Overflowing with Flora and Fauna, Collaged Paper Installations Comment on Earth's Dwindling Biodiversity
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.
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!)
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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.
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Iridescent Glass Worms, Fruiting Slime Molds, and a Glowing Eel Larvae Top Close-Up Photography Contest
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)
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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)
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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.
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Neural Networks Create a Disturbing Record of Natural History in AI-Generated Illustrations by Sofia Crespo
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?
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