Digital models of bacteria and viruses are essential for scientists communicating vital health information to the broader public. Paired with news articles and government guidelines, the depictions offer powerful visuals for otherwise invisible harms, and although accurate in shape and structure, many renderings often feature colors chosen at the artist’s discretion—this includes the now-infamous depiction of the red, spiked SARS-CoV-2, which was named a Beazley Design of the Year.
Back in 2004, artist Luke Jerram began questioning the impact of this creative license, asking whether people believed that microbes are inherently vibrant and how exactly viewers are supposed to tell which renderings feature accurate colors and which are alterations. This interest sparked his ongoing Glass Microbiology project, which creates models of viruses like Zika, smallpox, and HIV as clear sculptures.
Created approximately 1 million times larger than the actual cells, Jerram’s works highlight the intricate and unique structures without obscuring a viewer’s impression based on color. He collaborates with virologists from the University of Bristol to ensure the form’s accuracy before being glassblowers Kim George, Brian Jones, and Norman Veitch help mold the delicate shapes, starting with the coiled nucleic acid at the center and later the outer proteins. Together, they’ve created dozens of models so far, including the long, worm-like ebola and a T4 bacteriophage with a rectangular head and multiple legs.
“Of course, by making it in glass, you create something that’s incredibly beautiful. There’s a tension there, between the beauty of the object and what it represents,” the U.K.-based artist said in an interview. “By making the invisible visible, we’re able to feel like we have a better sense of control over it.”
Jerram’s microbes are on view in two exhibitions this month: as part of Hope from Chaos: Pandemic Reflections at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore and at Henry Moore Institute’s A State of Matter. Explore the vast collection and dive into the science behind the works on the Glass Microbiology site.
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As the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 swept through Germany in the fall of 2020, photographer and artist Jörg Gläscher decided to channel his own worry into a project that felt similarly vast and domineering. “I was working (with the idea of) the pure power of nature, the all-destroying force, which brings one of the richest countries in the world to a completely still stand,” he tells Colossal. “A wave is a periodic oscillation or a unique disturbance the state of a system.”
Between November 2020 and March 2021, Gläscher spent his days in a secluded location near Hamburg, where he gathered deadwood and constructed nine massive crests—the largest of which spans four meters high and nine meters wide—that overwhelm the forest floor in undulating layers of branches and twigs. Each iteration, which he photographed and then promptly destroyed in order to reuse the materials, overwhelms the existing landscape with pools of the formerly thriving matter.
Gläscher’s installations are part of a larger diaristic project he began at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, he published a few magazines to present the works that range from photography to sculpture in one place, which you purchase along with prints in his shop. Find more of his multi-media projects on his site and Instagram. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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Gradients and Everyday Objects Reinterpret the Day's Events by Concealing the Cover of The New York Times
Last summer, Sho Shibuya began a visual archive of the day’s sunrise by painting vibrant gradients in their likeness over the cover of The New York Times. The smooth, colorful transitions literally masked the daily headlines, offering a reprieve from the news and establishing a morning ritual that the Brooklyn-based artist, who’s also behind the design studio Placeholder, continues today.
Alongside those subtle sunrises, though, Shibuya also has started interpreting some of the day’s events through mixed-media works that similarly block out the articles. Two bandaids adhere to a peach cover, for example, marking widespread COVID-19 vaccinations. Bands of silver and gold splice another piece, which is also overlaid with a shattered mirror that reflects on Daft Punk breaking up after 28 years. No matter how heavy the topic, each of the pieces, Shibuya says, is intended as a visual aid that inspires hope and optimism. “I want to create peace through my work sharing my sympathy and emotion,” he tells Colossal, explaining:
I believed simple color and shape have power to influence emotions, and emotions influence actions. It is important to get the facts and understand the news, but I think my work is meant to make people feel the impact of the world beyond just facts and figures. It is similar to the way The New York Times printed all 100,000 names of the people who died from COVID; art can be a more impactful way of communicating the significance of the news.
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Artist Chrystl Rijkeboer contemporizes sentimental porcelain figurines with a present-day twist: spiky COVID-19 molecules obscure the characters’ facial features, rendering the largely wealthy and ornately dressed figures both anonymous and commonplace in modern contexts.
Whether posing for a portrait or mid-curtesy, Rijkeboer’s pieces satirize the long-crafted Meissen figurines, which have been in production since the 18th Century and often romanticize an antiquated world “where women do not represent any relevance but being nice and glamourous,” she tells Colossal. “For me, it is mostly about the position as a woman and an artist. The pandemic made it quite clear that artists are the first to be labeled as unnecessary.”
Living and working in Haarlem, The Netherlands, Rijkeboer has crafted an extensive COVID-themed collection, which includes ubiquities like Zoom calls and masks, all of which you can see on her site. (via Lustik)
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As we collectively count down the days until we can safely enjoy post-vaccination visits with friends and family, a delightful animation has a comforting message for those of us struggling to reign in our anxiety: “If this disruption undoes you, if the absence of people unravels you…lean into loneliness and know you’re not alone in it.”
A collaboration between poet Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman, “How to Be at Home” plucks some of the same scenarios from the duo’s wildly popular “How to Be Alone”—watch the 2010 film on YouTube and pick up the illustrated book from Bookshop—and translates them into quarantine terms fit for 2020: where benches and public transit once were spaces ripe for interaction, they’re now hazards to be avoided, and a lunch-time scroll through your phone is no longer a distraction but a welcome way to stay connected.
The animated scenes emerge from the pages of a book, an emblem closely associated with solitude, through a mix of live footage and stop-motion techniques. Set to the dulcet rhythms of Davis’s poem, the short film flows through ubiquitous pandemic activities like home yoga, watching long films (including all the credits!), and solo dance parties and reminds us how we’re all bound together even when we’re physically apart.
“How to Be at Home” is one of 30 pandemic-themed films created through The Curve, a platform supported by the National Film Board of Canada. To see more of Dorfman’s illustrations and animations, check out her Instagram and Vimeo. You also might enjoy Gemma Green-Hope’s animated portrait of her grandmother.
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Astute, evocative, and occasionally controversial, The New Yorker’s covers are keen observations of contemporary culture in their own right. The weekly renderings are widely recognized as visual interpretations of today’s most pressing issue that span politics, culture, and this last year, life during COVID-19. Inspired by this iconic imagery, third-year illustration students in Tomer Hanuka’s course at the School of Visual Arts created their own iterations, post-pandemic-style. From masked embraces and empty theaters to more somber silhouettes representing those who lost their lives to the virus, the covers encompass a range of emotions and realities for life after lockdown, an idea that’s reinforced with the students’ cleverly renamed masthead, Old New World. See some of our favorite illustrations below, and check out Hanuka’s Twitter thread, which has been widely shared in recent days, for the entire collection.
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Editor's Picks: Art
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.