Rachel Sussman Photographs The Oldest Living Organisms In The World

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Nearly 10 years ago, photographer Rachel Sussman began researching with biologists and traveling world to document forms of natural life that are at least 2,000 years old for her project titled “The Oldest Living Things in the World.” Part art, part science, Sussman’s project engages with the natural world in order to capture a brief moment in the organisms’ millenia-old lives; her photographs ask viewers to consider their own lives alongside these natural ones, some on the verge of extinction. Each of her photographs includes text below the image describing the subject, its location, and its age. In the preface to her project’s book, Sussman writes,

“What does it mean when the organic goes head-to-head with the geologic? We start talking about deep time and the quotidian in the same breath, along with all the strata in between. All of these organisms are living palimpsests: they contain myriad layers of their own histories within themselves, along with records of natural and human events; new chapters written over the old, year after year, millennium after millennium. When we look at them in the frame of deep time, a bigger picture emerges, and we start to see how all of the individuals have stories, and that all of those stories are in turn interconnected — and in turn, inextricably connected to us all.
[…]
The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of our future.”

To fuel more intrigue, be sure to check out filmmaker Jonathan Minnard’s trailer for Sussman’s book as well as Sussman’s 2010 TED Talk about her project. (via brain pickings)

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Travis Bedel’s Collages Seamlessly Blend Human Anatomy With Botanical Imagery

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Mixed media artist Travis Bedel, also known as bedelgeuse, seamlessly blends vintage anatomical illustrations with botanical or other biological images to create stunning collages that range anywhere from 5 inches to 6 feet in size. Bedel often uses glue and a razorblade to excise printed vintage illustrations, combining them into beautiful and surreal new iterations. He’ll also scan his images and manipulate them digitally because this technique provides him with more opportunity to play around with sizing, cutting, and pasting the various elements in his collages.

Of his interest in human anatomy, Bedel says, “I find the body beautiful and mysterious. I am amazed and what people can do with their bodies and how if you take care of your own body, the rewards are much greater than imagined. I believe a lot of self-healing takes place mentally and physically when you eat clean and stay active.”

Prints are available for purchase via Society 6 or Etsy. You can also follow him on Instagram. (via the micro giant)

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Have Fun With Sougwen Chung’s Interactive Animated Font

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Born in Canada, raised in the Chinese tradition, and based in New York, interdisciplinary artist Sougwen Chung has created an interactive, animated font called Kinecdysis that you can experience first-hand here. Recommended for polymaths, poets, and prophets, Kinecdysis is inspired by “the motif of ecdysis (from Ancient Greek: ἐκδύω, ekduo, to take off, strip off).”

Chung’s statement explains, “At the epilogue of transformation, what remains? Ecdysis is the process of shedding or casting off the exoskeleton in invertebrate organisms. As a metaphor for writing, it is in equal parts an assemblage, homage and exorcism of the self in all its prior iterations. It is the verbal vestige that forms the story of our private ecdysis… within it, the narratives that contain the modicum of our memory.”

You can view the entire animated gif alphabet here.

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Federico Uribe Sculpts Colorful Worlds Using Colored Pencils, Shoes And More

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Colombian-born, Miami-based artist Federico Uribe creates illustrations and sculptures using conceptual pop art language and everyday objects. Uribe integrates these objects into his canvases, combining illustration with sculptural elements, but also builds entire worlds out of a hodgepodge of items like colored pencils, shoes, wires, and bicycle tires. He has no limits on what he’ll use in his work, and is often inspired by the very object itself. Uribe says playing with the objects reminds him of being young and interpreting cloud formations. He claims that there is a literary element involved in every piece he constructs, and he views each recycled object as a word that can change meaning within varying contexts. Of people who believe that since his work involves repurposing used items that it is ecologically sentimental, he asserts that what he does is not about making statements but transmitting feelings to people.

