The Library of Obscure Wonders

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Tag: wonders

Moon Poo, Wolf Milk, Tree Hair And other types of Slime

slime moulds

An illustration of slime moulds

“There is only one rule to life” said my biology teacher on one of his more whimsical days “for every rule you find you can always find something that breaks it”.

Ignoring the obvious contradiction he preceded to educate us in a creature that was not animal or plant, not multi-cellular or single cellular, but very possibly alien.

In 1973 in Dallas, Texas, firefighters were called out because a strange yellow blob was attacking a telephone pole. The firefighters tried to subdue it with hoses, but the creature grew bigger and climbed up the pole. Locals feared an alien invasion. Yellow blobs had recently been appearing on their lawns and now this giant blob was seemingly eating the telephone pole. Luckily, a local university scientist identified the oozing slime as F. septica. a harmless slime mould.

It is unusual for slime moulds to be this large, they are usually tiny, very slimy and not a mould. Having been banished from the fungi class in recent history for having very little relation to a fungi, they now have their very own kingdom, yet still perplex scientists as to where exactly they fit in. They come in many different colours – yellow, pink, white, green, brown, black – and have many different common names such as Tree Hair, Bubble Gum, Chocolate tubes, Wolf Milk , Dog Vomit and Caca de Luna (Moon Poo) which I’m informed is delicious when fried.

There are two main types of Slime Mold, the Plasmordial – basically one great big cell with many nuclei – and the Cellular – these spend most of their life as single celled amoeba but when food gets short a chemical signal is released and they come together to form “slugs”, with head part, body and tale, that go wondering off to find somewhere better.

At some point they then turn into fruiting bodies, with some of them being sacrificed in order to do this. Their life cycle intrigues scientists for the questions it raises about altruism.

A fairly recent Slime Mould discovery is that although they don’t have a brain, or anything even approaching, they do use a type of external memory. Hansel and Gretal style. Build a small maze in a petri dish, on one side of the maze put your Slime Mould, on the other put a delicious food supply. The Slime mould will work its way round the maze leaving behind a slime trail so it knows where it has been before and doesn’t return there.

Life Cycle of Slime Mold

Life-cycle of a Slime Mould

Whats more these things are all around, everyday, lurking in the corners of your life, in the garden, in the town, maybe in your house. So with their ability to exist as both single and multi-celluar organisms, their altruism,  being able to find their way through mazes, and most of all their ability to still completely baffle humans, slime moulds are fantastic!  (And are the future)

The Devil’s Toenail

Fossil Oyster

Gryphaea – Devil’s Toenail – Oil on Canvas. If you happen to know someone who might like a pretty picture of a shell on the bedroom/lounge wall you can buy it here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/115644293/painting-of-a-shell-fossil-devils-toe, probably best not mention the devil’s toes though.

This is the fossilised shell of a now extinct oyster from the Jurassic period. Found on the coastlines of Britain, they are called Devil’s Toenails because they look like they might possibly be just that!

It used to be believed that taking crunched up Devil’s Toenail as medicine could relieve a bad back and help cure rheumatism.

My favourite example of the devil is given in The Karamazov Brothers by Dostoevsky. He appears to one of the brothers in a hallucination. He is a gracious, dignified gentleman, educated but fallen on hard times, his clothes are tatty and run down. He  says what he dreams of being is the fat 18 stone wife of a merchant  “and to believe everything she believes”. Then he wouldn’t have to worry, no responsibilities or guilt, just live in luxuary and believe oneself to be a good christian “my ideal is to walk into a church and light a candle in all sincerity”. I can see the devil having that point of view, and in his well made but hole ridden shoes he would have curled deformed toenails that look very much like this.

Bitten By A Monkey

Bitten By A Monkey, the 3 piece band,

Bitten By A Monkey

So the next taster from my selection of exhibits for the 7th Nov is Bitten By A Monkey. Now this group you really have to hear live, the recorded stuff is nothing compared to the real weird excitement of the live act. The last time I saw them they didn’t have a keyboard which was a real shame, although coped with handsomely. I missed the keyboard so when I found Downstairs at The Vortex has two pianos (one very out of tune!) I just had to ask Bitten By A Monkey to play.

