Beauty and Artistic Inspiration From the Oceans

The Ocean Sciences Meeting art committee has put together a set of exhibits and performances that we hope you will enjoy, find interesting, and remember. We have intentionally focused on less well-known bizarre and beautiful creatures whose role in the oceans is as great as, or in many instances far exceeds, that of popular forms such as whales, dolphins, and coral reefs. We have considered one group in detail: the microscopic single-celled radiolarians. They enable us to bring together a number of strands of science, as shown in the beautifully crafted film Proteus.

Two Films: The Fragile Legacy and Proteus

The Ocean Sciences Meeting will be showing two films, The Fragile Legacy and Proteus, on Thursday, 15 February at 6:30 P.M. in the Portland Ballroom of the Oregon Convention Center.

To Attend: OSM attendees and members of the community are invited to attend the screening. There is no RSVP or additional registration needed for OSM attendees. Members of the community are welcome to walk in; no registration or ticket is required.

The Fragile Legacy – Dr. Harvell and marine filmmaker David Brown set out on a quest to film living examples of the inspirations for the Cornell Blaschka collection of glass images of plankton. As irreplaceable and fragile as the glass replicas, the species upon which they are based are the product of millennia of evolution, carrying genetic information that, if lost, can never be retrieved. The sea is warming, and the very chemistry that enables many of these animals to exist is changing. The Fragile Legacy has won numerous awards, including the Blue award at the Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit and Best Feature at the News Media Film Festival.

Proteus – The film meditates on the troubled intersection of scientific and artistic vision. Biologist, artist, and philosopher Ernst Haeckel found himself torn between seeming irreconcilables: science and art, materialism and religion, and rationality and passion. The film is a parable of both the difficulty and possibility of unitary vision.

Around Haeckel’s story, the director, David Lebrun, weaves a tapestry of poetry and myth, biology and oceanography, scientific history and spiritual biography. The legend of Faust and the alchemical journey of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner are part of the story, together with the laying of the transatlantic telegraphic cable and the epic oceanographic voyage of HMS Challenger. All of these threads lead back to Haeckel and the radiolaria. At times, the film has a mystical quality that the renowned opium smoker Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have surely been at home with.

The show will start at 6:30 P.M. with a 30-minute screening of The Fragile Legacy. There will then a short break followed by a screening of the film Proteus, with a run time of 60 minutes. There will be short introductions to both films.

Schmidt Ocean Institute Artist-at-Sea Program

Artists and scientists both have the ability to offer a deeper understanding of our ocean. They are important storytellers who help people to see in new ways. Applying these talents to ocean science and conservation can create a new space for dialogue and understanding. Schmidt Ocean Institute will be showing over a dozen pieces from the Artist-at-Sea Program that have resulted from collaborations between artists and some of the world’s leading marine scientists, using the Institute’s research vessel Falkor as a platform of connection and interdisciplinary reach. Our science cruises offer a range of unique technology-based ocean research that lends itself to artistic exploration.

Scientific Illustrations That Capture the Beauty and Variety of Form of Plankton

Scientists working with organisms are invariably captivated by the beauty, diversity, and novelty of their form. Those scientists blessed with artistic skills will build that beauty into the illustrations they create. Such loveliness is not required for the purposes of taxonomy but is a lasting treasure we can enjoy. Here we show lithographs of siphonophores by Ernst Haeckel, photographs of various jelly plankton by David Wrobel and Per Flood, and photomicrographs of single-celled animals by John Dolan.

Radiolarians – Creatures of Alien Form

Radiolarians are single celled nonmotile microorganisms, some 0.03 to 2 mm in size, closely related to the amoebae, but, unlike them, they possess an elaborate skeletal cage made of silica.  These skeletons commonly exhibit forms and symmetries that have captivated the imagination scientists and artists alike. Little is known about their biology and ecology. They are either particle feeders or predators using their central cavity to capture and ingest smaller organisms.  Like corals, they often harbor photosynthetic symbionts; however, the details are unclear. They appear to be most abundant in the warmer waters around the equator, with both temperature and salinity apparently influencing their distribution more than any other factors.

Plankton: Inspirations Found From Fine Art to Architecture

Plankton exist in a uniquely tranquil environment, away from the ravages of wind and the persistent stress of gravity, which has left them with the freedom to evolve a stunning range of forms. This great diversity of shape and form, and the variety of symmetries open to them, have offered inspiration to artists and designers. Examples can be found in architecture (Rene Binet’s entrance gate to the Paris 1900 Exhibition), fine art (Holly Sumner’s paintings), jewelry (Karen Beaumont), wood and metal craft (Sarah Parker-Eaton and Louise Hibbert), tableware by Zara Home, and interior furnishings made for the Monaco Musée Océanographique.

Finally, courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell HQ in Houston, we have the rare privilege of exhibiting the stunning creation in fabric by one of the world’s leading embroiders, Karen Nicol.

Blaschka Glass Art

The Blaschkas, father and son, at the turn of the 20th century, crafted glass models of soft-bodied marine invertebrates for university collections. By 1888, the Blaschkas offered 700 models that, according to Leopold Blaschka, were “universally acknowledged as being perfectly true to nature.” Cornell University purchased 570 models in 1885 through Ward’s Natural Science Establishment.

The Blaschkas were influenced by Ernst Haeckel, as well as other notable biologists, as evidenced by letters to and from Haeckel, and, where possible, we combine the exact species match between the Blaschka glass creations and Haeckel’s taxonomic lithographs. The mastery of the Blaschkas’ skill with glass, unrivaled to this day, showcases the 19th century as the age of naturalists and their passion to integrate art and nature in describing ocean biodiversity.

Drew Harvell (Cornell University) is using the collection as a time capsule to compare with the species still living in our oceans today, in her new book, A Sea of Glass. Several of these glass images are from her book.

Special thanks to David Roberts and the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University for their support. The images you see during the week could not have been made possible without them.