Boundary Between Living and Not-Living, 2018


I am making images that act as both an illustration and analog for evolution of life on Earth. I use a simple chemigram process to mimic the creation and evolution of protocellular structures by submerging fully exposed sheets of photographic paper in an oil and water mixture; through repeated cycles of developer, fix and stop I build out complex structures as the photographic paper, oil resist and processing chemicals react with one another. The process is very much a collaboration with chance as the plane of the photographic paper intersects multiple times with a sloshing mix of photographic chemistry and oil.

I am fascinated by that moment when non-living matter turned into living matter. When matter started moving by around and took control of its own molecules. Is life special or is this distinction a delusion in the human mind? What is the difference between a rock that becomes dislodged from a cliff by the expansion of freezing water and then falls to the ground below and a single celled photosynthetic algae that uses its flagella to moves to the water's surface to be closer to the light?  From a scientific standpoint that moment is more of a transition and its not fully understood. Science can't answer that question of "why life"? It's moments like this, at the edge of scientific understanding where art can fill the gap. The empty space between the known and unknown. These gaps exist in everywhere in science, the origin of life happens to be a particularly large one and one that has implications for understanding our own finite existences. I am trying to get in touch with that moment when life pushed its way into non-living matter and began to inhabit and animate it. If I can understand where I came from and how I was made I can maybe make sense of how I will become unmade.

I place this series and others that are part of my exploration in the the origin of life onto a lineline of Earth history. For example, Diffusion Gradient takes place before life evolved on earth and Abiogenesis is right at that fuzzy transition. Boundary Between Living and Not-Living takes place somewhere before life evolved all the way up to the evolution of eukaryotic cells. This idea came from my background in geology and love for geologic timescales and stratigraphic sections. I timescale is a maps where movement through space is transformed into movement through time. For example, one inch of shale in a stratigraphic section that was deposited as clay in some ancient lake may be equivalent to a million years of time. Boundary Between Living and Not-Living is specifically inspired by illustrated geologic timescales like the one to the right. Each geologic epoch is accompanied by drawings of its dominate life forms and landscapes depicting major geologic events. Looking at this timescale is like stepping outside of time and looking downing at all of history from one perspective. All the great transition are evident at once: the evolution of life, eukaryotic cells, multicellular life, plants, the first land animals, the extinction of the dinosaurs, the first mammals, and then humans at the very end.  The photos in the series replace movement in space with movement in time. Simple forms move along pathways and become more complex, fade away into blackness or stop abruptly. There are paths of increasing complexity from simple bubble looking protocellular forms to structures reminiscent of prokaryotes evolving into more complex eukaryotes. I wanted to represent and show this whole transition and to do in a way that utilized the randomness and chaos present at this actual time 4 billion years ago.