Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seed diversity in all its visual splendour!

Last night trawling around online I came across 'Trust me I Am a Seed Scientist' at FB and was smitten with their gallery of amazing photographs ...
                                  ... this species was just one of many that caught my eye.

"Scorpiurus muricatus is an annual legume species, widespread in pastures of the basin of the Mediterranean Sea and it has tiny pea-like flowers and simple leaves uncharacteristic of a legume. Its contorted, pubescent pods give rise to its common name "Prickly Caterpillar".

Be sure to take a look at that sight for amazing posts on Seed diversity!

Friday, November 14, 2014

#thebigseeddraw this SUNDAY + OPEN STUDIO NOV 22 - 30

This Sunday I am conducting a drawing workshop with a difference ... this one will be FREE,  communal and relaxed... with all materials provided. 


Brisbane City Council OH & S made a call on this yesterday afternoon when 42C was confirmed as likely temperature for the day. 
NB: I'lll be offering this free activity at my Studio over 9 days starting next weekend.

Between 9am and 1pm on Sunday morning people will be able to wander into an large marquee set up next to the Community Gardens at Seventeen Mile Rocks on the Brisbane River north west of the city cbd. 

This is a close up of the program where The Big Seed Draw is listed. Read that program here. 

Anyone who takes part in THE BIG SEED DRAW can take a photo of their drawing and post on FB, Twitter or Instagram with HASHTAG #thebigseeddraw to go in the draw for prizes listed on this flyer below:

I will also be running some sessions of the #TheBigSeedDraw at the upcoming OPEN STUDIO event from November 22 to 30 at my SeedArtLab Studio in Chermside, Brisbane. 

So if your based in the  Brisbane region but can't make Sunday please put the studio event in your diary and come and join us there... from Midday till 5pm over 9 days.

Student work from QACI 

OPEN STUDIO EVENT coming up at my studio!

If you have any questions please contact me ... and watch my FB page and Instagram for updates. We will have several special things you can participate in during this 9 day event.

I'll be back with photo from this event soon!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Short Residency at Food Connect Brisbane

This week I had the pleasure of spending my days with a Brisbane Social Enterprise FOOD CONNECT whose mission is supplying 'Local. Seasonal. Ecological Food Direct From Your Farmer'.

Text from Food Connect website ~

'Food Connect works to encourage a fair, healthy and flourishing food culture where food and the work of those who grow, produce, process, transport, pack and distribute (that’s the value chain) are recognised and rewarded fairly. Food Connect Brisbane was established as a social enterprise in 2005 by ex-dairy farmer, Robert Pekin, who when forced off his dairy farm in the late 1990’s vowed to create a fairer food system for everyone.  We are now achieving this by delivering seasonal, ecological food direct from local farmers to our community of appreciative customers in South East Queensland. '

Partners Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate Rose are also involved in the Fair Food movement, through the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance 

From the AFSA website:
The AUSTRALIAN FOOD SOVEREIGNTY ALLIANCE (AFSA) is a collaboration of organisations and individuals working together towards a food system in which people have the opportunity to choose, create and manage their food supply from paddock to plate. OUR PURPOSE is to cooperate, to create an equitable, sustainable and resilient food system for all Australians.
This week the AFSA held a national promotion called Fair Food Week which is the reason I spent the week on residency with Food Connect. 


I've a few more images to add, one of a giant collage I made from Fruit and Veg boxes... and further notes to add to document this busy and fascinating week.  Back soon!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

REBLOGGED ARTICLE: Ancient life forms fed through fractal arms - life - 11 August 2014 - New Scientist

Ancient life forms fed through fractal arms - life - 11 August 2014 - New Scientist


(Image: University of Cambridge)

