Mapping the Marvellous

Itineraries of curious objects and collections.

100 Projects I Never Finished

Dora Garcia, 100 Impossible Artworks, 2001, detail.

How do some people manage to be so incredibly productive, prolific and creative? Can we please replace the list of publications in our CVs with lists of projects we never finished?

It reminds me of a work I saw two years ago around this time in a temporary exhibition on lists at the Louvre. My plan was, at the time, to write a review of the mille e tre exhibition and to get it published.

Did it ever happen? You have three guesses.

In lieu of my 100 Projects I Never Finished, here’s

100 Impossible Artworks
by Dora Garcia (extract; my translations from the French)

1 – live someone else’s life
2 – dream someone else’s dreams
3 – live forever
16 – re-live your childhood
26 – limit the number of questions and answers
28 – know the truth
34 – remember everything
45 – fill an abyss
48 – skip a day
49 – put the same text in all books
73 – be behind and in front of the door
78 – become transparent
99 – take a photograph of every instant of your life
100 – nothing

Vintage National Geographic

Megasoma beetle, 1959.

Icicles on Florida oranges, December 1977.

Starfish and sea anemones clustering in a tide pool, Olympic Peninsula, America, February 1974.

“Arab and Frenchman Have Much to Talk About. Dachshund and Shark Do Not.” 1952.

Owls nesting in cactus, 1959 (?).

Seahorse, Florida, 1959.

Minerals, 1954.

Via Voyages Extraordinaires. More at vintage national geographic scans.

Dark Matters

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game. And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.

-Michel de Montaigne, Of the inconsistency of our actions (1572-1574)

At first, I was a bit reluctant to spend the better part of the afternoon yesterday indoors at the Whitworth Art Gallery, since a six-day wet spell had finally given way to some much needed sunshine and warmth (we’re talking the kind of wet that comes from all sides, envelopes you, blurs the dividing line between sky and surrounding atmosphere, renders an umbrella useless and, with no end in sight, eventually dampens your spirits); but in the end I was glad we did get a chance to see the Dark Matters exhibition, followed by a chat and a cup of green tea at the gallery café with our friends S. and S.

The exhibition seemed a little all over the place at times – it consists of works by ten contemporary artists, complemented by a selection of prints, drawings and paintings from the gallery’s own collection, which are loosely connected by the themes of shadow, light and technology and the related ideas of temporality, absence, truth and wonder.

The most interesting pieces, to me, were the slightly unnerving and destabilising ones, starting with Daniel Rozin’s Snow Mirror, which projects your image and movements onto the diaphanous screen in front of which you are standing, with a slight time lag and into an anthill-like blur of black and white spots that seems to dissolve your identity rather than capturing or outlining it.

Daniel Rozin, Snow Mirror, 2006.

Even more fascinating is Rozin’s Peg Mirror, which consists of 650 circular wooden pieces arranged in a circle that tilt and rotate to capture the shadow of the person walking by or ‘performing’ in front of it. Both of these works are operated by hidden digital technology, but Peg Mirror has quite a mechanical feel to it, which is mostly generated by the noise the wooden components make when moving from one side to the other, like clicking the shutter of an old camera or an army of beetles scurrying across the gallery floor.

Daniel Rozin, Peg Mirror, 2007.

Similarly unsettling are Elin O’Hara Slavick’s cyanotype photographs, which are, at first sight, starkly beautiful objects, reminiscent of Anna Atkins’s nineteenth-century plant cyanotypes. It’s only when reading the titles that the specimens, emerging faintly from the deep blue background, are revealed as a bottle, tree bark and flowers exposed to high-level nuclear radiation during the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945.

Elin O'Hara Slavick, Dead Hiroshima Flowers, 2008.

Elin O'Hara Slavick, Bottle Deformed by the A-Bomb, 2008.

Elin O'Hara Slavick, Bark from an A-Bombed Eucalyptus Tree, 2008.

Sweet Play

It’s Friday and national Chocolate Week is coming to an end. To honour both occasions, here’s a neat project by French designer Elsa Lambinet that allows participants to assemble their own chocolate using three different elements or, in design-speak, modules.

The dark chocolate has a hole that holds nuts, fruit, herbs or spices; possible toppings for the milk chocolate include pairs of nuts and raisins; and the white chocolate supports liquids and gelatinous substances poured on top.

