Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kate McGuire

When I started this blog there were a few things that definitely inspired me. Some artists and some images and some ideas that were intrinsic to the whole idea of this blog. In the ragged notebook that I keep my lists of ideas for postings Kate McGuire is near the top. I still think better with paper in front of me, and often build on an idea as I am writing the post. But there are a few that I have been saving, like jewels, as though if I post on them too soon I will run out of ideas.
But now seems like a good time to make this post, I was just reminded of McGuire's work by Laura from Atelier L.A.F. I have been meaning to do a post on them for ages as it makes sense to do both.
Heave, 2008
This is the first image of McGuires that I ever saw, and although she has honed her skill and medium over the years, I can still recall my initial reaction of attraction and repulsion. In her newer works the feathers are more lush, all iridescence and silkiness. But the feathers in this work are just feathers, it is all to easy for me to associate them with the bird they may have come from. My respect and admiration of the winged, anyone who has spent much time with birds, up close and personal, knows that there a little bit repulsive about them. Especially in large numbers. Feathers are dusty. And coupled with the title and gushing forth onto the floor the concept deals with the abject.
But the piece is beautiful as well. The even layering of them is exquisite. I can only imagine what it would feel like to touch one of her pieces.
It is this relationship between attraction and repulsion in Nature that I find so fascinating myself. This push and pull also informs the work that I make.
Vice 2009.
Kate McGuire also has a series of pieces contained in vitrines. Each feathered structure forces against its confines. Either preserved as a museum specimen or entrapped in glass it is a creature with no head, no end and no beginning. A creation speaking both of serpents and feathers, a creature of mythology.
Corvid 2011.
The piece above has broken the bonds of its container but still roils, trapped by its own form. Each piece uses feathers to create a tension between the chaos of the natural world and the delicate care that is taken in constructing each piece.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


It has been almost seven months since C.C., the giant Pacific octopus who lives at the Vancouver Aquarium, mated and laid eggs. Earlier this week, close to 300 of her eggs hatched. The babies are only 5 millimetres in length.

C.C. was introduced to her male partner, Clove, last October in the Strait of Georgia display. Mating marks the beginning of the end for octopuses, and Clove died 67 days after mating. C.C. is expected to die naturally in the coming weeks now that egg incubation is completed.

The giant Pacific octopus typically lays around 70,000 eggs on average, of which only a few are expected to survive to adulthood in their natural habitat.

These little guys are so amazing, who knew that Cephalopods could be so endearing. And so wonderful that 300 of them hatched and survived.

Perhaps this will lead to some sort of knew cephalopod fascination on my part. Here are a few items that I have found.

Knitted guy by Megan Stitz

Clockwise from top left: Illustration fromGemini Studios, bowl from No Tengo Miedo, print from Mateo and Isabel, t-shirt from Non-Fiction.

Ring from Heron Adornment

oh, and this scientifically accurate little guy:

from The Dapper Toad

Monday, July 18, 2011


The other day two beekeepers competed in China's annual bee wearing contest. Each man wore only shorts, goggles and nose plugs. The two bee enthusiasts competed by each standing on a scale and using queen bees to attract as many drones to their bodies in one hour. The queen bees were locked in small cages and tied to them and the swarming bees picked up their scent and formed living suits around the competitors.

Wang Dalin won the bee-wearing competition, by attracting 26 kilograms of bees onto his body, while his fellow beekeeper only manged to attract 22.9 kilograms of live bees. Despite their valiant efforts, the two weren’t able to break the world bee-wearing record, of 39.5 kg (350,000 bees), set by American Mark Biancaniello.

The origin of bee bearding is attributed to Peter Prokopovitch, a Russian beekeeper, in the 1830s. Although bee keepers through the centuries have encouraged masses of bees to congregate on their bodies. The practice spread to various "freak" exhibitions at American carnivals by the end of the nineteenth century.

This Vintage bee bearding photograph is from Life 1955.
It seems like a dangerous pastime, although a beekeeping friend told me that after a few years of working with bees the stings no longer hurt and she has no reaction to them. So maybe it wouldn't be that bad. Although for anyone who has even passed close to a hive and heard the sound from within I would imagine the sound would be deafening. Especially after what I assume is several hours of supporting many pounds of moving, buzzing, vibrating bees.