Steve Myers and brothers Roland & Dylan Bates have been playing, composing, and philosophising together regularly for sometime, all exceedingly talented muscicians they describe themselves as alternative/experimental/folk. One of my favourite pieces of theirs is The Quest for Authorization, each time I’ve heard it performed its been completely different and each time its been disturbing and pleasurable in equal measure, genius. Something other is the best way I can describe it.

Dylan Bates: violin, saw, mediaeval fiddle, overtone flute, xaphoon.

Steve Myers: recorders.

Roland Bates: piano.

By all means listen to the myspace link, but remember the live act is something else, something wondrous, something magic!

http://www.myspace.com/bittenbyamonkey/music

A Curious Contraption

Flyer for a gig. A fish trapped in a time Machine.The Library is putting on an event!  Storytelling, music, poetry, film. Its called Mr Slaptail’s Curious Contraption (after a children’s book about a group of river animals that build a scientific contraption). The Librarian will be there collecting ghost stories, the Rude Mechanicals will be conjuring up monsters, Bitten by a Monkey will be chanting disturbing monk-like improvisations, Bird Radio shall be the modern day one man band he is, and Miss Roberts shall be loving and abusing musicians and audience alike. It will be held on 7th Nov at the Vortex Downstairs, Gillet SquareLondon.

Thought I’d show a taster of some of the exhibits on here. First the beautiful films of Chiara Ambrosio.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlElDZJ23nY&feature=plcp

Cupboard Exploration: The Last Days of Half an Onion

So 2005 I finished the painting commission, discovered nematode worms, and realised that the everyday world really was full of weird and amazing things. One day, on a clean out of my kitchen cupboard (disgustingly dirty) I discovered half an onion that had started sprouting a shoot. It was beautiful so I kept it and wrote this short diary about it:

28th March 2005

Half an onion was discovered at the very back of the kitchen cupboard amongst a quantity of crumbs of indeterminate origin and a dried up carrot. It’s outer skin has started to rot, but from its centre emerges a large white horn, bareing a striking resembalance to what may be described as a minature Rhino’s horn, only far whiter. I took it out of the cupboard and placed it on the window sill.

 14th April 2005

The horn has grown so quickly it is four times larger now than it was when I found it (in fact it grew from 3.3cm to 14.1cm approx), and it’s tip has turned green. I did think that I should sit down in front of it and watch it for a whole day, but grew bored with that and gave up. Instead I looked up some health facts about onions on the internet (I’m feeling rather cold ridden today).

 Health facts about onions that I was oblivious to before my onion discovery:

 ‘They appear to be at least somewhat effective against colds, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases and contain antiinflammatory, anticholesterol, and anticancer components.

 In many parts of the underdeveloped world, onions are used to heal blisters and boils. In the United States, products that contain onion extract (such as “Mederma”) are used in the treatment of topical scars.’ Wikipedia

 18th April 2005

It has now started growing another horn like shoot, plus the first horn has developed two offshoots. I’ve given it a bit of water, though not being watered at all didn’t seem to bother it. I guess it gets nourishment from what remains of the onion. I decided to paint a picture of it. 

Watercolour and pen sketch of the onion sitting on the kitchen window sill. 

21st April 2005

Although the abandoned state seen above is clearly aesthetically pleasing (the curved onion base tilting slightly forwards to balance the horn, giving a sense of strain and desperation that can only be felt by the liberated onlooker) I’ve decided to plant the onion in a small brown ceramic bowl with a little mud. I felt that in order to fully explore the onion growing process I needed to encourage growth and that the best way to do this might be to plant it.

 

29th April 2005

The onion has continued to grow, I give it a single drop of water every day. I have decided to explore the biological constituency of the onion further. I dig part of it up and peel off a tiny bit of inner skin. From this I peel off a transparent film which I put on a slide and dye with a drop of iodine, I then put the slide under the microscope.

 

 

This activity is one of the first uses of an optical microscope that most students encounter in a biology lab. Onions are used because they have large cells that are easily visible under a microscope and the preparation of a thin section is very straight forward..An onion is made of many concentric layers. Each layer is separated by a thin skin or membrane.

30 May 2005

The half an onion grew rapidly for a bit but now appears to be dying. I did it up out of its ceramic bowl and place it on the window sill. It has a different type of beauty now, full of rich purples, deep reds, and the withering of its stems has a dramatic appeal.

