ARTifacts II: everything is pretty if you look close enough

When you count cells, you often mix them with a dilute solution of a dye which is excluded by living cells but can cross the membrane of dead cells — this allows you to count viable and dead cells separately. Probably the most common dye for the purpose (at least, the only one I’ve ever used) is Trypan blue, which is a very pretty blue color.
Everyone has their own ways of adding the dye; I tend to recycle the lid of a discarded culture dish as a mixing surface, pipetting 10 µl of 2X Trypan blue in buffered salt solution onto the lid and then mixing with 10 µl of cell suspension. Since the cell counter only takes 10 µl, that leaves half of each mixture drying in spots all over the lid as I count my way through my cultures.
One day I decided to take some photomicrographs of the resulting patterns. The crystals are salts; I think the dye tends to dry into blobs rather than crystallizing. The round things that look like alien eggs in images 2 and 3 are what was left behind by air bubbles.






ARTifacts I: lightning autoradiograph

I was reminded today, by Björn’s post about modern art, of something I’ve been meaning to post for a long time. I’m hardly the first person to notice that the products and by-products of scientific experiments can be very pretty, and I find that often the story and the science behind the object or image gives it an extra dimension. For instance this:


is electrostatic discharge, captured on x-ray film — static electricity that really is static.
It’s an artifact caused by wrapping developed chemiluminescent western blots in cling wrap prior to exposing them — you have to wrap the blots so as not to wet the film, but it can create static discharges which fan out across your results when you peel the blots away from the film in order to develop it. This is one that was well away from my data, so I scanned it just for itself.
I’m sure I could string together 500 words of postmodern bullshit about the fact that this picture was the accidental result of a real experiment, a (literal) spark thrown from the anvil on which knowledge was being forged… all I need now is an agent with contacts in the art world and a bunch of people with more money than sense.

Update 090709:
Ha! I’m in good company, apart from my snotty remarks about the art world of course — about half way through this story, modern master Hiroshi Sugimoto talks about pictures he made in the darkroom without a camera, using static electricity. And yes, they look a lot like my autorads!

inspiration series: Jacob Collins

untitled? landscape by Jacob CollinsI sometimes take photographs and write about things that aren’t Open Science, and although I am trying to do something somehow meaningful — and I even think I’m getting better at it — I have a very hard time saying just what that “meaning” might be.
I’m going to start collecting pictures and words that either resonate with me and whatever it is I’m trying to say with my own pictures and words — or that annoy me into talking about it. In the latter category, here’s Jacob Collins, from an article in Columbia Magazine (thanks, Abbas):

I always wanted to do two things: to be skillful and to make beautiful art. I never had any confusion. Not that I am so skillful. I’ve been looking at Holbein drawings, Diego Velásquez portraits, and ancient Greek sculptures my whole cogent life, and you can’t look at those things and really feel good about yourself. The other thing that interests me is to make things beautiful. Often, when you’re in art school you get people saying, ‘Sure, this is pretty, but let me see what your ideas are.’ When I was a kid I didn’t know why that bothered me, but later I realized that it’s based upon the fallacy that beauty isn’t an idea. Beauty is a set of ideas, it is vastly complicated, and to understand whether something is beautiful, you’re using anthropology and psychology, and culture and nature, and even biology. You have to understand what ‘beauty’ is to know why you think something is beautiful.

Foses, Jacob Collins 2003I have nothing against classicism or realism, but if the galleries on his site are anything to go by I don’t care for most of Collins’ work. I find it somehow — pedestrian; more conventional than classical. (I liked Maureen Mullarkey’s description of Collins’ nudes: “McNudes for the carriage trade… fastidious erotica to go with the Jado bidet and high-thread-count linens from Yves Delorme.”) I don’t know whether that bit about not feeling good about himself is false or real modesty, but take a look at his drawings. Lack of skill is not the problem, even if he’s right and doesn’t compare to the transcendent examples he chose. A large part of my reaction to Collins is his choice of subject — I like him best when he applies his “high art” methods to quotidian objects, or when he gets out of the way and lets a portrait speak for itself. I like him least when he is rehashing ideas of beauty that have been imitated so much that they have become stale.
I originally started writing this as the other kind of inspiration piece, on the basis of the quoted comments above. I like Collins’ idea that beauty is sufficient as an end, that it is a complex statement in and of itself. I just disagree with him on the particulars of which things are, in fact, beautiful. If there’s any point to saying more about art than “I like/don’t like that”, then I think Collins’ rather impersonal portrayals of rather standard subject choices must qualify only as pretty — decorative — and not really beautiful.
So, in writing this out, I find at least one thing I’m trying to do with what, if I were not intensely self-conscious about it, I would call “my art”: I want to make beautiful things, and I want to understand why they are beautiful to me. But that’s hardly satisfactory, being so broad a comment that it probably applies to anyone who makes anything. I’ll keep trying.
(Hat-tips: Andrew Walkingshaw, whose recent musings on creativity and compartmentalisation struck a chord with me; and my old friend Ralf, who always takes “my art” just seriously enough.)