Is it a tree? Is it a fern? No, it's a rangeomorph, one of the first complex organisms to evolve on Earth. A new analysis of their fossils suggests that rangeomorphs' strange bodies evolved to absorb as much food as possible from the surrounding water.
Rangeomorphs ruled the oceans for around 40 million years, beginning 575 million years ago, in a period called the Ediacaran. Before them, life was microscopic. They grew on the sea bed, far too deep to harvest sunlight for photosynthesis. Up to 2 metres long, they had no organs, mouths or means of moving, so they had to passively absorb nutrients from the surrounding water.
"Geometrically, they were perfectly organised for doing that, creating the greatest possible surface area for absorption in whatever space they occupied," says Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill of the University of Cambridge. WithSimon Conway Morris, she studied how the anatomy of 11 types of rangeomorph evolved, using fossils to create computer replicas of each one.
Hoyal Cuthill found three main types. Some were tall and slender, like fir trees, projecting fronds at regular intervals from a central stem. Others had longer fronds that stuck out more to the side, like many deciduous trees. The last group were sponge-like, sprawling over the sea floor.
Each rangeomorph body plan was a fractal, so it looked the same at different scales. That maximised their outer surface area, boosting food absorption. One of the sponge-like rangeomorphs had a surface area of 58 square metres, almost the same as the interior of a human lung.
Rangeomorphs vanish from the fossil record around 542 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion, a sudden profusion of new life forms that could move and hunt, and had exoskeletons. The rangeomorphs were outmatched. "They were both being deprived of food and probably becoming food themselves," says Hoyal Cuthill.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Art in support of crop preservation at the Global Crop Diversity Trust

When the Global Crop Diversity Trust approached me late last year about using an image of one of my seed artworks for their Festive Season greeting card I was delighted to share an image. This Not-for-profit organisation's role is so central in the global preservation of seeds for food ... they partner on critical projects with Govts, foundations and Institutions such as the Millennium Seedbank at Kew Garden's West Sussex site where I spent a fascinating 3 weeks on residency in 2011. 

This image was used on the card and last week included in the Annual Report of the Crop Trust.

I've followed their work since late 2010... gaining a considerable education by reading the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog by Luigi Guarino & Jeremy Cherfas where they discuss the diversity of crops, livestock, microbes and food ways. Their blog was a launch-pad to all kinds of information in this vast realm... so it was a cross-roads ... a place to learn of the broadest spectrum of issues around this central theme.

Since launching the Homage to the Seed project in 2010 I've pursued both Agricultural Biodiversity and Habitat Biodiversity in equal measure ... covering seed stories from remote, pristine habitats to what's on our tables and everything in between. Ive realised how unusual this approach is from the fact some attack me now and then over the fact I don't take one single view of seeds and stay neatly in that niche.

I learnt in the first year into this project how easy it was to be misinformed. I posted something here
that brought massive attention from people, bloggers I'd never heard of... so that was the last time I ever posted a story that I had no background or context for.

Even when I did post that controversial story I'd written to a number of individuals asking if they'd heard the story... so it wasn't that I'd been completely naive. I was very grateful for that incident because it gave me the conviction to dig much deeper with my own research and track stories over a long time to see what could be learned in the attempt to sort fact from fiction.  

Last week's ANNUAL REPORT from the Crop Trust featured my artwork on Page 21 

To read about a 4 min video the Crop Trust made on my work go to my Studio Archive Blog : 

I'll close with this piece I added to the post sharing the Annual Report Story on my Facebook page. After the two paragraph overview I'd added some personal thoughts... however ... this morning it occurred to me it was better to post the additional part on this blog so moved that content to this forum. 

Time permitting,  read on:

Thank you to the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Bonn, Germany for featuring Homage to the seed artwork in their visually stunning and informative Annual Report :

This important Not-for-profit was set up in 2004 to help create a global system for the conservation and availability of crop diversity. At this FB page I focus frequently on inspiring work happening to counter Biodiversity loss or gene erosion thus supporting every kind of SMALL LOCAL INITIATIVE as well as STATE + NATIONAL organisations contributing to the increasingly critical task of safe-guarding and preserving seeds and with them food cultures, natural resources and eco-systems.

