Embryogenesis of Breath

How do emotion and desire effect the representation of truth in science and truth in art?

How does beauty relate to information in visual models of the growth and shape-changing of the human embryo?

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

36 Responses to “Embryogenesis of Breath”

  1. J Butler says:

    Dear Tom Leonhardt, Fantastic, it works! Thank you,
    thank you … .

  2. kym pruesse says:

    Hi, just had my first visit and must return for a longer cruise before I respond with any insight –but I thought I’d congratulate you on getting it up and running. Looks spiffy. Nice colour. Astute design. Interesting topic, compelling language.
    Look forward to more time with it.


  3. Your site takes my breath away/is breathtaking, particularly sensitive as I am just now (you know why).
    I think you achieve your objective so very well… science and emotion meet, so evocative is the process of discovery, so emotional the attempt to simulate (risking failure).

    • rob says:

      I’ve taken a bit more time with your site and find it, the second time around, both more and less successful (uh oh, the blush is off the rose:). If I may, I’ll just babble on here a bit to give you a feel for my approach.
      The site is really well-organized and clear, which is a pleasure in itself. I noticed this time that there are two sides to each section, oppositional, like science and emotion, but also not really opposed to each other, more paired like two lungs.

      The model fetus pic really did it to me, first AND second time around. The fact that it is colourless (white) and seen in a white field, outside the womb, the baby on its head makes for a powerful image: tragic/comic/melancholic, I’m not sure how to describe it.

      Maybe its a stretch but it reminds me of some of my own work, plaster casts made by cupping plaster with the hands or in places around the body, a sample is the old version of my site, at http://www.interlog.com/~driftr/casts.html. Also some pottery I saw in a mag last year sometime, by a woman in England, white porcelain bowl forms that are so organic you would swear they are . I’ll have to look this up again.

      Obviously the art is in the project overall rather than in individual images or models? But then I had some difficulty interpretting the layered images. They are interesting but I find them very difficult to read in an aesthetic way, they are so literally the result of a rational process.

      For me, the text does not consistently tread the line between science and pleasure, not like the images do:

      There are places where I lost the rational sense of the sentence momentarily in favour of a more poetic interpretation:

      >breathing chambers over the pattern of surface ice< In other places the scientific description struck me very emotionally, like found objects sometimes do: >the bronchial passages must carry air to the furthest tips of the breathing chambers of the lung… That is the function of the breath.< The last panel/page surprised me a bit, not sure why the fetish should be dangerous, a very rationalist point of view isn't it? Of course magic thinking does not cure disease, but doesn't do a whole host of things that science for the most part ignors? hypomnemata – living text

      • Jack Butler says:

        Thx for the links: Your “Drift” site and your
        use of moulage casting, I think, are very
        appropriate responses to what I am trying to do on
        this site.Your lateral drifting approach
        complements our (Leonhardt and myself)
        hierarchical structure. I breath a sigh of relief
        when on “Drift”. “Hypomnemata” adds a whole
        library of ancillery texts, especially Foucault’s
        dscription of the hypomnemata personal collection
        style notebook, and its contrast with the
        confesasional notebooks of the Romantic
        philosophers and artists.

        Why do you find the art of this site to be in
        the overall piece rather than in the individual
        images? My fears are exactly the opposite: that
        the web site is too documentational and book-like
        in its format; in short, too much like scientific
        illustration and not enough like visual art.
        Whereas, the individual images vary both in their
        roles in the building of the embryological/theory
        project and in their relation to artmaking. To my
        mind there is a big difference between the
        sections “Is Like”, “Is Not Like” etc., which I
        think use art processes (pattern construction/
        recognition – visual metaphors) and the modelling
        sections constructed as scientific illustration,
        ie., the interplay of images and texts which
        represent content beyond both mediums. I really
        appreciate your tackling this issue as it is
        deeply interesting to me and few will engage the
        site so intensely and respectfully as you are. I
        should mention that I have continued to work with
        the overlay images in large scale woodcut/digital

        A bit of background about the white “embryo
        pic” you mention above. This photograph is from a
        suite of pictures of three plasticene models I
        built to represent genital differentiation. After
        20 years of work on this subject it occured to me
        that every image I had seen of embryonic genital
        development, whether in scientific text books or
        popular magazines, represented the genitals as if
        the embryo is lying on its back like an adult
        patient on an examination table (or in stirrups).
        The unacknowledged associations with adult
        pornography and subjugation/disempowerment infect
        (it sems to me) virtually the whole history of
        imaging human genital development. I set out to
        build models of genital development which, a)
        include the relationship between the gnitals and
        the whole body of the embryo and b) position the
        genitals in the photographic image more as they
        would be seen pictured in the womb – embryo
        floating head down, etc. This technique has, as
        you note, introduced a whole new set of
        difficulties. But the tragi-comic look of these
        images does make it clear how important it is to
        render explicit the conventions for understanding
        any model.

