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Art

Overflowing with Flora and Fauna, Collaged Paper Installations Comment on Earth's Dwindling Biodiversity

October 21, 2020

Grace Ebert

“Intimate Immensity” (2016). Photograph by Trevor Good. All images © Clare Börsch, shared with permission

Sprawling across paint-chipped walls and tiny alcoves, the collaged installations of artist Clare Börsch mimic overgrown jungles and whimsical forest scenes. Layers of flora, fauna, and the occasional gemstone or human figure comprise the amorphous paper artworks as they transform spaces into fantastical ecosystems.

In a note to Colossal, Börsch shares that she began her artistic practice as a way to translate her dreams, which are often lucid and informed by memories and a strong tie to nature, into physical objects that others could immerse themselves in. “Growing up in Brazil, I had the ocean, rivers, and jungles that always existed in stark contrast to the industrial cities (I lived in Sao Paulo). So my earliest and most formative memories are of lush, humming tropical ecosystems —and the encroaching industrial landscapes of Brazil’s cities,” she says.

The Berlin-based American artist sources her many of the vintage photographs from open source archives, including the Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously), Pixabay, and Unsplash. Some of the botanical elements she draws or photographs herself before cutting around the organic elements and assembling them in new, sometimes bizarre, compositions.

 

Jungle installation commissioned by Book A Street Artist Berlin for Riem Arcaden in Munich. Photograph by the artist

Despite the vibrancy and lively qualities of the three-dimensional collages, Börsch uses her artworks to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis and destruction of biodiversity, commentary that’s laced with themes of decay and death. She explains:

This came into focus for me when I made a series of collages and then later realized that many of the species in the vintage illustrations had already gone extinct. Humanity has wiped out 68% of all our planet’s biodiversity since 1970, so working with vintage illustrations can be very heartbreaking as much of the diversity in these gorgeous old naturalist prints has been wiped out by human activity.

Since then, Börsch has been collaborating with scientist Louisa Durkin, of the Nordic Academy of Biodiversity and Systematics Studies, to identify ways the artworks can spark awareness and dialogue about environmental issues. “I often say that I do not want my art to be a funerary dirge for everything we could have saved,” she says.

In recent months, Börsch has been working on a commissioned series that will culminate in a forthcoming book, titled Why Do Tigers Have Whiskers? And Other Cool Things About Animals, which is scheduled for release by Thames & Hudson in May 2021. Follow the artist on Instagram to see her latest projects, including an immersive installation commenting on regenerative approaches to tackling problems of biodiversity, which she plans to unveil in early November. (thnx, Elsie!)

 

“Intimate Immensity” (2016)

“Intimate Immensity” (2016)

Jungle installation commissioned by Book A Street Artist Berlin for Riem Arcaden in Munich

Photograph by Kolja Raschke

“Intimate Immensity” (2016). Photograph by Trevor Good

Photograph by Kolja Raschke

Photograph by Kolja Raschke

 

 



Photography

Serene Photographs Frame the Fleeting Beauty of Light, Water, and Other Natural Elements

October 19, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Cig Harvey, shared with permission

Cig Harvey is adept at spotting both nature’s sublime qualities and the beauty in mundane moments. The serene shots frequently feature a human intervention, like outstretched arms spotted with dots of light from a disco ball hung in Harvey’s home or a compost pile heaped with vibrant produce scraps. Spanning nearly 20 years of her practice, the photographs shown here frame instances of serendipity, whether showcasing bright pink azaleas briefly pressed against foggy glass or the sun gleaming on a dark body of water.

This year, Harvey was named one of the recipients of the Maine in America award, which annually honors artists who’ve made a considerable contribution to Maine’s role in American art. Explore more of the photographer’s images capturing the every day on Instagram and her site

 

 

 



Photography

Iridescent Glass Worms, Fruiting Slime Molds, and a Glowing Eel Larvae Top Close-Up Photography Contest

October 7, 2020

Grace Ebert

Image © Andrei Savitsky, cupoty.com. Winner: Micro. “Glass worms can vary in length from about half an inch to two inches. On the right side of this image you can see the large tracheal bubbles that serve as hydrostatic organs (or swim bladders). These bubbles allow the larva to keep its horizontal position in the water column, while also helping to regulate the depth of its immersion. The bubbles are covered with dark pigment cells that can resize – if the cells expand due to absorption of light, the tracheal bubbles heat up and increase in volume, reducing the weight of the larva and causing it to float up. To create the picture here I made a panorama of eight frames, each of which was focus stacked. To make the image as detailed (and aesthetically pleasing) as I possible I used darkfield and polarisation techniques.” All images shared with permission

Captured around the globe, the winning shots in the 2020 Close-Up Photographer Of The Year glimpse some of nature’s most fascinating details, from the organs inside a shimmering glass worm to slime molds bursting with fruit. Dr. Galice Hoarau, an evolutionary biologist living in Bodø, Norway, took the top prize for his image (shown below) of a serpentine eel larva spotted during a blackwater dive.

