Monday, 29 October 2007

D.N.A. Candle - Vanitas




This oil painting was done for my good friends Michele & Chris for their wedding.

The DNA Candle image is one I began using with Symbiosis, a painting of mine recently featured on the online magazine, The Eloquent Atheist. It's one of my favourite concepts that I have come up with. Back in March 2007, when I was frustrated that I had not done anything with my art and I started this blog one blustery day, I almost chose the name "DNA Candles" instead of The Flying Trilobite. Yeah, I'm proud of these.

Vanitas painting is an old tradition, especially popular in the Northern Renaissance. Usually, it is a still life, depicting perhaps a skull, a broken watch, a candle just snuffed out with the smoke trailing in the air, a book half-read, a tipped over water glass....Pieter Claesz, trained by Franz Hals, is one of my favourite masters of this art style.

The image is one of mortality, with a kind of knock-you-over-the-head symbolism. The message intended is a kind of carpe diem, or "seize the day".

After reading about how telomeres may play a part in the aging process, and that their ends snip off when they replicate, I started coming up with the DNA Candle image. I remember reading something in the 90's that suggested if one could extend telomeres, one may be able to stave off death. The candle melting and the telomere shortening just seemed a natural image. I used DNA as a wick since it is more readily recognisable by most people.

So the ultimate message of the DNA Candle Vanitas is one of seize the day, life is beautiful but finite. The candles are lit and glowing, a loving image and the wax has melted together in union.

Variations of this image will return to The Flying Trilobite from time to time. The banner below and in my sidebar give a detailed view.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Return of the Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme!

...this time it's personal.

I have already been tagged by this meme once, and now again! It took me a while to respond to the second one, by Dale at The Meming of Life. What can I say, I was gestating.

The meme has an elaborate set of rules, you can read at my first post about it. The whole thing was started by PZ Myers at Pharyngula. Now Dale, being sly and sneaky, has turned the tables and asked to spread the meme back to those previous to himself in the lineage! Rather than use phrases like "blog-the-casbah with Grampa" I prefer to think of these posts as organisms, and the blogs they sit in as environments. The organism's descendants change when they wander through each blog. (My blog environment is murky and oily in case you were wondering. Sometimes there is strange smoke.)

So then here is my lineage:
My common ancestor is Pharyngula.
My great great grandparent is Metamagician & the Hellfire Club.
My great grandparent is The Flying Trilobite.
My grandparent is Leslie's blog.
My parent is The Meming of Life.

My new contribution to the meme, following The Meming of Life, is as follows:
The best romantic movie in scientific dystopia is: Gattaca (1997). Same as my 1st post.
The best sexy song in electronica is: "Angel" by Massive Attack on the album Mezzanine (1998).
The best satirical movie in comedy is: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990).
I will add one new statement:
The best hot coffee in beverages is: caffe macchiato.

To continue the meme this time, I choose:
Frozen Toothpaste

Forms Most Beautiful

Primordial Blog

Please make a comment on this thread if you are participating. Hope you do, it's crazy-weird-fun. On another note, while checking Technorati for my links, I can see this has gone quite far. I am a 5x great-grandparent already. One of the interesting links I found down the line was from Really Small Fish. It contains Darwinian poetry, at Code As Art. That's been my favourite thing about this meme so far; finding blogs and ideas I may not have found through search engines since to find it that way, you have to know what you are looking for.

Surprise is living.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Life Drawing - Female

While literally naval-gazing, one of the interesting things I've been mulling over is that human bodies are made up of a multitude of creatures, working symbiotically together.

This idea has fascinated me for a long time, and was the impetus for my Symbiosis painting, recently featured on The Eloquent Atheist. Only recently did I come across an explanation for where the microflora largely come from.

Most of the symbiotic bacteria are transferred to infants from the mother, mainly during birth, and from the breast-feeding and foodstuffs to follow. I thought this topic would be an interesting counterpoint to these life drawings I did of a model at the Toronto School of Art last spring. Less so simply because the model was female; moreso because of every move, every pose we all make every day, we are a multitude of organisms working together, resting together and just being together.

While reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking The Spell, he makes another arresting point. Not only do you have an entire ecosystem of bacteria in your body, on your skin, "your body is composed of perhaps a hundred trillion cells, and nine out of ten of them are not human cells! (p.86)" The important point is that they are not transmitted genetically.

Some people say we are really all alone trapped inside our own minds and bodies. We seldom think of what organisms we share our bodies with, and that our whole lives, the ecosystem living within us and on us, is still evolving.

Bacteria can evolve at a prodigious rate; and for men, we carry them around, populations evolving as we subject their environments to espresso and fine cheeses, beer and pizza, until our whole system collapses. For women, it goes further. Women pass on their evolved-since-birth microflora to their children, when they give birth. As Dennett points out (p.86 again), since it is not a genetic inheritance, and so a surrogate-mother still gives her infant a large portion of its future health during the minutes of birth.

In an interesting turn in one of my favourite sci-fi series, a few characters in David Brin's Heaven's Reach , part of the Uplift Storm trilogy, find themselves becoming symbiotically entangled not only with other similar, oxygen-breathing aliens, but also with the mysterious hydrogen breathers that live inside gas giants. All of them are swallowed up, to transcend into being part of a new organism known as 'Mother'.

