Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to EyeContact. You are invited to respond to reviews and contribute to discussion by registering to participate.

JH

Glorious Diatoms

AA
View Discussion
Cover image: Wayne Barrar, Strew, including Arachnoidiscus (Ehr.) and girdle band from Oregon Coast. From a slide by E. H. Griffith, c.1875. (Photographed 2014, detail) Wayne Barrar, Arranged diatoms. Exhibition mount by J. D. Möller, c.1880. (Photographed 2014.) All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6 Wayne Barrar, ‘Group of diatomaceae, various.’ Circular arranged slide of 278 diatoms from Oamaru, by Watson and Sons, c.1890. (Photographed 2014.) All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6 Wayne Barrar, ‘Porifera, (type) 5 forms, from Oamaru.’ From a slide by Klaus D. Kemp, 2013. (Photographed 2013.) All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6 Wayne Barrar, Holothuria from Cormacks, Oamaru. From a slide by Klaus D. Kemp, 2013. (Photographed 2013.) All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6 Wayne Barrar, Mount edge/wave form, from Pilling, Lancashire. From a GBI Labs mount, c.1968. (Photographed 2013.) All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6 Wayne Barrar, Sponge spicule at mount edge, from Oamaru. From a strew mount by Klaus D. Kemp (Rheinberg illumination), 2013. (Photographed 2013.)  All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6 Wayne Barrar, ‘Triceratium, from Oamaru.’ Arranged slide by Samuel Meakin, March 1950. (Photographed 2014.) All works are colour pigment photographs on baryta paper Edition number for each print is #3 of 6

What is particularly fascinating about this international craze for slide acquisition was the importance of Oamaru with its rare access to diatomite, a type of geological deposit 35 million years old packed with a vast variety of microscopic silica skeletons from various undersea organisms.

Whiti o Rehua, School of Art, Massey University, Wellington, 2016

 

Wayne Barrar: The Glass Archive
Photographs by Wayne Barrar

 

Essays by Kelley Wilder and Wayne Barrar,
Book design by Anna Brown
Softcover, colour illustrations, 49 pp.

 

Publication accompanying the exhibition From an Ancient Sea: Oamaru and the Glass Archive held at the Forrester Gallery, Oamaru (9 July - 4 September 2016).

Diatoms are a variety of algae that although unicellular, form colonies that often join up to form ribbons, fans or stars. Microscopic plankton that dwell in water they are transparent, having delicate, symmetrical, patterned and perforated exoskeletons made of silica. When fresh (not stored in formalin), and placed on slides, backlit and photographed, they take on a beautiful jewellike quality. Formally arranged and digitally documented they make stunning crystalline compositions.

These ubiquitous but engrossing plant forms, preserved in slides - as when photographed by Wayne Barrar - collectively make a visually thrilling little book. Not only are its highly intricate images astonishing but it is highly informative with erudite essays that elaborate on the context of the various slide archives of recent or fossilised source material from around the world that Barrar has utilised.

Two contributing texts from Kelley Wilder and the artist discuss the Victorian mania for diatom slide collecting (a network for buying and selling) that was concurrent with the nineteenth century interest in optics and the development of instruments like the microscope, stereoscope and camera. What is particularly fascinating about this international craze for slide acquisition was the importance of Oamaru with its rare access to diatomite, a type of geological deposit 35 million years old packed with a vast variety of microscopic silica skeletons from these various undersea organisms.

Other sources of diatoms and microscopic sponges included guano stripped from tropical islands for fertiliser and residue extracted from underground railway tunnelling or the digging of artesian wells, but the Oamaru deposits (found only on some small inland farms) were regarded as exceptional because of their diversity of species, many of which are now extinct.

With this collegial collecting community, information was circulated surprisingly quickly, and science fairs like The Great Exhibition (London, 1851) aided the process, as did emerging publications like Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Oxford Dictionary.

As sort after commodities some diatom slides attracted huge prices, the discovery and accumulation of specimens being linked to the global expansion of colonialism, the burgeoning accumulation of scientific knowledge and opening up of trade routes. Photography historian Kelley Wilder points out that as the nineteenth century gave way to that of the twentieth, so did the principles structuring the organisation of specimen groups on these slides change. They moved from random scatterings of specimens (‘strews’) to kaleidoscopic arrays that were dense in the centre and thinner in the edges, and then towards parallel rows of specimens that reflected evolving taxonomies with hierarchies.

Designed by Anna Brown this stunning little publication features blue type and Kleinian blue endpapers. With the hovering forms in Barrar’s images looking like gems or types of snowflake the book is surprisingly sumptuous. A wonderful read, it is a fascinating addition to his other achievements like An Expanding Subterra.

John Hurrell

Print | Facebook | Twitter | Email

 

Recent Posts by John Hurrell

JH
Nick Austin's Paleo Apartments exhibition as installed at Hopkinson Mossman.

Nick Austin and Diets

HOPKINSON MOSSMAN

Auckland

 

Nick Austin
Paleo Apartments

 

10 March - 8 April 2017

JH

Paul Cullen (1949-2017)

Paul Cullen, 1949 - 2017
JH
The English Channel, a sculpture of Captain Cook, inside The Lighthouse by Michael Parekowhai on Queens Wharf.

Two Works in One

Queens Wharf, Auckland City Waterfront

Auckland

Michael Parekowhai
The Lighthouse

JH
Karyn Taylor, Objective Hypothesis, 2017, cedar, gouache, plywood, animated light, 1500 mm 17000 mm x 700 mm

Taylor’s Leaning Quadrilaterals

SANDERSON CONTEMPORARY ART

Auckland

 

Kāryn Taylor
Time. Space. Existence.

 

14 February - 5 March 2017