I've added some personal notes below for you to read, time permitting! 

In the past 5 years I've researched + connected with some key International initiatives and hard-working individuals through my growing understanding of the complex layers of work going on around seeds. 

Profoundly impressed at the diligence and passion many bring to this work... every residency I undertake only serves to strengthen the belief I'm meeting fine people who's commitment extends far beyond self-interest and feathering of nests .... whether they be volunteers at a local habitat nursery or community garden, educators or scientists at esteemed Institutions. 

Passion is powerful YET when research and knowledge are ignored one-track thinking can + does close down crucial public discourse and everyday conversations. 

My third day on recent PLANTBANK residency at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan I received an email on my iPhone from a stranger attacking me for accepting money from transnational corporation Syngenta and a host of other sins. 

NOT HAPPY on this occasion for a number of reasons it wasn't the first and won't be the last foolish email or comment aimed at me... but given my funding comes through patronage of an octogenarian mother who grew up on a farm and understands the importance of this project and a wonderful array of art collectors, academics, schools and organisations who approach me with freelance work I was not amused. A large part of my year I see no income as I am simply way too busy producing content and researching to run an online shop or monetise my solo work. I ADORE the people who support my project... support that includes FB likes, comments and shares, Art sales and work offers... it all counts and I never take it for granted. But no ... Syngenta has not put me on their payroll! 

Its simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH to fail to look more deeply. Asking deeper, broader questions is not just polite but its critical! 

I've spent 5 years digging into the questions around seeds and started to realise in 2011 what the general public misses about seeds is extraordinary. One story is discussed ... do I have to mention which story? That is an important story but after 4 years evaluating all that I've been coming across the story of Biodiversity and gene loss is still so ignored, so remote from most people ... yet i'm convinced the biggest risk to the Global Seed inheritance is what is not understood about how species are lost and what small and big things we can do about it. 

What if it wasn't a company that was failing to take care of plant species but our own actions? A story from a fascinating old hippy in Vermont got me thinking. Despite being infamous in the US for his personal seed-saving mission and alternative methods he feels its the easiest thing in the world for people to blame Monsanto and puts genetic erosion down to sometime back in the early C20th when individuals began outsourcing for seeds creating a vacuum that left it to the vagaries of the market-place to supply seeds.

I'm sure that could be argued over endlessly ... but I'm convinced that this the work and knowledge on stalling species loss must be shared ... and it will take effort and initiative at every level of community very much including agencies like the Global Crop Diversity Trust who store the seeds of the country or organisation for that very same country and organisation. What Australia sends to Svarlbad in the Arctic Circle remains the property of the Australian Govt. When the Syrian Genebank was disrupted by war a couple of years ago seed material was sent to Svarlbad and the operation moved to a nearby country. Already extreme weather events have destroyed gene banks around the planet. If you don't know about these matters I urge you to read websites like to name a few!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Seeds of Time | Global Crop Diversity Trust

Watch the trailer for this important new film Seeds of Time. I'm attempting to find out when and where in Australia in might be shown.

Seeds of Time | Global Crop Diversity Trust

Monday, June 2, 2014

Killing species at 1000 times the natural rate: 29 May 2014 - New Scientist

This post comes directly from New Scientist ENVIRONMENT Page


We are killing species at 1000 times the natural rate - environment - 29 May 2014 - New Scientist

First the bad news. Humans are driving species to extinction at around 1000 times the natural rate, at the top of the range of an earlier estimate. We also don't know how many species we can afford to lose.
Now the good news. Armed with your smartphone, you can help conservationists save them.
Birds from Brazil: let get more threatened species in the red zone <i>(Image: Clinton Jenkins)</i>

The new estimate of the global rate of extinction comes from Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues. It updates a calculation Pimm's team released in 1995, that human activities were driving species out of existence at 100 to 1000 times the background rate (Science,
It turns out that Pimm's earlier calculations both underestimated the rate at which species are now disappearing, and overestimated the background rate over the past 10 to 20 million years.

Gone gone gone

The Red List assessments of endangered species, conducted by theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are key to Pimm's analysis. They have evolved from patchy lists of threatened species into comprehensive surveys of animal groups and regions.
"Twenty years ago we simply didn't have the breadth of underlying data with 70,000 species assessments in hand," says team member Thomas Brooks of the IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.
By studying animals' DNA, biologists have also created family trees for many groups of animals, allowing them to calculate when new species emerged. On average, it seems each vertebrate species gives rise to a new species once every 10 million years.
It's hard to measure the natural rate of extinction, but there is a workaround. Before we started destroying habitats, new species seem to have been appearing faster than old ones disappeared. That means the natural extinction rate cannot be higher than the rate at which they were forming, says Pimm.
For the most part, the higher estimate of the modern extinction rate is not caused by any acceleration in extinctions since 1995. One exception is an increase in threats to amphibians, partly due to the global spread of the killer chytrid fungus.

Save everything

The big unknown is what the high current extinction rate means for the health of entire ecosystems. Some researchers have suggested "sustainable" targets for species' loss, but there's still no scientific way to predict at what point cumulative extinctions cause an ecosystem to collapse. "People who say that are pulling numbers out of the air," says Pimm.
Still, it seems unlikely that extinctions running at 1000 times the background rate can be sustained for long. "You can be sure that there will be a price to be paid," says Brooks.
Pimm's team has also compiled detailed global maps of biodiversity, showing the numbers of threatened species and total species richness in a global grid consisting of squares 10 kilometres across.
Such maps can help conservationists decide what to do.
For instance, Pimm and his colleague Clinton Jenkins of the Institute for Ecological Research in Nazaré Paulista, Brazil, noticed high numbers of threatened species on Brazil's Atlantic coast. Local forests were being cleared for cattle ranching. So they are working with a Brazilian group, the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, to buy land and reconnect isolated forest fragments.
But conservationists need more data, and you can help, through projects likeiNaturalist. Users share photos of the creatures they see via iPhone andAndroid apps, and experts identify them. "Right now, someone is posting an observation about every 30 seconds," says co-director Scott Loarie of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Images from the PLANTBANK residency

Today is Tuesday and I leave PLANTBANK on Friday, May 9th so it has been an intensely busy period. I've been recording the days on my Facebook page : Homage to the Seed and on Instagram.

This is the photo feed from FB.  You will need to refer to May, 2014 for the appropriate images if you are reading this after May, 2014.

An introduction to the PLANTBANK Residency

In 2008 I bought a Mac Desktop computer and really for the first time started documenting images reasonably successfully, and frequently. In May 2009 I started blogging at Visual Eclectica and that PLUS getting onto a Mac computer, which gradually I could navigate with ease, represented a revolution in a sense for my Art Practice.

From a painter normally surrounded by canvases and works on paper, unceasingly productive whenever circumstances allowed, I gradually shifted the focus of my art practice so that writing became more public, articulating ideas and influences, researching and in time, further developing the Homage to the seed project after its launch in 2010 for a Residency at Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

Interactions particularly ... and research ... shaped what I investigated, how and when... and gradually that morphed into whole new chapters and directions, all within the Homage to the Seed project.

Why I mention this is to highlight the fact that whilst photography has long been a process of documentation for me .... its never been an art form in that I never took it seriously as a way for me to express what I wanted to say.

I've been surprised when positive comments were made about some images in the last few years  because it actually forced me to reflect on what one is doing when one photographs. As a painter I am not drawn to replicate everyday reality. My paintings invariably lean to abstraction no matter the starting point. Aesthetically I like nature to appear dusty and raw... seeds are often dusty and can easily disintegrate over time. Creating highly polished renditions never seemed to make all that much sense to me as a way of interpreting material as art work.