        This is also my answer to your question about
        the dangers of turning a representation – which
        medels content beyond itself, into a fetish – a
        model that we mistakenly identify with the content
        it represents. Fetishes have there place, of
        course, especially in art. But not, I think , in
        the representation of theories of human
        embryological development.

        • r labossiere says:

          Jack, I am amazed how our readings of your site can be so opposite. I find the overall effect of the site conceptually challenging, not merely descriptive but imaginative, creative. The idea of liminal skin for example is not something one would normally encounter in a scientific, or is that scientistic?, site. Niether would a scientist, at least the kind that I think of when I say the word scientist, normally be concerned about pleasure in the experience of “data”.
          At the same time, I do get what you are saying because the site is very clearly descriptive in the way it is organized; leaps of faith, suspension of disbelief, are called for by the content.

          Your development of the fetus model in its proper perspective is very interesting. I didn’t get this critical “angle” at all, unless subconsciously – could you say something about this in the site itself? (I suppose here in the dialogue section is IN the site really).

          Perhaps any kind of representation necessarily is limited, and carries therefore political baggage. It is good to become aware of that baggage – examining how representations claim the truth and disclosing the truth that is so claimed.

          With a new baby at home I am constantly looking at what he is looking at with such fascination, wondering what he sees. So much of what he sees is from a completely unusual perspective, from the floor, up into bright lights, giant heads poking in at him, faces sideways and upside down. Nothing seems to disorient him but I am often on the edge of uncertainty – lifting and carrying a being who is so not bound into the normal horizontal/vertical grid of things.

          world village project – for thinking globally in the New Year

        • Jerry Jordison says:

          The image as a fetish – enshrining a spirit – is
          appropriate as art when you reflect on Jung’s
          universal sysmbols. You must accept that there is
          Spirit-That-Is-In-All-Things and that Spirit is
          Love, and is represented as beauty when viewed in
          a social-restricted mind set or in a form of
          meditation or intuition or instinct. Asthetics of
          icons is only enhanced when the Inner-Self is
          connected with the icon. Therefore patterens in
          Nature that are represented by icons, reveal
          themselves as beauty to a viewer who is able to
          sense the connection of All Things. A fetish is
          art because it contains the spirit of what it
          represents and shines forth as beauty.

          • Jack Butler says:

            Response to Jerry Jordison
            Jerry, Wonderful to find your response on this
            site. A “RavenStar Energy Centre”, references to
            Jung – your response takes me back with a jolt to
            the arctic in 1969-70 when you were working for
            the DOT weather station in Baker Lake and Sheila
            and I were working with Inuit artists at the
            Sanavik Co-op. I recall our often year-long
            converstaions (arctic time?) about what I believe
            to be the seamless integration of art into
            Angosaglo’s and Oonark’s practical life. As you
            can see from this site, the question of the role
            of visual art in picturing knowledge remains at
            the centre of my project. Great to hear from you.
            Love to Pat, Kevin and Scott.

  4. Moira Howes says:

    This is fun: I’m sorry that I waited so long to
    respond! I have a few questions and I would love
    to hear feedback on them – or better yet – get some
    answers. Here goes:

    1. Do pictures add content or information that
    could not be added with text alone?

    2. Some biologists might argue that pictures
    simplify concepts. Why should this be so? If new
    content, new associations, or new conceptual ties
    are made as a result of the images used, then it
    would seem that a lot more than simplification is
    going on.

    3. Is the relation between illustration and
    metaphor one of identity?

    4. What are the risks, if any, of identifying
    images with what they represent?

    That’s all the questions I have for now. I’ll
    finish by saying that this is a beautiful and
    thought-provoking work and I’m glad to have the
    opportunity to discuss it!

