19th October 2015
A collaboration between Gemma Anderson and William Latham
I invited William Latham to collaborate on an ‘Isomorphogenesis’ workshop which I had organised at the Natural History Museum as part of the BIG DRAW 2014. This collaborative workshop provided an opportunity to share and to compare my own ideas with Latham’s and to bring our experimental drawing methods together, inviting members of the public and scientists to participate in both creative processes and to share an understanding of their inspiration. The following text is an excerpt from a blogpost about this collaborative workshop published on the NHM Nature Plus website (Click here to read) and on the Big Draw and Campaign for Drawing blog, (Anderson, 2014b).
11am - The group (mathematicians, psychiatrists, RCA students, NHM scientists and the editor of New Scientist) arrives at the Angela Marmot Centre (NHM, Darwin Centre). We introduced ourselves and the workshop and Gavin Broad (NHM Zoologist) gave an introduction to handling the collections followed by a tour of the hymenoptera collections. We discuss how the collections are classified and new species described. I also provided the audience with details of my collaboration with Broad including the different questions and approaches involved in our research with the museum collections. I then introduced the concept and practice of ‘Isomorphology’ as an alternative approach to classifying the collections and reported on different ways of knowing in artistic and scientific fieldwork. The tour ends with a general discussion and the group asks interesting questions about ways of describing and naming new species. One participant reflected on this part of the workshop through feedback: ‘Gemma and Gavin worked very well together to engage the group- this day will be very memorable!’ (BA Hons Drawing Graduate)
11.30am – The group returns to the AMC workshop area and each participant is asked to choose a specimen that he/she would like to draw. I explain that the specimens had been loaned by curators as they are specimens that have interesting morphology and have been included as part of the Isomorphology study.
I then introduce the Goethe drawing method, which expands and transfers Goethe’s concept of ‘delicate empiricism’ through drawing as a way of getting to know the specimens and sourcing the ‘primitives’ for Isomorphogenesis. The participants observe, write, draw from observation, draw from memory and then imagine expanding the specimen into component parts, which is important for the starting point for the afternoon drawing session when we deduce a primitive form from observation and take that as a beginning form to evolve through the Isomorphogenesis drawing system. Gavin Broad, reflected on this stage of the workshop: ‘I found myself understanding the recurrent forms of the natural world through drawing, which enabled me to break down shapes into component parts’.
12.15- Latham introduces the background and context of FormSynth and demonstrates the FormSynth drawing system to the group. The group is then asked to practice the rules and to add their own rule.
2pm - I introduce Isomorphogenesis as an evolved adaptation of Latham’s FormSynth. I explain how I have introduced rules/parameters to the system, which are derived directly from my own observations of cell development and plant growth and which continually relate the drawer back to the natural world. This process began by selecting a primitive from the Isomorphology ‘form species’ as well as primitives sourced from NHM specimens following the Goethe Method. The group then evolves the forms by randomly selecting a drawing ‘rule’ from a hat, which I offer while circulating the room, which provides an opportunity for assisting and answering individual questions. The editor of New Scientist, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, reflected on this part of the workshop: ‘The randomized selection of a mutation (drawing action) to use was a challenge and a novelty each time. This was the part of the process that was most fertile in terms of understanding the resonances between artistic practice and scientific or observational methods’.
I ask the group to draw form change in a connected series, based on the understanding that biological growth occurs in reality as connected transformation, not isolated as stages, as commonly represented in scientific representations of ontogenetic series. I continually encourage the group to refer back to the specimen and to include these observational details intermittently throughout the drawing process.
When the group has evolved a number of primitives, I ask them to think about marrying forms, while maintaining the general characteristics of each adult to make one or more progeny. This is something that both Latham and I consider the act of drawing can do more successfully than computers. A masters student from the Royal College of Art reflected on this stage: ‘When marrying forms to create new mutations of the previous form, my imagination could flow freely with the natural set of rules’.
The workshop ends with some reflection and discussion of the day’s drawing methods. My collaborator Alessio Corti (Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College), who joined the workshop, asks a question about the possibility of different types of drawing systems as analogous to new species and the other participants offer thoughts on different possibilities of generative systems and ways in which we could begin to think about their classification. At this point Gavin and I discuss how aspects of the methodology employed during our workshop are similar to the work of the NHM scientist. Another RCA MA Printmaking student reflected on what she learnt, which Gavin agreed as helpful in both artistic and scientific study: ‘I gained a new knowledge that the natural world is made up of a set of forms that repeat themselves in different ways - seeing the object as a whole but also as its component parts - writing descriptively and creatively about the specimen was helpful and a new way of verbally drawing’.