In its second year, the annual contest garnered more than 6,500 entries from 52 countries. Photojournalists Tracy and Dan Calder, a wife and husband duo based in the United Kingdom, launched the competition in 2018 to “encourage photographers to slow down, enjoy their craft, and make long-lasting connections with the world around them.” Explore some of Colossal’s favorite close-up, micro, and macro shots below, and dive into the top 100 images on CUPOTY’s site. (via Design You Trust)

 

Image © Galice Hoarau, cupoty.com. Animals and Overall Winner of Close-up Photographer of the Year. “I spotted this eel larva off the island of Lembeh (Indonesia) during a blackwater dive. Blackwater diving is essentially diving at night in the open ocean, usually over deep or very deep water. Divers are surrounded by darkness, with only a lit downline as a visual reference. Peering through the darkness with your torch can be quite stressful the first time you do it, but it gets fascinating quickly. What makes blackwater diving so magical is the abundance of rarely seen planktonic creatures you spot as they take part in one of the largest daily migrations of any animal on Earth. After sunset, small pelagic animals (like this larva) rise close to the surface to feed where the sunlight has allowed planktonic algae to grow. At sunrise, they dive into the depths and stay down there during the day to escape predators.”

 

Image © Barry Webb, cupoty.com. 2nd Place: Plants & Fungi. “This image is a stack of 34 focus bracketed images. It was taken in February 2020 in a mixed woodland in Buckinghamshire, UK. It shows a line of 2.5mm high, fruiting bodies of the slime mold Metatrichia floriformis growing on a decaying beech trunk. I always use a x10 loupe with built-in LEDs to examine slime molds and to help me pick out the optimal composition. Initially, I liked this group because it showed different stages in their development. But when I looked through the magnifier, I noticed that the fruiting bodies resembled people standing in a line – the holes in the stems looked like little legs!”

 

Image © Juan Jesús González Ahumada, cupoty.com. 2nd Place: Insects. “When night falls, water scorpions rise to the surface of the pond and begin to interact with fellow water-dwelling creatures. While they might have a sinister appearance, these insects belong to the genus of bed bugs and aren’t actually dangerous. The caudal tube that helps them to breathe (and resembles a tail) is harmless. The pincers, however, help them to grab their prey, which they then kill with their beak. To show their wonderful outlines, and reduce them to silhouettes, I placed two flashlights under two water scorpions in the pond.”

 

Image © Chien Lee, cupoty.com. 3rd Place: Insects. “Bioluminescence is abundant in the Bornean rainforest at night, a feature that becomes evident as soon as you turn off your headlamp, but few organisms emit a light as strong as Lamprigera beetles. Close relatives of fireflies, Lamprigera differ in that the females are wingless and produce a bright and steady greenish light from the tip of their abdomen. During a night walk in the mountains of southern Sarawak, I found this large specimen crawling through low vegetation, presumably on the hunt for snails, their preferred prey. To capture the bright continuous trail of light from its abdomen, I used a long exposure as it made its way along a stick, coupled with a single rear-sync flash.”

 

Image © Csaba Daroczi, cupoty.com. 2nd Place: Animals. “I was preparing to take pictures of bogbean (Menyanthes) at the Turjanos nature conservation area near Kisőrös, Hungary, when I glimpsed this composition in the marshland. I carefully set up my tripod, and prayed for the spider not to move. It allowed me a few pictures before disappearing into the foliage.”

 

Image © Giacomo Redaelli, cupoty.com. 2nd Place: Young Close-up Photographer of the Year. “I had already photographed great crested tits close to home, but this time I wanted a picture of one against a blurred white background to make the red-eye of the bird stand out. To create the picture I had in my mind’s eye I had to travel four hours to a wood in Switzerland. It was very cold and the snow-covered almost everything. When I arrived, I saw many birds in the wood, but no crested tits. I walked for almost an hour in this beautiful landscape before I heard a familiar call. I stopped, took my camera out of the bag and waited, without moving. I couldn’t tell where the call was coming from. After a while, a crested tit flew on to a branch right in front of me. I moved as slowly as possible, trying not to scare it away, and brought my camera up to my face. I was so happy to see the bird in the viewfinder. I focused on the eye and got a few nice shots.”