“I consider humans to be noise.”

Zioluc1.jpg Heh. Me too, for the most part. Richard Akerman, talking about Flickr groups and other very, very special interest online groups (“narrowcasting”):

“There are of course huge Flickr groups devoted to topics of typical photographic interest, like Sunrises and Sunsets (12,453 members).  But there is also the “I didn’t think anyone else was interested in that” sort of groups.  For example, I like to take photos that are empty of people.  I consider humans to be noise that messes up the framing of my shots.  As luck would have it, I can submit my photos to the Flickr group The Last Person on Earth (1,036 members) (or see just my contributions). This isn’t even the only “no people in the photo” group, there’s also No people. Beyond that, in Lonely City, you can’t even have animals in the photos.”

Zioluc2.jpg I usually like to keep people out of my photos, for two good reasons: 1. they are really hard to photograph; seriously, people are some of the most difficult subjects there are; and 2. privacy concerns. I never publish photos with identifiable humans in them, unless I have explicit permission to do so (and since I almost never have the gumption to ask, that means I almost never post people shots). I know that one has a diminished expectation of privacy in a public space, but I am not making a living as a photographer or journalist. I can afford to go a bit further in my consideration of other people’s privacy than the law strictly requires.
I wanted to use Richard’s photos, but he reserves all rights and I’m lazy, so I hunted around the LPOE pool until I found Zioluc, who releases his shots under a Creative Commons licence (attribution/noncommercial/noderivs) that lets me use them. Grazie, signore! Top left: isoletta aspettami; bottom right: welcome.

pop art subversion

17142414ozglass_.jpgFor everyone who ever wanted to go Andy Warhol one better: create your own Heinz label. I ordered the one shown; I wonder if they’ll actually make and ship it? Hello, Mr CIA Operative. Fuck you, George, I refuse to be afraid. More labels here; via We’re Not Wired Right via Coudal Partners.
Update: Phooey.

Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2006 9:17 AM
From: “”
To: me
Subject: Website Order Challenge
Upon submission of your order you agreed to the Terms and Conditions set forth by the H.J. Heinz Company. The content of your message is not within the parameters of the Terms and Conditions and cannot be fulfilled. Please revise your message and resubmit your order by clicking the link below and following the instructions. If you choose not to revise the submitted message we will have to regretfully decline the order. [blahblahblah]
Order Confirmation Number: blah
Reason: Political – Political statements are not approved by Heinz.

OK, I’ll play

So film critic Roger Ebert has come up with a list of “102 movies you should have seen if you want to have a serious discussion about film“, and all the cool kids are playing. Well, I’m enough of an artwanker to enjoy the occasional serious discussion about film, so here goes; the ones I’ve seen are in bold:
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) Stanley Kubrick
“The 400 Blows” (1959) Francois Truffaut
“8 1/2” (1963) Federico Fellini
“Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972) Werner Herzog
“Alien” (1979) Ridley Scott
“All About Eve” (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
“Annie Hall” (1977) Woody Allen
“Apocalypse Now” (1979) Francis Ford Coppola
“Bambi” (1942) Disney
“The Battleship Potemkin” (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
“The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) William Wyler
“The Big Red One” (1980) Samuel Fuller
“The Bicycle Thief” (1949) Vittorio De Sica
“The Big Sleep” (1946) Howard Hawks
“Blade Runner” (1982) Ridley Scott
“Blowup” (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
“Blue Velvet” (1986) David Lynch
“Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) Arthur Penn
“Breathless” (1959 Jean-Luc Godard
“Bringing Up Baby” (1938) Howard Hawks
“Carrie” (1975) Brian DePalma
“Casablanca” (1942) Michael Curtiz
“Un Chien Andalou” (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
“Children of Paradise” / “Les Enfants du Paradis” (1945) Marcel Carne
“Chinatown” (1974) Roman Polanski
“Citizen Kane” (1941) Orson Welles
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971) Stanley Kubrick
“The Crying Game” (1992) Neil Jordan
“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) Robert Wise
“Days of Heaven” (1978) Terence Malick
“Dirty Harry” (1971) Don Siegel
“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) Luis Bunuel
“Do the Right Thing” (1989 Spike Lee
“La Dolce Vita” (1960) Federico Fellini
“Double Indemnity” (1944) Billy Wilder
“Dr. Strangelove” (1964) Stanley Kubrick
“Duck Soup” (1933) Leo McCarey
“E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) Steven Spielberg
“Easy Rider” (1969) Dennis Hopper
“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) Irvin Kershner
“The Exorcist” (1973) William Friedkin
“Fargo” (1995) Joel & Ethan Coen
“Fight Club” (1999) David Fincher
“Frankenstein” (1931) James Whale
“The General” (1927) Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
“The Godfather,” “The Godfather, Part II” (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola
“Gone With the Wind” (1939) Victor Fleming
“GoodFellas” (1990) Martin Scorsese
“The Graduate” (1967) Mike Nichols
“Halloween” (1978) John Carpenter
“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) Richard Lester
“Intolerance” (1916) D.W. Griffith
“It’s a Gift” (1934) Norman Z. McLeod
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) Frank Capra
“Jaws” (1975) Steven Spielberg
“The Lady Eve” (1941) Preston Sturges
“Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) David Lean
“M” (1931) Fritz Lang
“Mad Max 2” / “The Road Warrior” (1981) George Miller
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941) John Huston
“The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) John Frankenheimer
“Metropolis” (1926) Fritz Lang
“Modern Times” (1936) Charles Chaplin
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
“Nashville” (1975) Robert Altman
“The Night of the Hunter” (1955) Charles Laughton
“Night of the Living Dead” (1968) George Romero
“North by Northwest” (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
“Nosferatu” (1922) F.W. Murnau
“On the Waterfront” (1954) Elia Kazan
“Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) Sergio Leone
“Out of the Past” (1947) Jacques Tournier
“Persona” (1966) Ingmar Bergman
“Pink Flamingos” (1972) John Waters
“Psycho” (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
“Pulp Fiction” (1994) Quentin Tarantino
“Rashomon” (1950) Akira Kurosawa
“Rear Window” (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) Nicholas Ray
“Red River” (1948) Howard Hawks
“Repulsion” (1965) Roman Polanski
“The Rules of the Game” (1939) Jean Renoir
“Scarface” (1932) Howard Hawks
“The Scarlet Empress” (1934) Josef von Sternberg
“Schindler’s List” (1993) Steven Spielberg
“The Searchers” (1956) John Ford
“The Seven Samurai” (1954) Akira Kurosawa
“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
“Some Like It Hot” (1959) Billy Wilder
“A Star Is Born” (1954) George Cukor
“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) Elia Kazan
“Sunset Boulevard” (1950) Billy Wilder
“Taxi Driver” (1976) Martin Scorsese
“The Third Man” (1949) Carol Reed
“Tokyo Story” (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
“Touch of Evil” (1958) Orson Welles
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948) John Huston
“Trouble in Paradise” (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
“Vertigo” (1958) Alfred Hitchcock
“West Side Story” (1961) Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise
“The Wild Bunch” (1969) Sam Peckinpah
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939) Victor Fleming

