011217: Thin Ice

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Before I get to the ice let me remind you of the opening of “Fresh,” an interesting show that I will be a part of. It opens this Saturday (the 14th) at the GCCA Gallery on Main Street in Catskill (5-7pm).Today’s opening image is one of four prints, all part of my “Galileo” series, that will be displayed in the show. All the work shown by all the artists involved has been created since October, thus the name “Fresh.” Please join us if you are in the area. The show will run through February 25.

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And now Thin Ice

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Last week, on one of the colder days of the year so far, I accompanied my friend, the enormously talented photographer Moshe Katvan on a hunt for rocks – not just any rocks, mind you, but just the right ones necessary for an upcoming shoot of his.

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So I took him to a few of my favorite spots to find some variety, one of which is a small dry creek bed that has interesting rocks and some extraordinary fossils.

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This particular day it also had pockets of ice where water pooled following the last rain.

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In many cases, the ice was paper thin…

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…with great details…

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…and some wonderful shapes.

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Just another example of the wonders of nature…

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…and the beauty of it all!

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I decided to round out this post with four images from last year’s work I did at La Specola, the Natural History Museum of Florence. I was thinking of delicacy, following the “ice” images, and was drawn to these particular images taken in the Entomology, Enichoderms, and Ornithology Sections.

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These proved to be fun to work on and they allowed for experimenting with some new techniques. What a joy it was to have been given such an opportunity.

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For those interested, from top to bottom – moth, heliaster, bird eggs, butterflies.

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Come say hello on Saturday at GCCA Gallery.

Thanks for the visit.

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0421: Anecdotes and Anthropomorphism

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Today’s title comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine. Entitled “How Animals Think,” the article refers to the work of primatologist Frans de Waal who makes “… a passionate and convincing case for the sophistication of nonhuman minds.” Like many of you, I grew up being taught that the non-human version of thinking was “instinct” and nothing more. And, despite the various anecdotes of animal behavior suggesting otherwise, and despite being told that it was our need sometimes to imagine human traits in animals, there was no truth to any of it.

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Rather, thanks to advances in technology and scientific research, we are beginning to see that “As de Waal recognizes, a better way to think about other creatures would be to ask ourselves how different species have developed different kinds of minds to solve different adaptive problems.”

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In fact, in many cases those particular kinds of minds can be quite astounding. Last Sunday’s NY Times ran an article entitled “A Conversation With Whales,” in which the following statement is made:

Sperm whales’ brains are the largest ever known, around six times the size of humans’. They have an oversize neocortex and a profusion of highly developed neurons called spindle cells that, in humans, govern things like emotional suffering, compassion and speech.

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Times have changed. Most phones these days have video capability, Youtube and Facebook now exist and abound with examples of animal behavior that previously had rarely been seen (those anecdotes that that had been so easily dismissed in the past).

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Whether it be a chimp hugging Jane Goodall goodbye or the mourning rituals of elephants, these and many other examples are helping us to evolve to a greater understanding of the world around us and, perhaps, our own place within it.

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So I had  a mix of emotions when I took these images recently in the back rooms of La Specola, the noted natural history museum in Florence, Italy. It was simultaneously compelling and repelling. While this taxidermy in the pursuit of science and research served its purpose in the past I assume that more enlightened minds now see that such practices are no longer appropriate.

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And, after having spent many Sunday afternoons visiting the Bronx Zoo as a kid, I can hardly approve of the caged displays of animals anymore.

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Despite this long history of misunderstanding, attitudes are changing. Animal sentience has been codified into law in New Zealand and France recently. In August of 2012 an international group of prominent scientists (including Dr. Stephen Hawking) signed “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” declaring animal sentience as real.

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It is certainly something worth considering.

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Let me make a switch now to perhaps the other end of the “consciousness” spectrum – lichen! Not a lot of brain activity around here.  But an interesting organism nonetheless.

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Thanks for the visit.

0320: Trilobites

img_5543_01_lr_10Two recent media items brought this post on. It’s seldom for one to ever hear the word “trilobite” – unless your work (or play) bumps up against some parallel lines of interest. I knew nothing about them until I began finding fossil parts of trilobites and photographing them. The lead image today is that of a trilobite pygidium (the hind of three parts) that Cindy found one summer while we were exploring near Ithaca.