 

Image © Heather Angel, cupoty.com. 3rd Place: Micro. “This time-lapse shows how green hydras (Hydra viridissima), although sessile (fixed in one place), can move around. A hydra moves by looping over and over, attaching the tentacles, then detaching the disc before reattaching it. They can also move by floating upside down. This particular hydra was attached to a petri dish raised up from a black background so it could be lit from below using darkfield illumination (DFI) and a microscope. The paler margins of the hydra’s body are a result of DFI. The green color is caused by symbiotic algae that live inside the hydra. In return, the algae provide nutrients to the hydra via photosynthesis. Hydras feed on small crustaceans, including water fleas.”

 

Image © Mathieu Foulquié, cupoty.com. 3rd Place Animals. “This common toad (Bufo bufo) took a liking to me, probably because I looked like a frogman myself. He didn’t stop following me during my two-hour dive in the Buèges karst spring (Hérault, Occitanie, France), so he became the perfect model.”

 

Image © Mike Curry, cupoty.com. Winner: Insects. “I was visiting Goole, the town where I was born in East Yorkshire, in 2018 as my dad was very ill in hospital. To take my mind off things I went for a walk with my wife Justine. There had been no time to pack really so all I had with me was my iPhone XS. We were walking towards the docks when I saw some beautiful peeling paint on an abandoned building site. I went over to photograph it when Justine asked if I had noticed the butterfly too. I hadn’t as I was miles away, but I had already captured this image serendipitously. It felt a surreal moment as my dad particularly liked butterflies and always commented that they represented relatives who had passed away, making it even more poignant. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after, so this is a special photograph for me.”

 

Image © Tamás Koncz-Bisztricz, cupoty.com. Winner: Young Close-up Photographer of the Year. “I regularly visit a meadow near my hometown of Csongrád-Bokros, Hungary, observing the site in all seasons. The meadow is grazed by Hungarian grey cattle, which keeps the place in relatively good condition. One frosty winter’s morning I headed out to take some extreme macro shots at the surface of some frozen water that had pooled in the tracks left by a tractor. Crouching down, I spotted some yellow globular springtails (Sminthurus maculatus) which feed in the sunrays reflected from the ice. I used LED torches to illuminate one of them, and came away with a picture that celebrates this tiny creature.”

 

 



Art

Antidote: Organic Lifeforms Rendered with Prussian Blue Create Vivid Ecosystems by Yellena James

October 6, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Yellena James, courtesy of Stephanie Chefas Projects, shared with permission

Using a combination of acrylics, gouache, and ink, Yellena James cultivates brightly-hued ecosystems ripe with lines, patterns, and nature-based motifs. The Portland-based artist paints organic forms that resemble both marine species like coral and kelp in addition to full-bloom flowers, creating brilliant, labyrinth-like ecosystems. Although Prussian blue ink has been a mainstay in James’s practice for years, she recently discovered that the specific color serves as a remedy for certain toxic metal poisonings. This realization spurred the series shown here, which is aptly named Antidote. Each work features the vibrant hue in some capacity.

If you’re in Portland, check out James’s solo show at Stephanie Chefas Projects through October 10. To see the artist’s works in progress, head to Instagram, and try your hand at similar drawings with James’s book, Star, Branch, Spiral, Fan: Learn to Draw from Nature’s Perfect Design Structures. (via Supersonic Art)

 

 

 



Illustration

Dreamy Illustrations Imagine Encapsulated Adventures and the Lives of Quirky Mushroom Characters

October 5, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Ceci Lam, shared with permission

Hong Kong-based illustrator Ceci Lam envisions a whimsical dream world of mushroom-headed figures, adventures through tropical landscapes, and cozy nights in. Her drawings feature anonymous characters who are full of personality, whether daring and bold as they peer up at towering cacti or more subdued in their plant-filled homes.

Lam shares with Colossal that her Miss Mushy series was inspired after she spotted white-capped mushrooms on the roadside one day during her commute, a surprise considering the pollution in the area. The next day, the spores disappeared, spurring the illustrator to imagine a fantasy world for the small fungi to occupy. Full of quirky characters, the series is comprised of individuals defined by the color and textures of their caps, details that match the interiors of their homes and their outfits.

To follow Lam’s dreamy drawings, head to Instagram and Behance.

 

 

 



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.