    • Jack Butler says:

      Let our exchange be a conversation – partial
      answers, incomplete thoughts, suggestions – even
      though your questions could easily inspire a
      doctoral thesis.
      1.and 2. Do pictures add content or
      informatiuon … ? and do pictures simplify
      content … ?
      “The words or the language, as they are
      written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in
      my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities
      which serve as elements in thought are certain
      signs and more or less clear images which can be
      ‘voluntarily’ reproduced or combined … The above
      mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and
      some of muscular type. Conventional words or other
      signs have to be sought for laborously only in a
      secondary stage.” Einstein in Baigrie (1996), p.41
      We seem to believe in a hierarchy which places
      material pictures and ” certain signs and more or
      less clear images …” at the bottom, progressing
      upwards through degrees of increasing abstraction
      until the order of mathematical logic symbolically
      expressed in words is reached. It is at the level
      of words that we believe thought occurs.
      If Einstein (above) is to be taken at face
      value, then the Western prejudice which collapses
      thought into language would seem to exclude
      Einstein’s psychical images from the class of
      My own premise is that thought (whether in
      science or in art) is constituted of all forms of
      symbolic discourse, private/introspective as well
      as public/communicative, material mediums such as
      “psychical” entities and physical abjects as well
      as abstract systems. And thought, ie., pictures
      and words and the spaces in between these, I
      believe, is mediated by convention.
      In direct response to tour question Moira, I
      think some concepts can best be expressed in
      pictures and, therefore, require translation (with
      a loss of content) into words. And the opposite is
      true for word centered concepts.
      3. Does “illustration” equal “metaphor”? This
      web site started as an attempt to analyze my own
      uses of art to enact a scientific theory of
      embryogenesis. In response to your question Moira
      I find I must attempt a meta or second order
      analysis of the site itself. Here we go.
      The term ‘illustration’ to my mind implies a
      specific relation between the processes of
      theorizing about science and the processes of
      picturing the science/theory – a relation (I
      contend) where, in the case of this web site, my
      concept or theory of fetal lung development is
      communicated in a dialogue between digital
      pictures of models and textual description. Both
      pictures and words in this case are about
      something else: they jointly represent a theory of
      fetal lung development. ‘Illustration’ is how I
      think of the pictures and texts in the section of
      the site titled “Beware of Models”.
      Metaphor: in the earlier branches of the site,
      such as “Is Like”, I am using what I think of as
      art processes – visual pattern recognition
      (construction?) which, as “Is Like” suggests, is a
      process of identifying visual metaphors, as a
      method for enacting embryological science – using
      picturing to do science.
      4. In the long run I am much more interested
      in investigating the relation between picturing,
      metaphor and knowledge than I am in producing a
      theory in science. If a model becomes a fetish,
      that is, identified with the process it
      represents, the relation between content,
      convention and context becomes opaque – closed. In
      order for the relation between a model and its
      object to be an act of artmaking, representation
      must be transparent – remain open to continuous
      interpretation or re-framing.

      • rob l. says:

        I don’t want to be ALL OVER the various dialogues here but i couldn’t resist. It occurs to me that the distinction between illustration and metaphor has more than one layer. It is not like one illustration simply illustrates whereas another is a metaphor, although that is often how it works. An illustration may be a metaphor, that is a symbol or it can be both, the way a tree can represent “oak” and also “permanence” or “conservativism”. My point here is I think Jack’s site is working this terrain of both illustration and metaphor.

        If i may be so bold, risking being too simplistic, I see the symbolic aspects of the scientific project “embryogenesis” having to do, in a very particular and specialized way, with broad life metaphors”birth”, “growth”, and “change”. It is so unusual to use sceintific discourse in such a metaphoric way.

    • Moira says:

      I have been reading all of the responses and I
      think they are wonderful. I don’t know if I can
      do them justice but I will sure try. I’m giving
      you more than questions this time and so I should!
      I want to talk more about the way thought is
      experienced and I will return to the question of
      illustration and metaphor. First a question:
      Jack, I am not sure what you meant when you said
      that for you, some elements of thought are of the
      muscular-type. Did you mean something like
      embodied thought? I understand and sympathize
      with you comments reagrding the visual component,
      however, and I’d like to throw some stuff out into
      the air about that.

      In a philosophy class I was in about six years
      ago, the professor did an informal survey of our
      class to find out who of us could think only in
      words and those who could think in images as well
      as words. About a third of the class claimed to
      be able to think only with words. My professor
      claimed that he could not call to mind pictures
      that he had seen: in fact, he was hard pressed to
      represent faces to himself. He wryly commented
      that Derrida must be of this group! Now, I am
      wary of such “groups”, but anyway, there appear to
      be studies which support the claim that some
      people just do not think using images.