Perhaps a little like this clip from Mathew Barney's Cremaster 2

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Through the hour-glass....

A tenuous Vancouver summer has arrived and it seemed high time for something a little beachy....

Never have those words been so true. And walking in the sand will never be the same after seeing these photographs.

Professor Gary Greenberg painstakingly sorts through grains of sand to find the most remarkable ones to photograph. He has also developed a complicated technique for photographing each grain from dozens of angles and combining the images with special software.

The grains are magnified 250 times to reveal fragments of crystals, spiral fragments of shells and crumbs of volcanic rock.

The images are available in Greenbergs book A Grain of Sand and on his website
Original article here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Last month was very exciting at the New Zealand Wildlife Centre. Manukura, the all white kiwi, was hatched. The chick is not an albino but a rare all white hatchling. Thirteenth of fourteen kiwi chicks hatched at the Centre, Manukura is being hand reared at Pukaha Mount Bruce. The captive breeding program was designed to increase the number of kiwi chicks hatched. Only ten were hatched between 2005 and 2010, so 14 for 2011 alone is a steep increase. The Pukaha sanctuary is 940 hectares and protected by over 1000 traps. All the kiwi's hatched this year will be released when the weigh one kilogram and are able to defend themselves. Manukura may not be released, as a white kiwi may be more vulnerable to predators.

Manukura - the little white kiwi. from Mike Heydon on Vimeo.

For countless eons New Zealand's only mammal species were bats. The Maori arrived almost a thousand years ago with little impact to the birds, except perhaps the Moa. When Europeans arrived in New Zealand in the mid 1600's there was a great impact on both the Maori people but also New Zealands distinct avian species. Europeans brought with them cats, dogs and weasels and later when they settled there, goats, sheep and pigs. That latter group declined the natural habitat while the former group preyed on species that had not had such predators before. Many of New Zealand's birds are really only surviving in island sanctuaries that have been culled of mammals. Hopefully these newly hatched kiwis will give the species a foothold that it desperately needs.

Even if little Manukura is unable to be released the amount of awareness that such a special chick has raised is very important. Rangitane chief executive and Pukaha board member Jason Kerehi said tribal elders saw the white chick as a tohu, or sign, of new beginnings.

"Every now and then something extraordinary comes along to remind you of how special life is. While we're celebrating all 14 kiwi hatched this year, Manukura is a very special gift."

Monday, May 30, 2011

In Bloom

The last few posts have been a little dark. Or at least a little gross.
So here is one that will hopefully inspire some spring-time. I came across the following image on Cedars Between the Pines, the sweet tumblr site operated by my cousin Emma. She must spend a shocking amount of time online!
But it makes sense that I would find it there, as we are both from the same strange and old fashioned family with one foot stuck in Victorian England. The language of Flowers, and any secret code, was of great interest to me in childhood and still filled with mysterious intrigue today.

Many books were published on the subject, the book on the left is Flora's Lexicon by Catherine Waterman published in 1857. The book on the right is Robert Tyas' Language of Flowers published in 1869.

In its most basic form The language of Flowers, or Floriography, uses flowers to send a coded message.
Red roses mean passionate love, as they still do today.
Some less common codes are:
Scarlet Lily - High souled aspirations
Cabbage - Profit
Yellow Carnation - "You have disappointed me"
Lime Blossom - Fornication

Some of the codes seem a little diluted, yellow roses can mean: Friendship, jealousy, infidelity, or apology, a broken heart, intense emotion, dying love, extreme betrayal. It seems that it would be all to easy to send a mixed message.
There is a comprehensive list found here and another in chart form here.