In addition, all three types of chocolate contain a compartment into which a flavoured wafer can be inserted.

Et voilà, the finished products.

Build your own chocolate? Sign me up.

Here’s a short video illustrating the process:

Via Colossal Art & Design.

On a side note: after spending two weeks in Berlin this summer where I got addicted to yoli bespoke frozen yoghurt, I can definitely see a business idea in this.


How does this

and this

develop into this


Metamorphosis, you say?

Yes. But:

The larva of Luidia sarsi is a semi-transparent diaphanous sprite that feeds on algae and grows to a remarkable 4 centimetres.

Then something extraordinary happens.

Instead of changing shape to become an adult, a cluster of cells lining the larva’s internal cavity grows, like an alien invader, and out of these a starfish is born. Floating free from its other self, the adult form settles on the ocean floor, where it survives and grows by hunting down other starfish in the dark of night. Meanwhile, the larva continues its vegetarian existence, grazing the surface waters above.

From Frank Ryan’s article in the New Scientist, Metamorphosis: Evolution’s Freak Factory, via The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.

How could you not agree with Roger Caillois who suggests, in his essay The Natural Fantastic, that certain phenomena testify to “the existence of an underlying imaginary that is part of the real”?

See also this article on sea squirts as ‘real chimeras’ living in the oceans.


Playful and sinister at the same time: Max Ernst covered in seaweed, photograph taken by Roland Penrose in Lambe Creek, Cornwall, 1937.

How to Work Better

Photocopy of Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s How to Work Better (1991), photographed by Ryan Gander in his studio.

How to Work Better
by Fischli & Weiss (1991)











Fischli & Weiss, text of the artwork How to Work Better (1991/2000), editioned screenprint on paper.

Coral Love

Something light and love-ly for a sunny Friday afternoon: heart-shaped coral island, part of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland in Australia – apparently a popular location for popping the question on a seaplane. And for all of you list lovers out there, here’s a list of the 10 Most Amazing Heart-Shaped Wonders of Nature (four of them in Germany no less).

Balkonista manquée

The Manchester Museum allotment in September 2011: not all nature in the museum is dead.

Spending a big chunk of time abroad this summer made me realise that one of my biggest regrets about living where I do is not having a garden or balcony. The Manchester Museum allotment, which I managed to take a closer look at on the weekend, before it closes later this autumn, is not your typical Schrebergarten, but a nice spot of nature in the city nonetheless. It was set up in spring alongside the new Living Worlds display, which replaced the Mammals Gallery on the Museum’s first floor. Roughly speaking, the refurbishment was about substituting taxonomy for ecology. Having said that, perusing the plants, herbs, fruit and veg growing on the allotment, I thought some basic taxonomy wouldn’t hurt: I couldn’t even name half of them.

Too Precious to Wear

Coral tiara, by the Phillips Brothers, English, c. late 1800s.

“What is it about coral that makes it so ardently modern?” – Ruth Peltason

Coral rings, by Monica Rossi, Italian, c. 2005 (carved crab and octopus).

“Coral has a whole new pizzazz about it. It’s timely, gay, young, it’s not precious and it’s a becoming colour with the pale lipsticks.” -David Webb

'Coral star' brooch, by Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., French, 1956.

'Valparaiso Idyll' bracelet, by Victoire de Castellane for Dior, French, 2009.

Support Too Precious to Wear, a SeaWeb campaign that works to create demand for coral conservation by working with the jewelry and design industries.

These earrings are fantastic (I wouldn’t mind wearing them myself):

Horn clipper ship ear pendants, by Gabriella Kiss, American, 2004 (sails made from buffalo horn).

Jewellery made from amber, coral, horn, ivory, pearls, shell, tortoiseshell, wood. But also: scarab beetles, tiger claws, stag’s teeth, bog oak, hair, feathers:

'Spring' necklace, by Jennifer Trask, American, 2005 (butterfly wings).

All images from Ruth Peltason, Jewelry from Nature: Amber, Coral, Horn, Ivory, Pearls, Shell, Tortoiseshell, Wood, Exotica, London: Thames & Hudson, 2010 .

Support Too Precious to Wear, a SeaWeb campaign that works to create demand for coral conservation by working with the jewelry and design industries. You can sign a pledge and check out a list of jewellery and fashion designers who support the Too Precious to Wear campaign by using alternative materials.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers