1. ORGANIC ART
When one thinks art, "cockroach" isn't the term that usually comes to mind. However, a group of visual artists profiled in THE NEW YORK TIMES article "Of Compost, Molecules and Insects, Art Is Born" find their inspiration in such unlikely, organic subjects. Examples of such art are currently on display in the show “Dead or Alive,” at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Reports Natalie Angier:
The museum recently hosted a round-table luncheon in which scientists and artists addressed the hardy evergreen issue of how much the arts and sciences had in common and where they differed. The basic conclusion: both enterprises are important, difficult, creative, driven by insatiable curiosity and a desire to solve problems, but artists are allowed to make stuff up and scientists really shouldn’t.
Helen Altman creates skull-shaped, spice-enhanced sculptures to turn death into a "sweet" thing; this made me think of my trip to Rome in 2008 during which I visited the Capuchin Crypt. The small space features artwork created out of the bones of over 4000 Capuchin friars who died between 1528 and 1870. Though some might find it a bit macabre, I was fascinated by it. Clearly, the bones hadn't just been thrown up on the walls - someone had to sort the bones and design the intricately constructed images I was now looking at, such as that of a skeleton surrounded by angel wings created out of pelvic bones.
As a writer, the Crypty piqued my curiosity about what kind of person would have been able to find the beauty in the bones. Did he or she see him/herself as an artist? As someone sentenced to a horrible task? Did they view it as a service to the dead? Angier's article shows that finding inspiration in such unusual materials is not a lost art.
Perhaps a clue from an inscription in the Crypt:
"Quello che voi siete noi eravamo; Quello che noi siamo voi sarete."
What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be."
2. NEANDERTHAL + MODERN HUMAN SITTIN' IN A TREE...K-I-S-S-I-N-G...
Next time someone says you're acting like a Neanderthal, you may be able to reply, "Well, that's because we share DNA." As reported by Chris Stringer in TimesOnline,
In this week’s issue of the journal Science, a truly international team of more than 50 researchers have published their findings from a reconstructed Neanderthal genome of more than three billion bits of DNA coding...Using massive improvements in DNA recovery techniques and computing power, three small fragments of bone excavated from the Croatian cave of Vindija have provided most of the sequence. These three female Neanderthals who died around 40,000 years ago have been immortalised through their DNA.
The Neanderthal genome was compared to those of 5 modern day humans. Turns out that if you are European, Asian or New Guinean, the research suggests you may have between 1%-4% in common with the Neanderthal genome. Not so much so if you are from Africa, although researchers only looked at the genomes of a west African and a south African. A mixture would have been more likely to occur in someone from northeast Africa.
For a more in depth look at this story, including video commentary and a timeline of Neandertal-related discoveries, check out Science Magazine's special online feature on the Neandertal Genome.
3. LOS ANGELES EVENTS
If you're looking for something fun & science-y (& free!) to do in Los Angeles on Friday, May 7th, stop by Griffith Observatory for ALL SPACE CONSIDERED, their monthly astronomy update. Topics this month include the first images of the sun from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, volcanoes in the solar system, the May sky report, and birthday celebrations for both Griffith (75!) and the Hubble telescope (20). The event is held in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater from 7:30-9:15pm