The Victorians were all about propriety, or seeming propriety, and greatly into symbolism. Floriography plays into that need intensely. Sending secret messages under the watchful eyes of chaperones, parents and society would have been just the thrill that the Victorians craved.
The association with plants and Botany would also have helped bring it into the scope of the Victorians. Science was just emerging as an interest for the everyday Victorian and floriography would have been a simple and Romantic way to access that.
In 1829 Almira Phelps, a very early female botanist, wrote "the study of Botany seems peculiarly adapted to females; the objects of its investigation are beautiful and delicate; its pursuit leading to exercise in the open air is conducive to health and cheerfulness. Botany is not a sedentary study which can be acquired in the library; but the objects of the science are scattered over the surface of the earth, along the banks of the winding brooks, on the borders of precipices, the sides of mountains, and the depths of the forest."
Women were able to find more freedom in the arena of science so long as it was deemed suitable to their womanly selves. The mingling of sentiment and etiquette with the womanly symbolism of flowers would have been much more acceptable than delving into any sort of hard and tangible science.

Previous images clockwise from top left:
-Uncredited, woman in wonderfully absurd floral dress found via Floriography Jewelry, The Victorians and their florals have inspired many fussy unattractive things but I find this jewelry strangely appealing.
-Frontispiece from Flora's Interpreter and Fortuna Flora, by Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, 1850.
-To beauty, friendship and love (rose, ivy and myrtle), hand-colored engraving from Anna Christian Burke’s The Illustrated Language of Flowers, 1856.
-Cover from the Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway, 1884. View the complete book here.

For further reading on the subject of Floriography and Victorian women and Botany have a look here and here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Black Mold

I came across this photo a few years ago while searching for information on removing mold from ones home. A reality when you live in a damp climate.

The tiny capillaries in my lungs clench when I look at this photograph, and yet there is something terrifyingly beautiful here. Not only does it look like a scene from a horror movie- the dark powers roiling in.
But the pattern is very lovely. If it were not made of toxic spores it would be quite lovely. Or is it just me?

So I felt an instant connection when I cam across this dress from Geneveive Savard

The black mold cocktail dress.

Savard's designs are beautiful, her patterns are very interesting, especially her bags.
She also writes a blog called Myrtle and Pearls.


While writing the previous post about Suzanne Lee and BioCouture I couldn't stop thinking that her clothes reminded me of something.
In her TED talk she mentions that they look a little like human skin.....

Oh wait, that's what it was.


This pair is in the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft and are made of latex.
In medieval Iceland this macabre object was used as part of a ritual to get rich. An agreement would be made with a friend before his death. The death had to be natural and the body would have to be dug up and the skin removed from the lower half. The Necropants would have to be worn at all times next to the skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum with this runic stave:
Apparently the scrotum would always be magically filled with money. For more information on the Necropants or other Viking histories have a look at this site.
Or watch this video. Necropants appear at 2:33.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sweet Tea

These images are from the BioCouture website, and are the work of Suzanne Lee who is growing textiles from a bacterial culture. Obviously a work in process, as her TED talk explains, but visually stunning and an idea with amazing potential.

TED talks are such an amazing source of wonder and inspiration. If you have some free time at all, they are an amazing way to learn something remarkable.

The BioCouture blog is also an an amazing read. All sorts of other projects in the field of science. I look forward to reading the posts in greater depth.

Kombucha, I'm glad that it isn't just the fad drink of the moment. Quite delicious and very popular but assuredly an acquired taste.
But I work at a health food store, so my perspective is probably skewed.
Also, knowing what I do about Kombucha, I'm curious about how the garments would smell.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


FALLEN GARDENS TRAILER 2011 from Mike McKinlay on Vimeo.

This is the latest nature video from Mike McKinlay. Mike has a hand in a lot of different pies, as his website will attest. He has a knack for creating documentaries that appeal to very different audiences. Previous nature documentaries have focused on crows, herons and apparently a very early project centered around a ground squirrel colony. He has also done a series of shorts for the Pacific Coast Wildlife Fund.
Fallen Gardens has such a tongue in cheek sinister quality which is so successful because it is about deer. One of natures most gentle creatures, certainly no threat. Not personally at least.

In Second Nature, his treatise on gardening, Michael Pollan describes the difference between the damage done in his garden by a woodchuck and doe "[The woodchucks] devour a crop systematically, whereas a doe--nervous, and possessing perhaps a more developed sense of shame--will nibble a plant here, snip a shoot there, and then, startled by a falling leaf or something equally perilous to a two-hundred-pound mammal, dash off before her meal is done." Although perhaps the residents of this specific neighborhood would disagree.

