Art of Science: A high-Tech Ode to Vanishing Species

Kirsi Kaulanen, Luola, Stainless Steel and Light, 2011

Absence and loss can be tricky concepts to convey in visual art, but sculptor Kirsi Kaulanen has found a way. In her 2011 sculpture Luola (Cave), Kaulanen uses industrial materials and modern technology to affectingly express the disappearance of the natural world. To highlight the loss of plant species in her native Finland, Kaulanen built a three-sided structure of stainless steel and used lasers to cut the shapes of plants in danger of extinction. She uses lights to throw the silhouettes of the plants onto the surrounding walls, creating an effect of shadows, or shades, like the ghosts of dead flowers. Visitors can enter the cave, combining their shadows with those of the plants, as a reminder that one day, we too will be gone.

You can see more of Kaulanen’s work at the Korundi cultural center in Rovaniemi, Finland, or at her website.

Art of Science: Time and Ice Melt Away at COP21


If you‘re hosting a big gathering, you can always count on Olafur Eliasson to bring the ice. Two years after he brought chunks of an Icelandic glacier to MoMA PS1 in New York, Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson has trucked 80 tons of Greenland glacier to Paris, where the UN Climate Summit (COP21) is being held.

The installation, now melting slowly in front of the Panthéon , is called Ice Watch. The twelve boulders of ice are arranged like a watch, or clock face, to indicate the passing of time. Visitors can see the ice dwindle over the course of the summit, observing for themselves the disappearance of ice which has endured for centuries. You can see photos and video of the gradual melt on Studio Olafur Eliasson’s Instagram account. (So far they seem to be holding up pretty well.)

Eliasson, who created the work in collaboration with geologist Minik Rosing, specifically chose calved chunks of icebergs made of compressed snow for the installation, to highlight the importance of ice in preserving history.  As Rosing explained to the New Yorker, “Inside the iceberg, you see snow layers in sequence as you go back in time. Because it is compressed, the air between the snowflakes that fell thousands of years ago is trapped in tiny bubbles.”

Besides watching the melting, visitors to Ice Watch can hear the ice cracking as it releases air that is thousands of years old. Says Eliasson, “It is a little pop that has travelled fifteen thousand years to meet you in Paris, and tell the story of climate change.”



Art of Science: Glass with a Dangerous Glow

Dounreay Power Station, Kate Williams and John Lloyd, Uranium Glass, 2006

Kate Williams, a London-based sculptor, describes her medium as “glass and light”. She explores the scientific, cultural and artistic elements of both in her Glass Nuclear Power Station Project, a series of sculptures of nuclear power stations made from cast uranium glass in collaboration with John Lloyd.

Williams created small cast-glass replicas of four nuclear power plants. Three are real plants in Europe (Sizewell, Dounreay and Doel) while the fourth is Springfield, the fictional workplace of Homer Simpson.  Says Williams, “We wanted to celebrate these post war monuments to cheap unlimited power. They act as eulogies to collective human desire and its consequent disenchantment. In their de-commissioning they are being eradicated from the landscape but their legacy lives on in our imaginations and memories” and of course also in the form of nuclear waste.

The sculptures are cast in uranium glass, which is pretty much what it sounds like – a type of glass to which uranium has been added for color and fluorescence. Williams describes the glowing yellow-green of the sculptures when lit as “both unsettling and attractive, which somehow represents our complicated relationship with radiation.”

The Glass Nuclear Power Station Project is on view at Compton-Verney in Warwickshire, England through December 13 as part of the exhibition Periodic Tales. You can read more about Kate Williams at her website.

The Spiral of Life

"How to Build a Human" by Eleanor Lutz (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
“How to Build a Human” by Eleanor Lutz (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Greetings from the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station

The Main Building of the Kilpisjarvi Biological Station
The Main Building of the Kilpisjarvi Biological Station

Regular readers of the Finch & Pea are aware that for the past few weeks, I’ve been doing an art residency at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, way above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. It’s quite an unusual place. Let me show you around.

The station, which belongs to the University of Helsinki, was founded in 1964 to promote biological and geographical research in the north. Conditions were quite primitive at first, with researchers renting rooms from some of the very few year-round inhabitants of the area. (There are still only about 100 full-time residents of Kilpisjarvi)  Twenty years later, the current building was built, and additional facilities have been added over the years.

No shoes!
No shoes!

The Station sits between Saana Fell and Kilpisjarvi Lake. An extremely clean, modern facility, it still has a few quirks. For starters, the station has a strict “no shoes” policy. You leave your boots at the entrance hall and pad around in your socks. If your city boots are not equal to the winter snow and ice or the spring and summer mud, there are dozens of pairs available to borrow, along with backpacks, bikes and cross-country skis. Alas, during my visit there was too much snow for bikes, but too little for skis. There are not one but two saunas. Hey, this is Finland.

The Library
The Library

The very nice little library is well-stocked with books and journals, mostly about science and nature, in Finnish, English and a few other languages. The nicely-equipped labs are filled with all the usual equipment and supplies, and lined with posters showing the projects that teams have undertaken here. They run the gamut of Arctic themes, from lake sediments and the size of fishes to birch tree growth patterns, bird populations and, of course, lots of work on lemmings. The station’s logo is this wonderful image of two lemmings in either a fight for dominance or a passionate embrace.

What are those lemmings doing?
What are those lemmings doing?

Although the station has hosted dozens of artists through the Ars Bioarctica residency program, there’s really no place to make art. I did some painting either in the lab or, on the weekends, in the residents’ kitchen. Most days, I would go for walks, take photos and pick up a few interesting samples of lichens or plants in the morning. Then, after lunch, I would go to the lab and look at my finds under the microscope. The first week, I drew pictures in pencil like a 19th century naturalist. After that, they set me up with a microscope and software so I could save images to use in my work after I get home.

Some finds from my walks
Some finds from my walks

At the end of my second week here, another short-term resident of the station made a stunning discovery: an entire room full of mounted rodent skins, including mice, rats, voles, moles, weasels, hedgehogs, squirrels and even bats. In addition, there were drawers and cases full of skins and bones, all carefully catalogued and dating back as far as the 1960s. Apparently this “Mouse Museum”, as it is known, was the work of a longtime lab assistant at the station.

The “Mouse Museum”

Altogether, it’s been a privilege to visit this utterly unique place. Kilpisjärvi is the quietest and most remote place I’ve ever been in my life, and it allowed me to observe in depth the sub-Arctic landscape as it moved from fall to winter. I look forward to reflecting more on this experience and incorporating it into my artwork in the months and years to come.

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