With an object he uses in many of his pieces – the pencil – Uribe crafts intricate and technically skilled sculpture illustrations. Using the lines of many colored pencils, Uribe is able to create the illusion of movement and fluidity, shaping faces and curves out of a straight and pointy medium. The photographs included in this post do not give Uribe’s talent true justice. I urge you to watch this short video about Uribe and his work, where his amazing amount of skilled and detailed attention is beautifully demonstrated. Uribe began as a painter who gravitated toward brooding sensuality influenced by personal feelings about the pain, guilt, and sexuality experienced in Catholicism. This emotional viscerality is maintained throughout his current work, which evokes a playfulness that is charged with intentional feeling. (via cross connect)

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James Franco’s Name Brand Celebrity Status Continues To Result In Gallery Shows

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A couple of weeks ago, we posted James Franco’s self-portraiture imitating Cindy Sherman’s 1970s student project photographs in which she impersonates the roles of iconic women in film; these photographs are on view at PACE Gallery until May 3. A testament to the receptiveness of audiences to Franco’s work, this post performed quite well. Franco has now imitated another artist for work to be displayed at PACE, following the Cindy Sherman imitations, but this time, without (yet) giving proper credit.

In 2011, Christopher Schulz self-published a 32-page book of Seth Rogen fan art; Franco’s upcoming gallery show features nude paintings of Rogen, some that appear to be directly based on (read: copied from) Schulz’s portraits. ArtNet notes that this new work has not been very warmly received by the internet; Huffington Post condemns Franco for “continuing to engage in what some view as blatant homophobia, because comedy,” Dlisted calls Franco a “douchier Shia LaDouche,” and A.V. Club claims the paintings are plagiarism.

At this point, James Franco has delved into many different worlds: academia (once a graduate student in 4 programs at the same time), soap opera, television, and film acting, film-making, fiction and pseudo-academic writing, and performance art. I try not to be annoyed by people, especially artists of all stripes, but James Franco is one person I can barely tolerate at this point. Aside from playing the role of Alien in “Spring Breakers,” I can’t really get on board with anything he is pursuing (especially the “critical” essays he writes for Vice wherein he makes obvious arguments that lack depth). I don’t know what to think about him, and I’m beginning to feel jaded with his pursuits. No one seems to know if Franco takes himself seriously, or if anyone should. Some have even speculated that his recent, creepy propositioning of a minor was performance art, or a marketing ploy for his latest film.

In 2010, Sam Anderson, writing for New York Magazine, conducts a critical investigation into Franco’s life, exploring his Hollywood career as performance art and asking a few questions that are central and just as pertinent to our current experience of Franco in 2014:

(1) Can James Franco possibly be for real?

(2) If he is, then—just logistically—how is all this possible?

(3) And perhaps the biggest mystery of all: Why is Franco doing it? Are his motives honest or dishonest? Neurotic or healthy? Arrogant or humble? Ironic or sincere? Naïve or sophisticated? Should we reward him with our attention or punish him with our contempt? Is he genuinely trying to improve himself or is he just messing with us—using celebrity itself as the raw material for some kind of public prank?

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Ralph Steadman’s Rare Illustrations Of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

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A long-time fan of Ralph Steadman, I still encounter works of his that have somehow missed my radar. Published in 1995, a special edition of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (currently out of print) features 100 full-color and half-tone illustrations by the artist. Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings was able to find a copy of this rare edition, citing quotations from Orwell’s “The Freedom of the Press,” the proposed but unpublished preface to the original “Animal Farm” that accompanies Steadman’s raw and gritty illustrations.

Steadman has long been known as a Gonzo artist, a reputation due in large part to his long partnership with Hunter S. Thompson, but has also illustrated other books in his signature inkblot style including, “Alice in Wonderland,” “Treasure Island,” and most recently, “Fahrenheit 451,” in addition to drawing everything from political caricatures to wine and beer labels. NPR notes that he’s even written an opera libretto.

Of his fluid style, Steadman says, “You don’t pencil in anything; you just start going and see where it leads you. It’s an adventure, a little journey. Every drawing is a kind of journey. There’s an organic quality that is quite potent, you know. You surprise yourself, and that’s quite nice.”

A documentary about Steadman narrated by Johnny Depp, titled “For No Good Reason,” is set to release later this year. The film’s director, Charlie Paul, says,  “I was concerned that Ralph’s art would be the man and that I’d end up trying to make a film with someone who had this kind of aggressive attitude towards the world. But Ralph is such a lovely, warm and generous man, and yet he goes to his table and creates these pieces of art which are dangerous and, to be perfectly honest, quite upsetting sometimes.” ( via brain pickings and npr)

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Richard Balzer’s 19th Century Optical Toy Gifs

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Forty years ago, Richard “Dick” Balzer saw his very first magic lantern – an early image projector invented in the 1600s. This encounter would prove to be the start of an intense preoccupation with early animation technology. Following this discovery,  Balzer began collecting magic lanterns and other optical toys, eventually amassing thousands of illustrations and machines that can now be found at his Boston-area home. His collection includes literature concerning the early animation machinery, as well as 150-year-old optical toys like henakistiscopes, zoetropes, praxinoscopes, and other “scopes” and “tropes” derived from the Greek words for “viewer.”