Scientifically speaking  Botanical Illustration makes absolute sense and can certainly be perceived as very beautiful or remarkable in its own right. And without doubt they can be artworks of great integrity. But personally I am pulled to a different journey in responding to seed material... be it pods, capsules, seeds and interpretations via micro imagery, drawings or photos.

At times though favouring abstract painting over photographing and drawing seeds has seemed at odds with something I very much like to do... and that is showcase the extraordinary diversity of seed forms. But back in the studio there are compering demands on my time and focus and without the availability of what I can access at a place like this the

On this residency the Microscopy Room has been like a voyage to another world ... one that I've been hoping to visit for some time. There is a lot more I could say about what this has given me but this in not the time as I have a painting in progress.

Two processes available in this room are the X-ray machine and Micro-imaging computer. I have worked on both finding X-raying seeds brought the best results to date. It takes time however and I made only a rudimentary start n the Micro-imaging.

This eucalyptus species, Eucalyptus erythrocorys , was the perfect example of a seed that at first glance seems quite ordinary. 100's of seeds fall from each capsule and its only when gathered up in a petrie dish like below... that one begins to notice each seed look different to the naked eye... size and shape vary a great deal. Three dimensional, the complexity is obvious under the microscope... but under the x-ray machine something even more fascinating can be observed.

These are the x-rays  of this same seed ...

In this image I was reminded how well over-lapping works

so made a point of crowding the seeds together in the petrie dish for this next image

...  then focused in and altered the back and white contrast tabs, using my iPhone camera to take a large series of variations and close-ups in preference to using the machine to capture images and slowly save each one... one at a time.

This imagery lends itself beautifully to artistic interpretation. It already has the appearance of a beautifully rendered tonal drawing.

I will be downloading more images soon... Ive taken 100's.  Until then you can go to Facebook for updates on this residency.  


Monday, April 28, 2014

On residency at PLANTBANK till May 9th.

This is a very quick post on my current residency at Plantbank at the Australian Botanic Gardens, Mt Annan, which is in South West Sydney, NSW.

I'll be updating on this residency at my Facebook page and if time permits here at Homage to the Seed blog as well.

Stay tuned for more on this. ... and join me at the public page on FB for updates.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Use of genetic diversity to adapt crops to human needs is as old as the Neolithic revolution


Global Ex-Situ Crop Diversity Conservation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Assessing the Current Status

  • Ola T. Westengen mail,
  • Simon Jeppson,
  • Luigi Guarino
    Sophie Munns : Today I am sharing the Introduction to an article well worth reading if you wish to understand more on this topic. 
    "The use of genetic diversity to adapt crops to human needs is as old as the Neolithic revolution[1]. In the 1920s the Russian geneticist and botanist Nicolai Vavilov started systematically collecting and conserving genetic diversity as a resource for crop breeding, making ex-situ (off-site) conservation part of the agricultural R&D system [2]. Crops producing seeds that can be conserved at low relative humidity and low temperature (orthodox seeds) are now commonly conserved ex-situ in genebanks. The two-fold rationale for genebanks is, on the one hand, to conserve diversity that is threatened in-situ (in farmers' fields or in the wild) and, on the other hand, to make genetic resources accessible to users [3]. In the 1930s, the barley breeder Harry V. Harlan was among the first to sound the alarm on genetic erosion of crop genetic resources[4], and, in 1967, a conference in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiated what has become the genetic resources movement [5]. In the early 1970s, other hallmark conferences laid out practical action plans for the FAO and the Consultative Group on Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to establish an international network of conservation activities and genebanks [6][7]. While the initial focus was on establishing a small number of genebanks with a global mandate, the FAO currently reports that there are 1750 genebanks around the world [8]. Precarious funding, in combination with less than perfect collaboration and coordination among genebanks, has called into question the ability of many of these facilities to ensure long-term conservation, and genetic erosion inside genebanks has become a major concern [8][9]. The need for proper safety duplication of the world's unique crop genetic resources is therefore an important international priority [8][10][11]."

