Spicules and droplets

posted by Erwin Keustermans / on January 4th, 2010 / in Science & Art

When I was a kid and colour television was rare, people would shrug away the need for it saying that the only good reason for having a colour set would be marine documentaries.

But it’s not only the colours and optics that are different, also form and movement are part of the experience. Life in water is different in shape, structure and kinetics. Evolution in a marine environment makes creatures that are very different from ground- or air-bound life. Wentworth D’Arcy Thompson, a Victorian scientist, set out to demonstrate the mathematical and physical aspects of under water biological processes in his book “On Growth and Form” (1917). For marine life that would be gravity, pressure, scale, osmosis, and buoyancy.

I mention the book here because it is very readable, even for the layman, and even after more than 90 years. Without reading it I probably would not have realized why it is such a smart idea for the artist/filmmaker Saskia Olde Wolbers to use liquids. Olde Wolbers’ stories are told in voice-over while showing seemingly unrelated going-ons in submersed sets that are smaller than life-size. She fills these with – next to more recognizable props – fluids of different densities .¬† And that definitely makes for an uncanny visual experience.


But even without knowing the precise techniques used, you feel somehow that those are the particular optics and physics at work in this shot from her 2003 film “Interloper”.

Reading on Saskia Olde Wolbers can be found in Tyler Green’s art blog. An interview¬† about a video that relates to the Three Gorges dam. Olde Wolbers’ images at Maureen Paley Gallery. The image shown courtesy of Maureen Paley Gallery.