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Design Science

Dive Into the Art of Aquascaping With a Volcanic Aquarium That Fits on a Desk

November 3, 2020

Grace Ebert

Caring for pets has a lengthy list of physical and mental health benefits, and studies show that folks who aren’t quite ready to commit to a rambunctious pup can find similar solace in a marine pal. The aquatic enthusiast behind Foo the Flowerhorn recently released a video series documenting the DIY building process for a home ecosystem, in addition to capturing the organisms’ intrepid natures. Conveying thoughtful methods for balancing inter-species relationships, the tutorial is also an example of aquascaping, or the art of aquarium design (dive into the world of competitive aquascaping here).

Beginning with a 7.6-gallon aquarium, the video chronicles the assembly of a volcano-shaped rock formation, which serves as a filter despite being enveloped by algae, and a custom-built cover to keep the adventurous creatures inside. Every species is introduced to the ecosystem in a specific order to ensure their chances of survival. The plants, snails, Amano shrimp, and tetras are added early on, with the territorial Siamese Fighting Fish following after ten days. “Adding a betta into this mix is risky. He is a chirpy little fellow, and I’m a little worried about the shrimp, especially. He has tried to catch the tetras here and there but soon realized that there is absolutely no chance of him catching one,” the designer said. (via The Kids Should See This)

 

 

 



Illustration

Neural Networks Create a Disturbing Record of Natural History in AI-Generated Illustrations by Sofia Crespo

September 30, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Sofia Crespo, shared with permission

Sofia Crespo describes her work as the “natural history book that never was.” The Berlin-based artist uses artificial neural networks to generate illustrations that at first glance, resemble Louis Renard’s 18th Century renderings or the exotic specimens of Albertus Seba’s compendium. Upon closer inspection, though, the colorful renderings reveal unsettling combinations: two fish are conjoined with a shared fin, flower petals appear feather-like, and a study of butterflies features insects with missing wings and bizarrely formed bodies.

Titled Artificial Natural History, the ongoing project merges the desire to categorize organisms with “the very renaissance project of humanism,” Crespo says, forming a distorted series of creatures with imagined features that require a new set of biological classifications. “The specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of,” she writes.

Crespo manufactured a similar project, Neural Zoo, that combines disparate elements of nature into composite organisms. “Our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but the brain is simultaneously aware that those elements don’t belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to,” she says. More generally, Crespo explains her motivation behind merging artificial neural networks and natural history:

Computer vision and machine learning could offer a bridge between us and a speculative “natures” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation. Starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle. Routines in artificial neural networks become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar. Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?

Head to Crespo’s site to explore more of her AI-produced studies, and follow her latest pieces on Instagram.

 

 

 



Photography

A Shark Swimming in a Heart-Shaped School of Salmon Tops 2020 Drone Photography Contest

September 30, 2020

Grace Ebert

“Love Heart of Nature” by Jim Picôt. “In winter, a shark is inside a salmon school when, chasing the baitfish, the shape became a heart shape.” All images © the photographers, courtesy of 2020 Drone Awards, shared with permission

The 2020 Drone Photography Awards garnered an arresting collection of aerial shots, and among its winners is a serendipitous image of a heart-shaped school of salmon. Captured by Australian photographer Jim Picôt, the piece is particularly special because a shark swims near the center, chasing one of the fish. Other prized shots include heron roosts nestled in the treetops, and a group of swimmers floating between crashing waves.

Hosted by the Siena Awards Festival, the contest received entries from photographers in 126 countries, and an exhibition titled Above Us Only Sky will run October 24 to November 29 in Siena to showcase the top images. Check out some of our favorites below, and dive into all the winning shots on the contest’s site. (via PetaPixel)

 

“Gray Whale Plays Pushing Tourists” by Joseph Cheires. “At the end of the gray whale season, I was told about a gray whale that, for the last 3 years, used to play with the boats, pushing them gently. So we went back the year after and incredibly the gray whale appeared and this shot is the result.”

“Alien Structure on Earth” by Tomasz Kowalski. “Sometimes we need to change the perspective to feel the strength of the structure stronger than we’ve ever thought. The Petronas Towers, also known as the Petronas Twin Towers, are twin skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur.”

“Where Herons Live”  by Dmitrii Viliunov. “Many think that herons make nests in reeds or in a swamp. In fact, they nest in the tops of huge trees and with a drone it is sometimes possible to see them.”

“On the Sea” by Roberto Corinaldesi. “An aerial view of swimmers, where the sea becomes the place to take refuge, between the blue carpet and the white foam of the waves.”

“Frozen Land” by Alessandra Meniconzi. “With temperatures of minus 30°C, winters in the Eurasian steppe can be brutal. But life doesn’t stop, and local people move from one village to another with a sledge, crossing icy rivers and lakes.”