    Photo: A conservationist holds two vials of peas at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
    Cary Fowler, former Executive Director of Global Crop Diversity Trust
    Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic

    "The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established with the “objective to provide a safety net for the international conservation system of plant genetic resources, and to contribute to the securing of the maximum amount of plant genetic diversity of importance to humanity for the long term in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge and most appropriate techniques[12].The Seed Vault is managed in partnership by the Government of Norway, the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Trust). NordGen is a public regional institute supported by the governments of the Nordic countries, and the Trust an independent international organization based in Bonn, Germany. The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food is the legally responsible authority for the Seed Vault, and its operation is overseen by an International Advisory Council consisting of international technical and policy experts representing, among others, the FAO, national genebanks, the CGIAR and the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The Seed Vault provides free-of-charge, long-term storage of duplicates from genebanks around the world and works as an insurance policy against incremental or catastrophic loss of the original collections (Fig. 1). The international community has called for an effective, efficient and sustainable global system to conserve Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) in the Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA) [13][14] and the ITPGRFA [15]. The Seed Vault has, in its five years of operation, become a cornerstone in the global system emerging from within this international policy and legal framework, and good progress has been made towards the target of duplicating all the distinct accessions of PGRFA conserved as orthodox seeds around the world. At its fifth anniversary in February 2013, the collection stood at 774,601 seed samples, originating from 95% of the 193 UN member states. All seed samples are safety duplicates of accessions already stored in conventional genebanks, with 53 genebanks having deposited material so far (Fig. 2)."

    To read more on this, + view images and graphs go to ARTICLE.

    At the conclusion is this:
    Symbol for the larger cause
    The Seed Vault has gained considerable international media attention and even fame [40]. We believe that media reports, though occasionally inaccurate, have contributed to increased public awareness about the importance of crop diversity. While conservation of genetic resources has been part of the environmental movement since the seminal UN conference on the human environment held in Stockholm in 1972, it has often been overshadowed by other issues. The Seed Vault has contributed towards raising the profile of this issue on the broader environmental and food security agenda. In the words of the late Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai: “The significant public interest in the seed vault project indicates that collectively we are changing the way we think about environmental conservation. We now understand that along with international movements to save endangered species and the rainforests of the world, it is just as important for us to conserve the diversity of the world's crops for future generations.” The Seed vault is not a panacea for securing the future's food supply, but it is an important element in safely conserving the genetic resources necessary for agricultural development. As the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on the occasion of his visit in the Seed Vault in 2009: “Sustainable food production may not begin in this cold arctic environment, but it does begin by conserving crop diversity.
    In light of the huge media attention directed towards the Seed Vault, it is important to stress that it only makes sense as a part of a global conservation system. The conventional genebanks spread around the world are doing the essential job of conserving, regenerating, multiplying and distributing seeds to those that use them for applied and basic research for agricultural development and increased food security. The Seed Vault is, on the one hand, a high-profile environment and development project and, on the other, a low-tech practical solution increasingly serving a basic global need for the safety duplication of seeds held in conventional genebanks, as documented in our analyses. There are important synergies between these two aspects, and the Seed Vault plays an important symbolic role for enhanced integration and cooperation in the global ex-situ conservation efforts.

    You might also like to read more of this article below from National Geographic:

    Food Ark

    A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. Luckily we still have the seeds and breeds to ensure our future food supply—but we must take steps to save them.

    By Charles Siebert

    It took more than 10,000 years of domestication for humans to create the vast biodiversity in our food supply that we're now watching ebb away. Selectively breeding a wild plant or animal species for certain desirable traits began as a fitful process of trial and error motivated by that age-old imperative: hunger. Wild wheat, for example, drops its ripened kernels to the ground, or shatters, so that the plant can reseed itself. Early farmers selected out wheat that, due to a random genetic mutation, didn't shatter and was thus ideal for harvesting. 

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