And deer really do seem to be symbols of serenity and gentleness. Perhaps it is and subconscious association with Bambi.

Both photos of 'Bambi' courtesy of Hope Images

Or perhaps not.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The last few weeks have been pretty busy, hence the lack of posts.
But I have a few stored up in my brain and bookmarks for future posting.

Ural Owl

Recently came across the site Zooborns and it brought up a lot of my conflicted feelings about animals in captivity. I am still conflicted about zoos. I can admit that some are obviously better than others. Some zoos offer captive breeding programs where certain species will be returned to its natural habitat. And educating the public, especially children leads to individuals that are interested in animals and their welfare. And in captivity it is possible to study animals more closely and then use this information to aid wild populations. And in the case of many species, the populations in zoos are far better protected than those in the wild.
Amur Leopard

But there is still something conflicting about the whole idea. No matter how well a zoo enclosure has been designed to mimic a certain environment it will never be accurate. And regular prepared meals and exposure to human handlers means that many of these creatures could never be returned to the wild and never survive on their own. And their captivity somehow robs them of their animalness.
Silver Fox

That being said, I'm not made of stone. Wobbly-kneed, fluffy, watery-eyed baby animals of tiny size and ridiculous proportions are incredibly cute. And cuteness is a great way to draw people in and (hopefully) educate them.

As a child I would have loved this website-if there had been websites-instead I had these. I still have them, and the pages are well worn. I read them often, half memorized them and alienated myself as a child by knowing too many things about the capybara. I suppose not much has changed, if this blog is to attest.Capybara

For the credit of Zooborns, they focus on all the zoo animals, not just the obvious tiger and panda cubs. and I have discovered that I have a strange affection for baby birds.Silvery-cheeked hornbill

King Vulture

Palm Cockatoo

Hopefully this website is a successful tool for providing education and information about lesser known species.

Coati Mundi

Sifaka Lemur

Piping Plover


Francois Langur

West African Crowned Crane


Desert Bighorn Sheep

Red Ruffed Lemur

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Out of Step

I haven't posted in so long because I have been determined to finish the last post from The Moon by Whale Light. Which has been taking awhile. And it is on its way. Just very slowly.

But I had to post this as I just couldn't resist!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Moon by Whale Light: Penguins

White Lanterns
The final chapter of The Moon by Whale Light, Diane Ackerman acquaints the reader with penguins. She begins her journey in San Diego, at the Penguin Encounter, or a quarantined area near there, where King penguin chicks of various ages are being reared. As a volunteer, she is able to get very close and interact with them. They have adopted the humans as their parents and as one passes by, the chicks vie for attention and food. Penguins have no land predators, and therefore no fear of humans. This makes them easy to study, weigh and measure, and apparently the king penguin chicks are the easiest of all.

In the wild the penguins would be in rookeries of about a hundred thousand, and parents and chicks would recognize one another only by their whistle. In the wild the penguin chicks would spend all their time perched on the feet of one of their parents. The ground is too cold for them to stand for long, and the chicks huddle against a warm brood patch on the parents belly, or when they are older, huddle together. This means that the captive penguins spend all their time wanting to be fed of cuddled.

Penguins are easy to anthropomorphize, as they walk upright and live in communities. They have a comical waddle that Ackerman compares to a human toddler's.

All Penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, on the Antarctic continent, or Sub Antarctic islands. They also live along the coasts of South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. One species even lives near the Equator, on the Galapagos Islands.

Penguins have changed very little in 40 million years. They have had the same basic structure for a millennium. Flightless and a little clumsy on land, they spend much of their time in the water and show true proficiency when swimming. They are streamlined, agile and fast. Scientists are only able to study them during their short courtship and breeding seasons, but the majority of their time is spent in the water.

Ackerman also journeys to the South Pole in order to make her penguin experience complete. She takes a cruise ship with over one hundred tourists and a fair number of scientists and naturalists who are hitching a ride. They travel to various islands and observe the rookeries of several different species of penguins: Magellanic, Gentoo, Chinstrap, King and Macaroni penguins. They also see a juvenile Emperor penguin but they breed too far south for the tour to see them. They are also lucky enough to see different bird species such as albatross, skua, various petrels and terns and several species of seal including the leopard seal, the greatest predator of the penguins.