According to Balzer’s site, “There was a period, the last seventy five years of the 19th century, when scientific experimentation based on the phenomenon of ‘the persistence of vision’ in which the brain retains the impression of an object for a fraction of a second after its disappearance creating the possibility of apparent motion.” These early animation toys and machines sought to merge images to create uninterrupted motion. “We’re all interested in seeing movement,” says Balzer. “It was a different time, but the same challenge: How do you make things move?” These early animated loop illustration toys and machines mark the beginnings of the animated loop file we frequently encounter on the internet – the gif.

Five years ago, Balzer began digitizing his collection with the help of LA-based animator, Brian Duffy because he wished to share the early animations with a larger audience. So far, Balzer and Duffy have digitized only a fraction of the collection (which they periodically upload on Tumblr) due to the trial-and-error process involved in getting the speed of each animation just right. The creators of the early toys and machines probably never anticipated that their images would become as widely and immediately available as they currently are through the work of dedicated people like Balzer and Duffy.

The Verge notes, “Balzer refrains from theorizing about how his archival work may influence others, or what it might say about digital art and visual vocabulary today, noting that there are several other organizations undertaking similar efforts. His goal, he says, is to simply share his passion with as wide an audience as possible while preserving works of art that may have otherwise been forgotten.”

Balzer says, “I mean, these are just extraordinary feats of animation that took place more than 150 years ago.” “And if you’re just holding on to them, I think you should share them with other people.” (via the verge and wired)

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Walter Potter’s Curious Victorian Taxidermy

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In 1850, Walter Potter was 15 years old when he first began experimenting with taxidermy. By the age of 19, Potter had already created his best-known taxidermy tableaux, “The Death and Burial of Cock Robin” which was displayed, along with his other work, at a pub his family owned in Bramber, West Sussex. Potter’s taxidermy dioramas feature anthropomorphized animals acting out Victorian life scenes. During the Victorian era, taxidermy was a popular practice, and in 1880, a dedicated museum building was opened because the tableaux at the pub had created quite a scene. Over time, the interest in taxidermy declined, and the museum was moved before closing down.

Though Potter’s dioramas could be considered morbid, especially by modern standards, there’s something Beatrix Potteresque (no relation) about his work, mostly in its strange and whimsical Victorianism. “Kittens’ Wedding” was Potter’s last tableaux before his death in 1890; this piece was auctioned at Bonham’s (along with most of the collection) in 2003 for £21,150 (around $35,500). Among those present at the auction were artists Peter Blake, David Bailey, and Damien Hirst, who reportedly bid £1 million (almost $1.7) for Potter’s entire collection, but it was rejected by the auctioneers. This caused the owners of the collection to sue Bonham’s because they believed such an offer should have been immediately accepted in order to keep the collection in tact. In 2007, Hirst told The Guardian that “Kittens’ Wedding” was one of his favorites of Potter’s work: “All these kittens dressed up in costumes, even wearing jewellery. The kittens don’t look much like kittens, but that’s not the point.”

The Telegraph notes, “To a modern eye [...]these ‘freaks of nature’ appear eerily macabre. Indeed, some Victorian viewers were outraged by the grotesquery and criticised Potter for abuse of animals, despite a museum disclaimer stating that no animals had been deliberately killed for the collection.”  But then they later explain that not all of Potter’s tableaux were sourced ethically. Before neutering was commonplace, freely roaming farm kittens would often be killed off. Potter had an agreement with a local farmer who provided the kittens; this would explain the high number of participants in his tableaux.

The accompanying images are sourced from Dr. Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein’s book about Potter and his work, “Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,” released earlier this year. Ebenstein says that she’s interested in “the context that creates these things, and why certain things come to be seen as bizarre to us, when obviously they weren’t at the time.” (via telegraph)

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