      I was quite surprised by all of this. I assumed
      at the time that everyone thought using images: a
      self-centred assumption for sure. But now I am
      less convinced of my own ability to think using
      images. I seem to rely so much on words these
      days. And yet, while dreaming, pictures convey to
      me deep insights about myself. A simple pictorial
      symbol often conveys what might otherwise take
      months of self-analysis.

      Do you think the ability to think in images can be
      exercized in much the same way that, with
      practice, our writing improves? The answer may
      not obviuosly be “yes” to those of us outside of
      the visual art worlds. As you point out Jack, our
      constructed hierarchies of thought, and their
      implicit valuations cause us to ignore, suppress,
      minimize visual thought.

      Besides making us more human – creative; sensitive
      to beauty, wonder, feeling and thought; open to
      new ideas – the embryogenesis of breath, through
      its intermelding of images and words enables us to
      make fresh new connections. It is the kind of
      work that might help those of us (whomever this
      “us” might be) with the loss of imaging in
      ourselves. It is a relief to me, forever inside a
      text as I am.

      Crossing disciplinary boundaries opens new
      connections, but it is not only about discovering
      new things. It is also about justification of
      ideas: Jack’s work provides justification for
      believing that embryonic lungs develop in a
      certain way. Scientists do this also: many have
      very creative and emotive relations to their work
      and data (Barbara McClintock is a good example but
      there are many unknown scientists hanging about
      who would do just as well). Perhaps some
      scientists who work in this way do not feel at
      liberty to reveal their methods given the current
      restictions on what is appropriate for scientists
      to think about. It seems not to matter what our
      occupations are: people who are drawn to art, the
      art in life, the beauty in science, the science in
      beauty are sprinkled everywhere. Yet it is not in
      our culture to openly reveal and develop these
      interdisciplinary connections. And so, Jack’s
      work gives us much to reflect upon, and examine.

      Now: about metaphor. I think all illustrations
      are metaphors. This is not to say that this is
      all that illustration is; just that one of the
      things it is is metaphor. Illustrations, intended
      metaphorically or not, tend to become so in the
      mind of the viewer. This is what I meant when I
      asked if the relation between illustration and
      identity was one of identity. I should have just
      come out and said that! So Jack, your
      interpretation of “=” was correct, although I did
      not mean logical identity which could never hold
      between metaphor and illustration, but only
      between metaphor and metaphor etc.

      The definition of metaphor I am using here,
      however, is so broad that it risks becoming
      contentless. I think of metaphor as a way in
      which we conceptualize. Rather than being a thing
      on a page, metaphor is a process of sorts. It is
      not necessarily based on similarity, or even on
      difference. The best ones bring together two
      conceptual schemes not formerly in contact: and
      wordlessly, new understanding and/or new
      associations are made. The metaphor is not in the
      words used to convey it. It is in the open-ended
      and indefinite concepts that arise from it.
      Thoughts radiate out (the metaphor a stone dropped
      from a height) and are the waves breaking on the
      arctic lake. They are breathing: air rushes in as
      further associations are made, and as it is pushed
      out we refocus on the words or picture itself
      trying to determine its meaning in the absence of
      all the connections. We cannot and so we take
      another breath.

      Perhaps “metaphor” is the best term that has been
      found for this thinking experience. Stolen from
      literature and linguistics, it means here
      something quite beyond its technical definition.
      I say this so as not to offend anyone who is
      working on metaphor proper.

      I hope I have clarified the place from which I
      asked these questions. I look forward to reading
      more responses to this site.

      • r.l. says:

        Re-reading yesterday’s posting I realized Moira’s question “Is the relation between illustration and
        metaphor one of identity?”
        Jack, did you purposely replace identity with an = sign or is that a science-engendered habit?

        Moira, are you using identity in a particular way, or for a particular reason, instead of asking, for example, is illustration the same as metaphor, or how is illustration like, or not like, metaphor?

        Jack, your response, that you are “identifying visual metaphors, as a method for enacting embryological science – using picturing to do science” is interesting from a science point of view, a kind of lateral thinking used to “illustrate” phenomenon which cannot be easily observed or otherwise documented but it is also challenging from an artistic or aesthetic point of view which is where I was trying to get to – how the work itself not only illustrates embryological processes but as a broader metaphor.

        The term identity is so loaded up in art jargon, I wonder about it but then it often raises or points to issues of the subject, the subjective and the objective.

        Jack, can you say something about your, the artist’s, relationship to the subject here. I find myself uncertain whether the subject is the embryo’s lungs, embryology or science generally. All of the above?