Dying Onion half, 12ft by 8ft Oil painting on Canvas
Evidence, 12ft by 8ft Oil painting on Canvas. This very large painting was done from a sketch of the dying onion. I won Challenge the Nail art prize that year and had my first solo London show. I painted this picture for that. Why so large I don’t know, perhaps I was paying my respects to the onion somehow, or appeasing the god of onions.

Building Bookshelves out of Library Books

Book Sculpture

Book Sculpture by The Library of Obscure Wonders.
Photo by Charlie Murphy

Every now and then the library takes on a 3-dimensional form and goes on tour. We are currently planning a short tour  next year so I’m making some new light-weight bookshelves for travelling and I’m making them out of  old library books.

It’s not that I enjoy destroying library books, quite the opposite, but I do enjoy making new books (and shelves) out of books nobody wants anymore. Old,  water damaged, scrawled in books, out of date encyclopaedias, tatty Jeffrey Archers or Mills and Boon novels, books which really have reached the end of their life span. The Library of Obscure Wonders recycles them.

This all started the  year before last when the Library of Obscure Wonders was asked to create a public sculpture for Pollard Hill Library in South London. This was to herald the opening of a new library building to replace an old one. When they closed the old building they went through all their books and decided to throw out all the damaged, out of date ones. But what were they to do with them? Well thats where we came in. They said “take your pick of the old books and build us a sculpture out of them”. So that, along with children’s workshops and a public talk, was what we did. (For more information and pictures of this project visit obscurewonders.co.uk/pollard.html)

Some of the books we kept almost as they were, but others we broke down and turned into paper pulp, then from this pulp we made new paper and paper-mache. I recommend John Plowman’s Papermaking techniques book if you are interested in paper making yourself.

During this process we researched a lot about paper and found that you can make almost anything out of the stuff! (well thats a bit of an exaggeration) People have made sailable boats, houses, armour, tables, clothes, all sorts. So we thought in future, instead of buying new shelves for our books and art displays, we might as well try to build everything out of recycled paper and card. So that is what we’re doing. I particularly like working with recycled materials because the material has a recognisable history, character even, that can be allowed to influence the new work.

In the studio as I attempt to build shelves and display cabinets.

Hand made paper from old library books and Blue Eyed Mary Flowers.

Hand made paper from an old Mills and Boon book, with ‘Blue Eyed Mary’ flowers from my garden.

Nematode Worms

Ink drawing of a nematode worm on paper, by JV Roberts

Pen drawing of a nematode worm by JV Roberts.

One in every 8 creatures is a nematode worm.

Several years ago I undertook a painting commission for a Scientist at Cancer Research UK. I remember he took me on a tour of his laboratory and on casually looking down a microscope I discovered these, nematode worms. They looked incredible! I could see their insides and watch their digestive systems in action.

Although the Scientist’s information on his research into human blood cells was both fascinating and baffling, it is the visual memory of the beautiful nematode worms that sticks with me the most, and the knowledge that they’re everywhere and I never even knew they existed.

A handful of soil will contain thousands of microscopic worms. Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. In size they can range from 0.3mm to over 8 metres (found in the guts of whales).Both parasitic and free living types exist and they live in almost every environment, from fresh water to oceans, mud, desert, the bottom of gold mines, it is rumoured that there is even a type of nematode that have developed to live in beer matts.

“In short, if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites.”

Nathan Cobb, Author of  Nematodes and there Relationships 1914

The Cyclops

Cyclops

Example of a Cyclops

A cyclops is a primordial giant with a single eye in the centre of his forehead. They are strong, stubborn and emotional. They are also very good blacksmiths and the noises proceeding from the heart of volcanoes can be attributed to their operations. Cyclopes are present in Greek and Roman mythology . On escaping Troy after the Trojan War, Aeneas landed on the Island of the cyclops.

Other creatures similar to the Cyclops include:

The  Arimaspoi, a legendary people who lived in the foothills of the mountains north of the Black Sea. They liked trying to steal gold from griffins so were constantly at war with them.

The Hitotsume-kozo of Japanese folklore are the size of ten-year old children, resemble Buddhist monks and have a “single, giant eye peering from the center of the face, along with a long tongue”

And apparently Odin, king of the Norse Gods, gave up one eye to gain wisdom and power.Cyclops ID Kit - mask, filing cabinet, drawings, bones, an eye.