SCIENCE

Artists and scientists are similar inasmuch as they both attempt to describe and to understand the world. Although I consider myself to be primarily an artist, I am also interested in science which is reflected in my art practice. However, some of my interests are more appropriately pursued through a direct engagement with science and participation in scientific activities.

Babies versus beasts - A Letter to New Scientist




Atylotus rusticus
Copyright Malcolm Storey

One of my art subjects is the nature of the body, our relationship with it and its antagonists (see Corporeal Insults). So when I saw some unusual horseflies biting a horse in the field next to my studio I captured them. They turned out to be a rare species listed in the British Red Data Book for Insects and the four specimens I collected had doubled the number found in England in the last hundred years. The next time I caught one a few days later I let it go, and it immediately flew over to bite the horse. There was clearly a dilemma between the conservation status of the fly and the well-being of the horse. I collaborated with entomologists from The Natural History Museum to record this finding:

Storey MW, Post RJ, Kowal Post C & Chainey J (2006) Recent records of Atylotus rusticus (Diptera, Tabanidae). Dipterists Digest13, 21-22.

Little Egret
Copyright Frank Boxell

My recent work (see They think they are Fallen Angels) concerns how we see our place in the natural world. Darwin published On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man over 100 years ago in the 19 th century but we humans seem to be reluctant to accept our animal nature. You can see this in the way we continuously try to find ways of placing ourselves apart from other animals. We try to find ways in which humans are unique or special by invoking our creativity, consciousness and tool use for example. When I saw a Little Egret in Kenya using bait for fishing I realised this behaviour was tantamount to tool use and indicated cognitive mind abilities. I had been feeding fish in an ornamental lake when a Little Egret flew over from the other side of the lake. I tossed it a piece of bread but instead of eating it, the bird picked it up in its beak, walked to the edge of the lake, dropped it in the water and waited to catch the fish that were attracted to feed. This was the first record of bait fishing in Little Egrets, and only the eleventh species of bird recorded to have this ability. I published this finding in collaboration with two biologists:

Post RJ, Kowal Post CP & Walsh JF (2009) Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) using bait for fishing in Kenya. Waterbirds 32, 450-452.


Woman being eaten by a Crocodile (detail): copyright C Kowal Post

Woman Being Eaten by a Crocodile
by Christine Kowal Post

During medieval times it was agreed that meat eating was a symbol of man’s fall from grace and a sign of human weakness. It represented the animal part of man’s nature. In the Garden of Eden he had lived on fruits and herbs. These concepts interest me (see They think they are Fallen Angels), and I contributed to the debate in the letters pages of New Scientist over the ethics of growing synthetic meat using stem cells from rare and endangered species, such as Panda burgers:

Human hotpot?
From Christine Kowal Post
So Stellan Welin, a bioethicist, thinks the ethical questions posed by eating meat from rare and unusual species can be “sidestepped” with meat grown from stem cells. There still seems something unpleasant about shifting our view of these animals towards a source of food rather than as companions on the same planet. Talking of companions, I was surprised Welin did not mention any similar enthusiasm for eating manufactured human flesh. I am sure there would be a market.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128300.100-human-hotpot.html

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