MurphyArt3The New York Times ran a terrific story recently all about trilobites. Brief enough but a great introduction to a strange and fascinating world – this one over three hundred million years ago. The article, When Trilobites Ruled the World, is accompanied by a chart that shows some of the wide variations of this marine invertebrate species (some 20,000).

Devonian New York 3881In the second episode of Cosmos, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson takes time to explain the trilobite and its role in the evolution of life. He referred, in particular, to the eyes – trilobites were some of the earliest creatures to have developed eyes. It meant, among many other things, that they no longer needed to bump into their food to survive. Now they could see it! It may sound a bit silly to dwell on but that’s about as basic as it gets and pretty fascinating as well. The picture above shows one of the first trilobite eyes I ever found – cracked open a large piece of coarse sandstone and there it was. And I must admit it made my day.

img_5686_01_lr_10So, with trilobites on my mind, I picked through my libraries and came up with a variety of my trilobite images. The ones I found are all the above images – rough and fresh out of the ground. These remaining images are from several collections.

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From the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

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From The Paleontological Research Institution

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From The Paris Museum of Comparative Anatomy

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Last, I wanted to remind my friends that my work remains hanging at the BAU Gallery in Beacon, NY for two more weeks. We had a fine opening and the gallery looks great.  IMG_2676_01_LR_10

In Gallery One we have a members group show Tasty. Seen along with my flamingo and my ice cream cone are sculpture by Tom Holmes (left), Erica Leigh Caginalp (center) and Herman Roggeman (right).

IMG_2662_01_LR_10Sculptor David Link and I are also in Gallery 2 this month. As the two new members we were allowed this introduction. The shows run through April 8.

And today is the first day of Spring!!!

The “Sistine Chapel” of Fossils

Yes, that’s how I described it on that Spring day in Florence when Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi threw open the door to her fossil collection. Well, not exactly her collection, but rather the invertebrate fossil collection that she oversees with her associate, Dr. Stefano Dominici, at the Florence Museum of Natural History. I referenced this trip in an earlier post (Italy and Fossils) when I spoke of my gratitude to these kind and wonderful people for permitting me to photograph objects from their collection.

Endless rows of old glass display cases with spindly, skinny wooden legs filled the rooms on the other side of the door. Each case was filled with small, opened boxes. Each box contained invertebrate fossils of varying sizes and shapes. And each box also contained an identification card with script beautifully hand written in pen and ink (whose own antiquity almost rivalled that of the fossils!). Like so much else in Florence, this assemblage, as well as the other sections of the Museum, is the result of centuries of collecting. Given that Leonardo da Vinci was known to study fossils (in the areas around Florence, in fact) and even the Roman historian, Livy, studied fossils from the Italian countryside, I could only wonder who might have once held these objects that I now had access to.

For those unfamiliar, as I was until more recently, most natural history museums seldom display more than a handful of invertebrate fossils. They generally don’t draw attention (and crowds) like dinosaurs do. That said, many incredible collections do exist in the back rooms. Indeed, that’s the case for museums of almost all types. (I’ve heard some great stories about the storage areas of the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Back to Florence – After a delightful visit and tour with Elisabetta and Stefano Cindy and I left to see Michelangelo’s “David” right down the street at the Accademia. It’s hard to describe a day in which viewing “David” was the second best event of that day!

Before leaving we arranged for me to come back the following day to photograph. Stefano asked if I had any specific needs. All I needed was a flat rock surface to place the fossils on and that it be close to a wall of windows that allowed indirect light in. The following image is the workspace I found the next day. The biggest ammonoids I’d ever seen – they became my background! I knew this was a very special event. And I knew that it would yield very special results.

With my exhibition finally under way at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca I have been able to return to work on the “Florence Fossil” images as I refer to them. And I am happy to say that they are as special and as beautiful as I had hoped. I think there may be an exhibition possible in Florence at some point. The test prints are looking very good. I hope to post the entire project very soon. In the meantime, here is a selection.

Oh, to be in Florence once again…!

As always, you can subscribe to this blog at my homepage  https://artandfossils.wordpress.com

Thank you for the visit. More images at www.artmurphy.com