Twenty-four. Meh. Got me some catchin’ up to do.

free Roadsworth!

stencil art by Montreal artist Roadsworth
Dear Mayor Tremblay:
I am writing to ask you to intervene in the legal proceedings against a resident of your city, the stencil artist known as Roadsworth. Don’t prosecute the man, hire him! His work in no way detracts from the function of the road markings he embellishes, and in fact adds to them the many serious and important functions of public art. He adds to the daily lives of Montreal’s pedestrians a touch of whimsy, an opportunity for reflection, a little beauty in the midst of the mundane: surely this is a public good, not the public mischief with which the artist is charged. I understand that one cannot declare the streets an open canvas, but I am certain that a compromise can be reached in the case of an artist whose work is of real value to the city, and is entirely without malice.
Sincerely, etc.
Background here, profile of Roadsworth here, more of his work here and here.

interlude (is anyone else sick of politics?)

portrait of Edwin Morgan by Jean Maclachlan I don’t know much about Edwin Morgan’s poetry (perhaps I’ll learn more when this site is not so “under construction”, and if it loses the odd “go look at his books” attitude), but what prompts this entry is his art collection. At 84, he has donated it to the University of Glasgow — 70 works in all, worth “a fortune” according to the reporter and a “very good and valuable” collection according to a curator quoted. Morgan, who collected the works according to taste rather than fashion, says of his gift:

[The paintings will] be in good hands and lots of people will see them: that is the idea I like the best. You can clutter your life and your home up with many things, with lots of objects that have no use, and the paintings are in my mind: I have been looking at them for so many years. I have got my enjoyment out of them and now other people can too.

That is just so very right. I would very much like to be able to do something similar, eventually, with my own modest collections of books and art. I do not have much, but I like the idea that perhaps I could plug some gaps in a useful academic or museum collection somewhere. (via eeksypeeksy, Ivy and Anne; photo by Jean Maclachlan)

portland public and not-so-public art

funky statuary from Observant readers will have noticed the spousal unit’s new project, Portland Public Art, on the blogroll. Portland has a lot of public art, thanks in large part to a (city? state?) law that says 1% of all building budgets must go to support the arts. The spousal unit went mad and decided to catalog it.

The title is a sneaky segue to our latest acquisitions, two miniatures (about 2.5 inches square) by local artist Bernard O Gross, “Three Cedars” and “Red Oak Hillside”. These snaps don’t really do them justice. (Man, do I feel like an artwanker now.)
Three Cedars, oil on board by Bernard Gross
Red Oak Hillside, oil on board by Bernard Gross