“Phoenix Rising” by Paul Hoelen. “The phoenix rising is a symbol of re-emergence from the ashes of fire. This is symbolized through the beginnings of an actual regeneration process at the industrial mining site of Lake Owens. After a destructive past and the creation of the most toxic dustbowl in America, migratory birds are returning, and life is beginning anew…”

“Black Flag” by Tomer Appelbaum. “Thousands of Israelis maintain social distancing due to Covid-19 restrictions while protesting against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rabin Square on 19 April 2020.”

 

 



Animation

Selfish: An Animated Short Explores the Tragic Impacts of Plastic Pollution

September 8, 2020

Grace Ebert

In “Selfish,” what opens with a benign scene at a sushi restaurant quickly turns into a dire assessment of plastic pollution. Created by Canada-based animator PoChien Chen, the appropriately named film begins by a chef plucking a detergent bottle from a pile of fresh fish, assembling various dishes made entirely of waste material, and subsequently serving them to a horrified trio of aquatic life. It then dives into a disturbing series of facts and figures about the current state of our oceans and the effects of pollution on wildlife.

Chen said in a statement that the critical animation was inspired by a visit to a small island in Taiwan two years ago:

It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a 10 minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs sill lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it were a part of nature.

See how Chen animated the project—which has garnered an impressive list of awards from film festivals around the world—on Behance, and check out more his films on Vimeo.

 

 

 



History Illustration Science

Page Through a Fantastical Compendium of the World's First Color Illustrations of Marine Life

August 17, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library

In the early 18th century, publisher, bookseller, and apparent fish enthusiast Louis Renard compiled the seminal compendium of color-illustrated ichthyological studies. The volume contains more than 450 species rendered in vibrant hues that, while somewhat anatomically accurate, feature embellishments in color and characteristics. From beak-like mouths to extraordinarily patterned skins, the vast illustrations of marine life are unusual, bizarre, and sometimes psychedelic. One of the most fantastical illustrations even depicts a mermaid (shown below).

A digital copy of Renard’s work—which officially is titled Fishes, crayfish and crabs, of various colors and extraordinary figures, which one finds around the Moluccas islands and on the coasts of the Austral lands—is available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an incredible open-access digital archive. Overall, the library estimates that about 9 percent of the illustrations are fabricated, a detail that’s unsurprising considering the Dutch publisher never traveled to the East Indies to complete his studies. Instead, he copied 460 hand-colored copper engravings from other artists, many of which were contributed by soldier and painter Samuel Fallours who was based in Ambon, Indonesia. In a similarly duplicitous manner, the library also believes that Renard identified himself as a secret agent to the British crown as a way to sell more copies of his work.

The tome was published in three editions, and only 16 of the initial printing, which happened between 1718 and 1719, are known to exist. Thirty-four copies of the second version from 1754 remain, which is also the iteration shown here. There are just six books left from the third printing in 1782.

Page through the entire compendium in the digital library. To enjoy the vivid illustrations off-screen, Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, is selling masks and prints of the enhanced creatures.

 

 

 



Art

The Coral Greenhouse: Jason deCaires Taylor's Latest Installation is an Underwater Sanctuary for Vulnerable Sea Creatures

August 5, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Jason deCaires Taylor, shared with permission

About 50 miles from Townsville, Australia, an unassuming structure created by Jason deCaires Taylor (previously) rests on the sandy floor the John Brewer Reef. Currently, “The Coral Greenhouse” is in pristine condition with little algae or tiny organisms stuck to its sides. Over time, though, the sculptural work is designed to amass vibrant clusters of the sea creatures as they colonize the submerged form.

Constructed with corrosion-resistant stainless steel and pH-neutral substances, the biomorphic frame is modeled after nature’s patterns. The materials help inspire coral growth and are designed to be absorbed into the oceanic environment as the colonies sprawl across it. Workbenches line its sides and are adorned with simple patterns that create small enclaves for ocean life to hide from predators or rest. To keep divers away from the fragile ecosystems, Taylor tends to install his marine projects in less vulnerable areas.

Weighing 165 tons, the sanctuary is the Museum of Underwater Art’s largest installation to date. The A-frame structure is comprised of triangular sections and a massive cement base, which provide stability from waves and adverse weather. Its slatted sides allow divers, filter-feeding organisms, and schools of fish to swim in and out, and floating spires that protrude from the beams’ apex oscillate with the currents.

Figurative sculptures, which were made from casts of kids around the world, populate the inside to serve as a reminder that the coral needs care. They’re shown cradling planters, peering into microscopes, and watching over the vulnerable environment. “Thus they are tending to their future, building a different relationship with our marine world, one which recognizes it as precious, fragile, and in need of protection. Our children are the guardians of the Great Barrier Reef,” Taylor writes about the piece.

Dives to tour the site-specific installation will begin in 2021. Until then, get an idea of how some of Taylor’s previous works have transformed after being submerged for more than a dozen years on his Instagram. (via Fast Company)