I have always been fascinated by lichens and their ability to act as barometers of air pollution and environmental health. They are particularly sensitive to airborne pollutants especially sulphur dioxide, nitrogen and ammonia, so if you see some lichen growing well, it’s usually a positive sign. I was very excited recently as I was able to examine a couple of lichens using a scanning electron microscope at University of Central Lancashire – here are a few of the photographs I took.
Lichens are incredible plants with an unusual chemistry – they are actually a fungus symbiotically existing with algae. The partnership is so close we consider it a single plant. They provide shelter and/or food for a wide variety of invertebrates – mites, molluscs, spider and moths. Many birds use the plant as camouflage for their nests.
It’s hard to date the origin of lichens, being composed of soft tissue and therefore unlikely to be found in fossils, however earliest examples date back 600 million years ago in China.
Worldwide there are about 18,000 species.
The two images are of the inside of a single cone of Cladonia fimbriata – wonderful!
Lead is one of those stalwart materials that man has been using for thousands of years as evidenced from ancient remains in many parts of the world. The problem is that we all know, and have known for many years, that it is highly damaging to animal and human health, yet we remain seduced by its ductility, softness, malleability and resistance to corrosion. Lead is used widely in a myriad of applications, but especially in the construction industry and for making weights, shots and bullets, safety shields and casings, plus batteries, pesticides and petrol. Attempts at phasing out the latter group are slow, but in progress, as governments pressurise industry for safer alternatives.
Annual production of lead worldwide is around ten million tonnes of which about 50% is from recycling scrap. Half the world’s lead is used to make lead-acid batteries for the automobile industry.
The poisonous substance should be treated with respect so avoiding long exposure to it is the best safeguard. Detrimental health effects include damage to the nervous system and brain disorders by the neurotoxin accumulating in the soft tissues and bones.
In response to these findings I plan to work with lead by incorporating it into some of my sculptures – harnessing the material to act as a means and a metaphor. I will of course be taking the necessary health and safety precautions.
Science can be wondrous, beguiling, clumsy, right and wrong. The word science comes from the Latin “scientia,” meaning knowledge, and both artists and scientists are searching for the same knowledge: an understanding about the world and how we inhabit it. The two cultures have very different methodologies – scientist’s strict protocols, reductionist ethos and a remit to maximise objectivity by abnegating the human element, whilst the artist’s perspective is speculative, imaginative and anthropocentric. The reliance on research, analysis, questioning and evaluation is shared, but the language of scientists gives the impression of intellectual gravitas, yet the theories and paradigms remain unstable: a set of beliefs in flux. The frameworks we all seek to expand our knowledge of the world, literally and metaphysically, conjoin in structures questioning what is reality. The search for coherence and verification regarding this universal quest for ‘a truth’ is a preoccupation of both disciplines.
I am currently creating a new sculpture in response to the notion of an invisible toxic atmosphere around our world, that is all pervading, but unseen.