Friday, April 9, 2010

4/9: What were the relationships between science/art/visual culture and the thinking about evolution?

Last Update: 04-11-2010 16:48:02

04-08-2010 10:29:50
Are there any formal relationships we are aware of? Meetings, conversations etc.?

04-08-2010 19:12:34
Certainly we see a direct correspondence between Haeckel's turn-of-the-century imagery (an artist as well as a biologist) such as in his Art Forms in Nature (1899-1904) and art nouveau forms directly based on his drawings. This is even found on the architectural level, as in Binet's radiolaria-based Entry Gate to Paris's 1900 universal exposition.

04-09-2010 05:41:13
Here is a pre- 'two cultures' meeting/conversation A Science and Art Conversazione by Richard Doyle.

04-09-2010 16:38:49
Dear Michael and Barbara
I would like to visit the relationship of science/art and visual culture in terms of the scientific hoax. The "Fejee Mermaid," a specimen displayed at Barnum's early museum was introduced to the public, initially through woodcuts in the newspapers and other printed matter in 1853. Taking the form as a cross between a fish and a woman, this object brought the public into the museum in huge numbers., in effect, employing the museum as a sideshow. As stated in the Hoax Archive hosted at
"The Feejee Mermaid was an example of a traditional art form perfected by fishermen in Japan and the East Indies who constructed faux mermaids by stitching the upper bodies of apes onto the bodies of fish. They often created these mermaids for use in religious ceremonies. The Feejee Mermaid herself is believed to have been created around 1810 by a Japanese fisherman."

The other hoaxes I mentioned in an earlier post were Haekel's diagrams of embryonic development and
Nilsson's 1965 photographs of dead fetuses. Many people are not aware of either of these manipulated
scientific facts. The question remains as to why these scientific images still circulate as such. What are your thoughts on this matter?

04-09-2010 17:14:22
Unlike the Piltdown Man hoax, the Feejee Mermaid didn't come bundled with any persuasive evolutionary claims. But it did mimic the type of scientific specimens that were often mobilized on behalf of evolutionary arguments.

Haeckel's embryological series was an important piece of visual rhetoric in support of his dictum, "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." It may have been deceiving, and "bad science", but I don't think that it was a deliberate hoax in the same sense as the two hoaxes mentioned above. Attached here is a page from Haeckel's embryos which were lithographic reproductions. We've mentioned motion pictures and photography and wood and copper engraving, but lithography and especially the half-tone were major components of a technological revolution that utterly changed the look of books, magazines and newspapers, and contributed mightily to the proliferation of evolutionary images in the 20th century.

Ernst Haeckel, The history of creation... A popular exposition of the doctrine of evolution in general, and of that of Darwin, Goethe, and Lamarck in particular . . . (1876), pl 2-3

Another form of visual rhetoric that was very precious to early and mid-20th-century eugenicists was the kinship chart.

C.B. Davenport (1866–1944), Eugenics, the science of human improvement by better breeding (New York, 1910).

04-09-2010 18:02:11
Following Suzanne's thread about hoaxes, we can ask "how does visual rhetoric persuade?" What makes a particular production, or type of production, convincing? Barnum famously did not care: he knew he could sell tickets if people were hooked on the controversy over authenticity. It didn't matter whether the "suckers" scoffed or marveled.

Why was the eugenicist kinship diagram so very persuasive? (For one thing it distracted one from closely examining the often questionable data upon which it is based.)

Why were so many people--scientists and lay people--convinced by Haeckel's embryological series?

Obviously no image or even genre of images can be taken in isolation. Attached is a photo of evolutionary sculptural series made for the American Museum of Natural History. The photograph, however, is taken from a book, God or Gorilla?, which presented it to bolster an anti-evolutionary argument. No image is so persuasive that it can stand by itself; images always come bundled, and even then are often multi-valent, available for different and even contradictory agendas.

Alfred Watterson McCann, God–or gorilla; how the monkey theory of evolution exposes its own methods, refutes its own principles, denies its own inferences, disproves its own case (1922)

04-09-2010 21:58:32
Dear Michael,

Thank you for your insight in this matter, but I am not convinced of Haeckel's intentions after reading Nick Hopwood's article.

Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud
Ernst Haeckel’s Embryological Illustrations
By Nick Hopwood*
Comparative illustrations of vertebrate embryos by the leading nineteenth-century Darwinist Ernst Haeckel have been both highly contested and canonical. Though the target of repeated fraud charges since 1868, the pictures were widely reproduced in textbooks through the twentieth century. Concentrating on their first ten years, this essay uses the accusations to shed light on the novelty of Haeckel’s visual argumentation and to explore how images come to count as proper representations or illegitimate schematics as they cross between the esoteric and exoteric circles of science. It exploits previously unused manuscripts to reconstruct the drawing, printing, and publishing of the illustrations that attracted the first and most influential attack, compares these procedures to standard practice, and highlights their originality. It then explains why, though Haeckel was soon accused, controversy ignited only seven years later, after he aligned a disciplinary struggle over embryology with a major confrontation between liberal nationalism and Catholicism —and why the contested pictures nevertheless survived.

* Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH, United Kingdom. Research for this essay was supported by the Wellcome Trust and partly carried out in the departments of Lorraine Daston and Hans-Jo ̈ rg Rheinberger at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. My greatest debt is to the archivists of the Ernst-Haeckel-Haus, Jena: the late Erika Krauße gave generous help and invaluable advice over many years, and Thomas Bach, her successor as Kustos, provided much assistance with this project. I also thank the staff of the other institutions credited in the notes and figure legends as holding materials. The editors of the Darwin Correspondence Project kindly granted access to unpublished material, and the Syndics of Cambridge University Library gave permission to quote from the Darwin Papers. Early versions were given as talks between March 2003 and November 2004 in Canterbury, Berlin, Cambridge, Madison, Chicago, and the ISHPSSB meeting in Vienna. For insightful comments on drafts and other invaluable advice I am very grateful to Soraya de Chadarevian, Lorraine Daston, Silvia De Renzi, Tim Horder, Uwe Hoßfeld, Nick Jardine, Ron Numbers, Simon Schaffer, Anne Secord, and James Secord, as well as the editor and two anonymous referees of this journal. Adrian Newman expertly prepared the figures. All emphasis is in the originals and all translations are my own, though I have followed the contemporary English versions of Haeckel’s books as far as they are faithful.

Isis, 2006, 97:260–301 2006 by The History of Science Society.

04-10-2010 12:39:07
On another front, there was a lot of flow between scientific illustrators, science, and art. Sometimes they were all one in the same as in the case of Haeckel, a scientist, an illustrator, and a landscape painter. Fremiet was an anatomical illustrator at natural history and medical institutions, but also created the ultimate proto-king kong sculpture, Gorilla Carrying Off a Woman (1859/1887) and many other imaginative works. Duval led a double life as an anthropology professor and an anatomy teacher at the offical Paris art school in 1880, where he put an evolutionary spin on Camper's 1775 illstrations of similiarities bewteen apes and humans. Darwin employed the animal artist Joseph Wolf to illustrate a macaque. It was fairly common for scientists to also illustrate their own work, at least for private use. It may be for that reason--an inability to do so--that Darwin relied so strongly on descriptive detail (to return to an earlier point by Michael.)

04-10-2010 22:29:53
In reply to Suzanne’s question as to why do imaginary images such as The Feejee Mermaid still circulate – a fantastic image that I had not seen before. I think, as The Endless Forms exhibition revealed, Darwin’s theory of evolution excites the fantastic side of our imaginations. Although as Gillian Beer points out (Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction), Darwin never wrote about the future. ‘Nowhere does Darwin give a glimpse of future forms: and rightly so, since it is fundamental to his argument that they are unforeseeable, produced out of too many variable to be plotted in advance’. For this reason, as Robert Scholes argues, Darwin’s theory is central to the genre of science fiction. This is true for both literature and film. At least 70 futuristic works were published in England between 1870 and 1900, which also draw upon the metaphor of evolution. Many of these, such as H. G Well’s, The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau, were made into films. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon (1901) inspired George Melies who made the very first science fiction film, A Trip to the Moon in 1902. Central to much science fiction film (Island of Lost Souls, 1932; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954; The Fly 1986; Alien 1979; Species 1995) are images of the body as different, often monstrously alien. Darwin opened up the possibility of the human form both evolving and devolving over time into unforeseeable forms. His theory as lends itself to imaging what a post-Darwinian body might look like as explored by contemporary artists such as Patricia Piccinini and Julie Rrap.


04-11-2010 09:45:53
Dear Barbara and Michael,

Yes, I would like to continue the "science fiction" thread here as it pertains to regenerative medicine. The science of tissue culturing, with its roots in Alex Carrel;s groundbreaking work in the early part of the twentieth century, continues to find currency in today's laboratories as well as visual art practices. Carrel's innovative work in vascular surgery, suturing blood vessels, cultivating tumor tissue in vitro and, in the mod-1930's, his work with aviator Charles Lindburgh on a 'profusion pump' (cited previously in this discussion,)

allowing organs to live outside the body during surgery, led to the development of organ transplant surgery as we know it today. Carrel was awarded a Nobel Prize in physiology for his work in 1912. Part mystic and part die-hard eugenicist, Carrel's revolutionary work (and theatrical personality) brought to public view a promising new technology for repairing injury and curing disease (Friedman, 2008).

Julian Huxley's short story, "Tissue Culture King." published in 1927, makes reference to Alexis Carrel's work and it is another example of the interchange between science and its fictions. In this tale, a narrator retells his encounters in Africa as a stranded Englishman who becomes a cohort of Hascombe, an English scientist captured by the same African tribe 15 years earlier. For the tribal king, blood was revered as a mythic substance. Convincing the tribal leader that white men too revere blood, Hascombe enthrals him with visions obtainable via his microscope, eventually becoming part of their local community and supported by the tribe to continue his scientific research. In hearing that Hascombe named his tribal laboratory the Institute of Religious Tissue-Culture, the narrator recalls the day:

"my mind went back to a day in 1918 when I had been taken by a biological friend in New York to see the famous Rockefeller Institute; and at the word tissue-culture I saw again before me Dr. Alexis Carrel and troops of white-garbed American girls making cultures, sterilizing, microscoping, incubating and the rest of it. " ( Huxley, 1927)

Eventually, Hascombe was able to convince the tribal chief that if he tissue-cultured the life within him, the growth of these extended king essences would "actually be an increase in the quantity of the divine principle."

More recently, tissue-culture has entered the practice of art. For a fuller discussion of "Artists in the Lab" see pages 91-137 from the last online symposium, "Visual Culture and Bioscience" published as Issues in Cultural Theory 12.


04-11-2010 16:48:02
The time period you are discussing, the early to mid-twentieth century was one in which regeneration theory was offering an antidote to degeneration theory (which as we know, inspired Third Reich philosophy, but dates back to the eighteenth century). Degeneration theory became tied up in evolutionism and misunderstandings about heredity--atavism also emerged from evolutionary debates.

Though I know regeneration theory through neo-Lamarckian theories of inheritance of improved constitutions (through physical fitness regimes and so on) or the notion of improvements through eugenism operating now--and all of this, degeneration and regeneration enters science fiction--I didn't know about "tissue culture" and science fiction. Thanks for bringing that up.

No comments:

Post a Comment