction to my trilobitic video art.

The design of my trilobitic sculptures. You find more info on my website.

You can't eat a trilobite: that's what my video-art says.

This is my very personal answer: Trilobites are familiar aliens coming from Deep time. Trilobites are familiar because many  recent arthropods share a similar body-plan (i.e. crustaceans, insects, arachnids) but, at the same time, trilobites are something completely different.
For these reasons, trilobites bring an emotional charge involving either a conceptual (i.e. Deep Time) and an aesthetic aspect (i.e. the plastic beauty of their segmented bodies). Timothy A. Conrad wrote in 1840 an elegant poem emotional charge. There are no better words as a conclusion of the 'Triple Trilobite Special': here is the incipit of Conrad's 'Ode to a Trilobite'.

Thou large-eyed mummy of the ancient rocks,
The Niobe of ocean, couldst thou tell
Of thine own times, and of the earthquake shocks
Which tore the ocean-bed where thou didst dwell;
What dream of wild Romance would then compare
With the strange truths thy history might unfold?