MARVELLOUS TRANSFORMATIONS CHURCHILL COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE Jock Colville Hall January 2015
Curated by Dr. Phillip Prager (IT University of Copenhagen) in consultation with Dr. David Scott Silverberg (National Geographic) and Maureen Thomas (DIGIS)
An exhibition of 3D digital artwork, video, physical sculpture and UV wall panels by MARIANNE SELSJORD (1954 – 2014), inspired by the work of Maria Sybilla Merian, artist and naturalist (1647 –1717).
Norwegian artist Marianne Selsjord, a painter who trained as a conservator, started to work with the computer as medium in the mid-1990’s. She specialised in the innovative use of 3D games-software both as an original 21st-century ‘dynamic painting’ medium and to explore the techniques, styles and subject matter of 16th- and 17th- century artists. In MARVELLOUS TRANFORMATIONS, fly-through extracts from Selsjord’s virtual 3D Surinam Rainforest, where the artist interprets and brings together a variety of plants and insects developed using Merian’s original paintings from life, are screened alongside Selsjord’s stereo video and Silverberg’s still photographs from Kinabalu National Park Rainforest, Borneo (2013). Wanting to reveal the vulnerability of the endangered rainforest environment today, Selsjord also designed 3D-printed sculptures of plants and insects derived from her virtual rainforest, in brittle, fragile, salty-looking material, for display inside glass bell-jars - like the ones Merian was inspired by in Amsterdam, housing specimens brought back from Surinam. The dessicated sculpted plants in their bell-jars are memories of forms, some of which are now gone forever - captured by Merian and revivified by Selsjord. Two suites of Selsjord’s large (50cm x 50cm) UV prints on aluminium, ‘Nocturnes’ and ‘Aubades’, were hung alongside the moving image material. Merian’s own words, researched and dramatised by Maureen Thomas (DIGIS) accompanied the exhibits, recorded and played in an original sound and musicscape composed and performed by Kariina Gretere (affiliated DIGIS artist researcher). These Marvellous Transformations were Marianne Selsjord’s last work: she died in Spring 2014 of multiple myeloma, before being able to complete the exhibition. Dr Phillip Prager coordinated and project-managed the finalisation and exhibition of her work at Churchill College, Cambridge, in a collaborative effort between her husband, Dr David Silverberg (National Geographic), the Culture & Games Section at the IT University of Copenhagen, and Maureen Thomas of DIGIS, with which Marianne had been affiliated as an artist researcher from 2006-2014.
Jørn Lambertsen (ITU) created the fly-through videos of Marianne's 3D Maya models. Amir Soltani (DIGIS) prepared these models for 3D printing, which were executed by Stan Finney (Dept. of Architecture, Cambridge) and exhibited as fragile bell-jar sculptures. Marius Jigoreanu (ITU) provided technical and curatorial assistance throughout the preparation and exhibition of Marvellous Transformations, which was executed according to Marianne's original plan.
Merian (1647 –1717), born in Frankfurt, an accomplished draftswoman, engraver and painter, studied plant and insect life with a serious scientific sensibility and was the first naturalist to observe and record the entire butterfly life-cycle closely, from nature - she has been called the first ecologist. She developed a unique style of painting, sensuous and intricate, to include, simultaneously, not only all stages of the marvellous transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, but also the development of the plants on which each insect lived, in vibrant, compelling images. From 1699 – 1701, Maria Sybilla Merian (52) undertook a ‘long dreamed of journey’ to Surinam (accompanied by her daughter, 21, also an artist) to explore and record insect and plant-life - especially how caterpillars transform through the chrysalis stage to become butterflies. In 1705, she published her observations as Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam). In 2013, Marianne Selsjord travelled to the rainforest of Borneo, accompanied by her husband, geographer and photographer Dr. David Scott Silverberg, to experience first-hand its plant and insect life today. In the exhibition, her contemporary 3D art explores the full potential of Merian’s extraordinary pictures, dynamising time and motion, and adding atmosphere from her own travels and observations, to carry out her own Marvellous Transformations.
For more please see: Prager, Phillip, Thomas, Maureen and Selsjord, Marianne. 2015. 'Transposing, Transforming and Transcending Tradition in Creative Digital Media', pp 142-202 in Harrison, Dew (ed). Handbook of Research on Digital Media and Creative Technologies. Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI Global.