13 March 2009

An Interview

Q: What first drew you to the idea of bioluminescence?
A: When I was, like, 14 or 15 I think, maybe as late as 16, my dad told me about it. He had seen a blurb about it in one of his science magazines. Fish who eat a certain kind of glowing bacteria or something, and then they make the algae change color within their stomachs, glowing to camouflage the fish or frighten enemies. He showed me the article, which he had cut out of the magazine, and then later he wanted it back! I was devastated! (Laughs) I made him photocopy it for me, which he found odd.

Q: So you were immediately attracted to this image, then?
A: I fell in love with it. It was something... so unexpected and unbelievable that it could have been magic, a little bit of magic at a time when the world was such a disappointment for me. But yes, I loved it with that adolescent passion... you know, somehow emotionally sexual but still totally pure. I posted my photocopied blurb on a bulletin board for years.

Q: Were you trying to recreate that adolescent feeling in your exhibit?
A: No, nothing like that. I would rather find passion in new places, though it gets harder and harder. But no, I wanted to create the magic, real magic--to make people feel with a sense they didn't know they had, or see that... I don't know... the world can still be exciting despite everything being fed to us as a let-down.

Q: Did you do a lot of research beforehand, or did you just jump in so to speak?
A: Well, there was a lot of research. We were working in collaboration, the three of us in the show, and a lot of the science was uncovered by JC. But over the years you learn things as well... In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne describes a bloom of bioluminescent algae, which is called a milk sea in the book. We wanted people to walk in and for there to be that sense of surprise.

About seven o’clock in the evening, the Nautilus, half-immersed, was sailing in a sea of milk. At first sight the ocean seemed lactified. Was it the effect of the lunar rays? No; for the moon, scarcely two days old, was still lying hidden under the horizon in the rays of the sun. The whole sky, though lit by the sidereal rays, seemed black by contrast with the whiteness of the waters.

Conseil could not believe his eyes, and questioned me as to the cause of this strange phenomenon. Happily I was able to answer him.

“It is called a milk sea,” I explained. “A large extent of white wavelets often to be seen on the coasts of Amboyna, and in these parts of the sea.”

“But, sir,” said Conseil, “can you tell me what causes such an effect? for I suppose the water is not really turned into milk.”

“No, my boy; and the whiteness which surprises you is caused only by the presence of myriads of infusoria, a sort of luminous little worm, gelatinous and without colour, of the thickness of a hair, and whose length is not more than seven-thousandths of an inch. These insects adhere to one another sometimes for several leagues.”

“Several leagues!” exclaimed Conseil.

“Yes, my boy; and you need not try to compute the number of these infusoria. You will not be able, for, if I am not mistaken, ships have floated on these milk seas for more than forty miles.”

Towards midnight the sea suddenly resumed its usual colour; but behind us, even to the limits of the horizon, the sky reflected the whitened waves, and for a long time seemed impregnated with the vague glimmerings of an aurora borealis.

Q: Were you happy with the way the show was received?
A: The reviews were mostly positive, so yeah, I was mostly happy. But I think a lot of people saw it as just another experimental thing or gimmicky or too contemporary. Not enough people let themselves go when they walked into the first room, not enough people saw the magic we were trying to portray. People don't want to see real magical things. When they do see it they're always looking for a guy behind the curtains, you know? All the pieces we put up were totally self-contained, you know, no electricity or lights anywhere or anything, but people just assumed there must've been something. We could set it up in the middle of a forest and it would be the same, but I don't know if even then people would see it as magical. (Laughs) They'd blame it on aliens or something.

1 comment:

Oktober said...


I found one of these today. A little fleck of magic.