The animation, Changing nature, contributes to conversations people are having about the value of looking to Antarctica for knowing the future of life on Earth.

My aim is to animate Antarctica through more eyes than my own, to offer different ways of thinking about it.

Here are some questions you may consider responding to, to contribute your voice to this project:

How does this animation work towards achieving my aim?

What can you find in it that you can relate to?

Does it make you think differently about Antarctica, and if so, how?

How does the website work overall towards achieving this aim?

What can you suggest I do to further this aim?


Navicular diatoms are described as motile and symmetrical:

* Valve is organized around a line (bilateral symmetry)
* Valves symmetrical to both apical and transapical axis
* Raphid system well developed, raphe on each valve makes cells highly motile
* This group has the greatest diversity among the freshwater diatoms

Antarctic Freshwater Diatoms: Naviculoid Morphology

The Free Dictionary defines motile:

mo·tile (mtl, mtl)
1. Moving or having the power to move spontaneously.
2. Of or relating to mental imagery that arises primarily from sensations of bodily movement and position rather than from visual or auditory sensations.

Slight variations from the symmetrical – eccentricities – can be seen in the photographs on the Antarctic Freshwater Diatom site of the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research National Science Foundation.


Jan Weckstrom, who currently works at ECRU, the Environmental Change Research Unit at the University of Helsinki… Diatoms are microscopic, unicellular brown algae covered with silica and present wherever light and humidity allow photosynthesis, Weckstrom explains. One gram of dried up lake bottom contains millions of diatom shells.

For example, bodies of water different in salinity, nutrient content and acidity favour different diatom species. When the optimal environment for different species has been charted, the changes in the distribution of the species tell something directly about the changes in the environment.

This reminds me of the day I flew by helicopter from Davis to Ace Lake, to help a scientist collect water samples from fresh waters below its ice. Chad, from Cambridge England, was studying life forms that could process carbon or photosynthesize, depending on conditions. They could behave like animals or plants – whatever was required to survive. (V2 2002)
University of Helsinki Quarterly magazine, Spring 2005

How is this relevant to my work?

Animating diversity in diatom forms suggests our own diversity. We might imagine ourselves the same as each other, to conform to social pressures. But in reality we are all, like them, shaped by our different and changing environments.

Finding the meaning of ‘motile’ as “of or relating to mental imagery that arises primarily from sensations of bodily movement and position rather than from visual or auditory sensations” excited me. It relates to human movement improvisation as a source of imagery for animating our self awareness in landscapes.


7 Replies to “Diatoms”

  1. Interesting but perhaps you could expand on the significance of this to your work?

    A short note on links (hypertext references): One of the rules of thumb for good practice is to select your link text (or image) so that it is self describing. That means that the text you choose to indicate the link should be indicative of the destination. From above: ‘University of Helsinki Quarterly magazine, Spring 2005’ is good practice whereas ‘these’ is not so good. The most common example of bad practice is the use of the words ‘click here.’

    In essence, this is about accommodating non-visual senses.

  2. Thanks Simon.

    I’ve made the change.

    Although the description of a destination may be long-winded, I can see how more inviting it can be that a ‘here’, or worse, ‘click here’.

  3. A conversation Aboriginal linguist Bryan Fricker leads me to John Bradley.

    On the Monash University website I find the transcript of a conversation between Bradley and Amanda Kearney, titled Saving the Yanyuwan language. Bradley is talking about using animation to tell Aboriginal stories.

    At first, he said, he began with drawings. But there was some resistance:

    at first people were alarmed by the whole idea of drawing, because drawing was associated with sorcery.

    Then, after some success with an animation of spirits flying around a waterhole, he said,

    … they realized that there was some value in it. So then we had to work out how do we represent these things as a standard that people will accept. And that’s been an ongoing process of negotiation with them…

    I really started with the most difficult thing to animate, because I thought if we can animate a ceremonial song line then anything else is possible.

  4. Wonderful talking with you on the phone tonight Bryan, to understand more about synthesizing the animations (or figures, as you called them too)..

    It was good to hear you speaking as a linguist.

    Correct me if I’ve mis-heard you…

    You explained how different concepts are encoded in different languages, and how these concepts are inherently untranslatable.

    You talked about dance as a visceral language, close to animation, and the challenges involved in translating its encoded concepts into English.

    In ceremonious dance, I suggested, particular gestures encode particular concepts. They are repeatable, eliciting the same audience response each time they are performed.

    You suggested play is a form of communication. Dance can be play, and play can be dance. A game can be played and re-played to repeat the same concept.

    You suggested I synchronize animations and word chunks, (integrating them within screens), to synchronize my writing with my visual-gestural language. You said this may be a way to identify patterns between the two kinds of language, as I write about how they evolved.

    This, we agreed, could be a way to identify categories of concepts – embedded in animations: a taxonomy of gestural responses to Antarctica.

    My supervisor once asked, “What is the global gesture” that might conceptualize Antarctica?

    Do you have some references for any of the ideas we discussed tonight?

  5. Great talking to you too – I always feel so up-lifted.

    Actually, what I said was that some concepts don’t accurately translate across languages – there are some universals. Have a look at work on the 5 universal facial expressions (although I reckon there are more).

    I love the concept of a global gesture to embody Antarctica. Could there be global gestures for all shared concepts?

    As far as references go, have a look at stuff on psycholinguistics and Auslan.

    I think you’ve got the guts of the rest of the yarn.

  6. Literature:

    A diagram, a map, and a painting are all examples of uses of visual language. Its structural units include line, shape, color, motion, texture, pattern, direction, orientation, scale, angle, space and proportion.

    Abstract art has shown that the qualities of line and shape, proportion and colour convey meaning directly without the use of words. Wassily Kandinsky in Point and Line to Plane showed how drawn lines and marks can be expressive without any association with a representational image.[4] Throughout history and especially in ancient cultures visual language has been used to encode meaning ” The Bronze Age Badger Stone on Ilkly Moor is covered in circles, lines, hollow cups, winged figures, a spread hand, an ancient swastika, an embryo, a shooting star? … It’s a story-telling rock, a message from a world before (written) words.”[5]

    Vision gives us inexhaustibly rich information about the objects and events of the outside world. The language we use to record these phenomena is, because of the simplicity of line, shape and colour, infinitely adaptable to the needs of communication…

    The sense of sight operates selectively. Perception is not a passive recording of all that is in front of the eyes, but is a continuous judgement of scale and colour relationships,[6] and includes making categories of forms to classify images and shapes in the world.[7]

    Thought processes are diffused and interconnected and are cognitive at a sensory level. The mind thinks at its deepest level in sense material, and the two hemispheres of the brain deal with different kinds of thought.

    The brain is divided into two hemispheres and a thick bundle of nerve fibres enable these two halves to communicate with each other. In most people the ability to organise and produce speech is predominantly located in the left side. Appreciating spatial perceptions depends more on the right hemisphere, although there is a left hemisphere contribution[8].

    In an attempt to understand how designers solve problems, L. Bruce Archer proposed “that the way designers (and everybody else, for that matter) form images in their mind’s eye, manipulating and evaluating ideas before, during and after externalising them, constitutes a cognitive system comparable with but different from, the verbal language system. Indeed we believe that human beings have an innate capacity for cognitive modelling, and its expression through sketching, drawing, construction, acting out and so on, that is fundamental to human thought.”[9]

    ^ Archer, L. Bruce (1979). “Whatever Became of Design Methodology?”. Design Studies 1 (1): pp. 17–18. doi:10.1016/0142-694X(79)90023-1.

    Visual language, Wikipedia:

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Posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 2007