Such diversity of life for a continent that is often characterized as lifeless. The largest year round species in the Antarctic is the wingless fly, measuring in at half an inch. Yet there is a great abundance of life in the summer. Fertile waters are caused by the constant sun, creating blooms of plantlife. These in turn feed krill miniscule shrimplike invertebrates) which are eaten by fish, squid and penguins themselves. Penguins catch each krill individually, needing to catch one every six seconds to get enough food. In turn this system supports other birds, seals and whales.

Ackerman describes the otherworldly beauty of Antarctica and its subtle palette. She also delves into the politics that are both protecting the continent and threatening its natural resources. At the close of one expressive passage she describes the scene from the ship.
Apricot light spills over the distant snow-tipped mountains. Chunky
wedges of peppermint-blue ice drifted past us. Behind us, the Zodiak
left a frothy white petticoat. And farther beyond, shapes arched out
of the water-penguins feeding, oblivious to what we call beauty.

Photo by John Bentham

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Moon by Whale Light: Whales

Photo: Flip Nicklin, National Geographic.

The following video has very interesting audio, but no visuals. I suggest listening while reading this posting.

For the third chapter of Moon by Whale Light, Diane Ackerman spends her time with whales. To meet with Roger Payne she goes first to Hawaii to listen to Humpback whales singing and then to Patagonia to study Right Whales. It was Payne who discovered Whalesong in 1967 and he has been working on theories for its purpose ever since. But little is known and whales are very difficult to study. Various theories include singing for territorial designation or for attracting a mate. It is supposed that only male Whales sing, but it is not even known how they sing. the songs are monotonous over a period of time, but change from year to year with different sounds being exchanged for one another.

Humpback Whales are a migratory species, spending the summers in cold, nutrient rich waters and migrating to warmer waters to give birth. Because of the vastness of the oceans it is very difficult for scientists to track the movement of these and other whales. After giving birth the female will not be able to feed in the tropical waters, she must wait until her calf is mature enough to travel to feeding grounds in colder climes. The calf grows very quickly, nourished by her rich milk.

For a gallery of other photos and sounds Whale Trust is an excellent resource. They also publish some beautiful books.

Ackerman meets with Roger Payne again in Patagonia, a stopping point for the endangered Right Whale on its migration to feed in the waters off Antarctica. They stop along the coast to engage in courtship and raise their young. Ackerman joins Payne and other researchers at the rustic station that he has set up there overlooking two bays that are frequented by whales.

The Right Whale is a Baleen Whale or Mysticeti, like the Humpback. They have no teeth but hundreds of closely packed, springy baleen plates that they use to filter out small prey such as krill, plankton and small schooling fish. They also have two blow holes in the top of their heads. Toothed whales (Odonoceti) such as orcas, sperm whales and dolphins only have one and echolocate to find larger prey.
Southern Right Whale photographed by Brian Skerry.

Right Whales earned their name in a rather macabre way. They float when dead and where referred to as the 'right whale to kill' by early whalers. It is the rarest whale species, hunted almost to extinction. It is however a surface whale making it easier to study and observe. The mating of Right Whales is far more aggressive than other documented whale species. Little is known about the mating of other whales because it has not been seen. Right whale "courtship" takes place on the surface and is a riotous affair with several males to one female. The females breed every three to five years and the calves are weaned after 8 months to a year. Adolescent whales have been seen following mothers and calves and it is theorized that they may be from the previous breeding season.

Ackerman swims with a mother and calf and observes how gentle and calm they are in her presence. The young one swims very close to her but she does not touch it as it can be very dangerous to startle a whale. The calf weighs a metric ton and may not know its own strength. Casualties from Right whales have occurred when boats have been crushed accidentally by tails or fins. The following photograph by Brian Skerry for National Geographic illustrate how close one can get to these giants when careful.

For some other inspiring whale stories here are audio podcasts from Radiolab and Stuff You Missed in History.
The introduction to Radiolabs Animal Minds is a story about a rescued whale off the coast of San Francisco.

The post from Missed in History is the story of a Sperm Whale turning the tables on a whaling ship. And is available through Real-Life Moby Dick.