There are more interesting things to learn about this subject. Check out the Wikipedia entry, and more at ScienceBlogs.

Amazing. No person is an island; but we are all ecosystems.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Vote for Shelley Batts!

Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle is one of 20 finalists for a blogging scholarship!
The competition is fierce, and Shelley needs help from readers of The Flying Trilobite. Please take a moment to cast your vote. You can do it anonymously, or leave a message encouraging others to vote for Shelley. You'll find the voting site here.

I mean who else writes about knitting teratomas, special nerdy cakes, parrot comprehension, the neuroscience of ADHD, and puts up more pictures of brains than a zombie. (If Jared Leto is reading this, please contact her directly). Besides, she is the only blogger I know studying her PhD, and has wings on the side of her head.

Cast a vote for Shelley Batts!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

A blogging and scientific experiment.

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is ...".

Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

*You can leave them exactly as is.

*You can delete any one question.

*You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...:, or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

*You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...”.

*You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the "parent" blog you got them from, e.g.
The Flying Trilobite to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
---------

My grandparent is
Pharyngula.
My parent is
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.

The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is:
Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

The best romantic movie in scientific dystopias is:
Gattaca (1997).

The best sexy song in rock is:
#1 Crush by Garbage from William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack.

The best cult novel in Canadian fiction is:
JPod by Douglas Coupland, 2006.

I call upon the following to continue this scientific experiment:

Fresh Brainz

A Blog Around the Clock

Life Before Death

Leslie Hawes (after you finish your excellent series, of course.)

Pro-Science

Fish Feet

Anyone else who wants to play out this science experiment, please do, and let me know!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Glendon Mellow featured on The Eloquent Atheist

The Eloquent Atheist, an online atheist & humanist magazine, has featured one of my paintings, Symbiosis.

This is the first entry by a visual artist on The Eloquent Atheist, and naturally (not supernaturally) I am very excited to be a part of it! From The Eloquent Atheist:

"Our intent is to expose people to the positive aspects of Atheism and
Humanism through various types of the written arts..."

I do consider myself to be a Bright , a term coined a few years ago for one who believes in a natural universe. It is an umbrella term, or at least it seeks to be for people who variably describe themselves as atheists, humanists, rationalists, Darwinists, skeptics and freethinkers. Some find the "Bright" name unappealing, and worry it is too arrogant or silly. A proposed term (I believe by Daniel Dennett) for people who believe in the supernatural, is "Supers". I have chronicled my growth out of agnostic-pagan thought before, and I like the Bright label. Hard to say you're a Darwinist when you are talking about astronomy or quantum mechanics, since evolution by natural selection doesn't enter into it.

Just to be all linky about it,
the article is here.

A bio about me is on
The Eloquent Atheist here.

My original post about the painting
Symbiosis is here.

I also posted
a sketch I did of the painting here.

There are a lot of great articles and pieces of poetry on The Eloquent Atheist. A special piece by Harvey H. Madison called Cosmic Connection struck a chord with me, it is secular numinism, if I may say such a contradiction in terms. As well, Michael W. Jones' short story, Night Sky is a thoughtful portrayal of realising which universe we really live in. Fans of astronomy should check these out.

Thanks to Michael W. Jones and Marilyn Westfall at The Eloquent Atheist for creating a great magazine, and for showcasing my artwork.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Life Drawing - Male

Nothing is as interesting to human beings as looking in a mirror, or looking at each other. Humans evolved on the African savannah and as a species became very good at some specific things.

We can hurl medium-sized rocks and sticks a medium distance. We can run and throw at the same time, better than any other animal.

We are excellent at recognising patterns, to the point of finding frequent, imaginative false-positives.

We can instantly see the mistakes or novelties in depictions of the human form.

A strange thing has happened while reading two different books at the same time. I was reading the hard-sci-fi novel about global warming, Fifty Degrees Below, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I am still enjoying philosopher Daniel Dennett 's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and both of these books are mentioning Acheulean hand-axes.

I had never heard of these before, and they are a fascinating part of our prehistoric heritage, throughout the Old World continents, really, that I am quite upset this was never mentioned in school. I mean, they were in use for almost a solid million years! Some mysteries still elude us as to their use, but they were obviously important enough to be so abundant, and in my book, by age 12, should have been mentioned, studied and discussed.

One of my favourite characters that I have read in years, is Frank Vanderwal in K.S. Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below. He finds out about these hand axes from some target-frisbee-throwing freegans, and decides it is a nice neolithic way to get exercise.

After a nearly a million years of making and teaching about Acheulean hand-axes to generation after generation, might there be a propensity for making and caring for tools, and feeling satisfied when using them well that is reinforced neurologically? Do we have a receptor that releases a trickle of endorphins when tool use is successful? As an artist, I feel it seems likely. However, that is anecdotal, and not worth as much as evidence pursued, double-blind trials followed, and theories confirmed.

In the spirit of our forebears, those deadly upright artisans, this post contains images of life drawings I did last spring, where the model was holding a long pole throughout the poses.
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