        There is something to be said here also about inter or multi-disciplinary work, that migrates across boundaries, carrying meanings,often critically.

        There, I can breath easier now.

        not much on the web about this interdisciplinary artist – Mary Kelly

  5. R. Labossiere says:

    Are you familiar with the medical usage of a technique which I think is called moulage? It involves wax casting and painting and is/was used particularly to reproduce skin diseases for study (by medical students). Is it still in use or has it been supplanted by new technology. eg. the web. I saw an excellent book about it at the U of T bookstore, medical section. It was outrageously expensive, even more expensive than an art book. Those doctors.

    moulage = trauma practice scenario = not what I’m looking for exactly

  6. P. Mahon says:

    It’s exciting and strange to begin this
    conversation. I’m beginning with some hesitation…
    The site IS beautiful. Am I alone with it now?
    I plan to return with some thoughts for a period of
    a few days/weeks — in the hope of breathing my way
    to a meaningful response to this site and your

    Thanks for this opportunity.


    • Jack Butler says:

      No Patrick, you are not alone now. You claim a
      public space in the discourse centering on the art
      of representing human embryological development.
      Alas, we are confined to words for the time being.
      Your pictures of embryos woven into the domestic
      spaces defined by the patterns of wall paper would
      add a rich other dimension to the discussion on
      this site. Will you articulate in words (perhaps
      poetic) the relation you construct between embryos
      walls and spaces?

    • Patrick Mahon says:

      Last week I wrote something here, in response to
      the peice, and in response to Jack’s question
      about my own history of constructing (speculating
      on) a relationship between embryos and wallpaper.
      Alas, the peice got lost… so now I add memory to
      the matrix that I’m developing here. Can I
      reconstruct a text that went away instead of going
      ‘out’ into the space we’re all trying to somehow
      inhabit here?
      1. On “The Yellow Wallpaper”:
      American 19th century domestic reformer Charlotte
      Perkins Gilman wrote a now quite famous story that
      addresses my topic. In it the protagonist, a woman
      confined to her room due to illness, is described
      in her ‘descent into madness’ (or, as experiencing
      stages of increasing neurosis aggravated, if not
      caused, by the actions of a dominating
      husband).The florid wallpaper surrounding her in
      her upper room gradually comes to life; the woman
      behind the wallpaper rattles the intertwining
      vines. The walls are alive, breathing.
      2. Embryos and Wallpaper
      Here I want to invoke domestic space as a site
      that is inscribed in ways that parallel the
      inscriptions (social/psychoanalytical) of the
      female body. I do this in order to speculate, as I
      did in an exhibition entitled “Re-entering the
      House of Flowers,” on the notion of ‘a small
      room’: a floriated space of embryonic development.
      Here, a viewer may peer at fetuses in varying
      stages of development, through tiny floered frames
      that resemble ‘modernist windows’ (in the context
      of art), and also conjure the notion of ultrasound
      imaging (in the context of scientific study).This
      is the room that I, according to my biology (and
      the present moment of ‘scientific history’),
      cannot fully have access to. My experience remains
      disembodied, no matter how much I attempt to
      ‘personalize technogenic appearance.’ (Barbara

      3. Glass Walls/Breathing House
      A mere few hours after our first son, Thomas, was
      born his breathing became laboured. This wa
      disturbing to my partner and I, and surprising as
      well. He had come into the world so seemingly
      robust and fully developed.
      Many tests and several hours later he was confined
      to an incubator, a breathing house of glass that
      would support his life for about a week. Gradually
      the results of tests made it apparent that he had
      experienced ‘wet lung’ — he had breathed in
      amniotic fluid as he was being born — which was
      not fatal but required ‘medical incarceration’
      I am interested in my son’s early history, and I
      recall my experience of it as one of emotional
      extremes within a kind of dream-like
      temporality.But, as I grow more distant from it in
      time, I’m also interested in it in the context of
      some of the binary constructions that modernism
      has been plagued and invigourated by:inside/
      outside; glass walls in contrast to those dense
      containers of the 19th century and before; science
      versus art. I wonder if my son’s birth experience
      was as if he’d moved from a 19th century-like room
      (deep and red) into a modern, transparent chamber.
      I wonder about my own ambivalent longings — that
      the chamber remain deep and red, even as its walls
      are made transparent and full of light.
      (Jan. 11, ’98)

      • Jack Butler says:

        Dear Patrick, I want to think about your response
        to “Embr. Br.” before attempting to further our
        conversation. Yours is such beautiful and
        poignantly personal writing. Your response sets in
        motion waves of (fictitious?) “memories”: I spent
        the first 6 weeks of my life in an incubator, so
        my mother tells me, and I have often wondered if
        my pre-memory experience – isolated beyond touch,
        but fully accessible to the visual – is one of the
        roots of my own life-long passion (pleasure/pain)
        for making images and theories about embryological

      • Arlene Stamp says:

        Your final image of a chamber, “deep and red, even
        as its walls are made transparent and full of
        light” reminds me of the “red” I felt that I found
        in my 1987 work “Red and Not Red”. The truest red
        seemed to be the red glow which emerged from the
        assembled grid of all the various reddish hues in
        this work. So perhaps it is possible to be both
        places at once!

        • Jack Butler says:

          Great to hear from you Arlene. Starting from the
          idea that pictures on the web, like all art in all
          materials, are thoughts (not about thoughts)
          colour seems to me to be among the most direct
          mediums for thinking. Will you say something about
          colour on the web – especially colour on this
          site? Regards, Jack

  7. Rob Labossiere says:

    I meant to call to mention the book review in last
    weekend’s (the week before this last weekend) Globe
    and Mail. I don’t even recall the name of the book
    now, which was panned, but the point of the book
    was to show how science and art/culture can be
    reconciled. As I recall the reviewer said the book
    failed to deal with the scientific belief that
    everything can be measured. Scientific belief, I
    wouldn’t have thought I would be able to put those
    two words together in the same sentence.
    Generally I find artwork that puts tech high on
    its list of priorities to be missing something
    else, the cultural part. I don’t find that for the
    Embryogenesis work, which is more complicated,
    certainly in terms of the presentation on the web,
    which is afterall a most cross-disciplinary medium.

    Some fascinating java driven projects from MIT Media Lab

    • Ruby Arngna'naaq says:

      What a weird review, knowing that this a book
      review in a National paper! What I am wondering
      about is can he measure love, the feeling and the
      tangibleness of that feeling? By what standards
      does scientific research does one measure love –
      By today’s which sort of goes something called
      “tough-love”, or by the wimpy measure that
      hollywood has, or would the standards be that one
      becomes a doctor who finds herself saying alot
      of: “This is goind to hurt..” but its’ good for
      you? I know that science and research is one of
      those oxymoron type subjectsd to get into but I
      must admit that the commentator puts a whole new
      twist, eh?

      • Jeremy Drummond says:

        Hi Ruby,
        I was interested with your response and the idea
        of love in relation to art and science. Love is
        not one of angles I initially took towards this
        site but now that you’ve mentioned it, I am
        suprised that I neglected it when I was thinking
        about breath and the developement of life. Maybe
        it was my attempt to think scientifically that
        blocked out this notion of love, a feeling that I
        cannot measure or calculate in scientific terms.

  8. Juan Geuer says:

    From Kurt Goedel we have learned that nothing can
    be self-referencial. The conundrum is a bit more
    complicated but we can savely say that all
    things, all beings, all thoughts, all concepts are
    ENS AB ALIO (dependent entities). This is the
    unmistakable reallity we live in. No scientific
    argument has its justification in itself. No
    artist can claim to create ‘out of nothing ‘. WE
    feel that on every step on our way . This also
    means that all things are interconnected.
    Basically that is why I think that you are on the
    right track. I hope to have time and opportunity to
    go deeper into these matters. May be if Jim can
    mannage to organize another conference at
    Interaccess. Good luck, Juan

    • Jack Butler says:

      Ever since I saw the notes on the blackboard that
      you had set up during your presentation at last
      year’s Subtle Technology conference at
      InterAccess, notes that you did not get to
      discuss, I suspected that you turn to analytic
      philosophy to find an anchor for your practices in
      art and in science. I was so sorry your
      presentation did not get so far as to explain your
      intentions in presenting us with Kant’s analytical
      terms for his “Critique of Pure Reason”. And now,
      today, you start your response to our website
      about the art and science of (embryological)
      modelling with a reference to Goedel’s theorem and
      its influence over much contemporary thought. Your
      (and Goedel’s) conclusion that mathematics is not
      a self-referential system (dispite what would seem
      to be evidence to the contrary from the entire
      tradition of analytic mathematical logic from
      Frege to Russell), begs, I believe, a summary
      statement of Goedel’s contention. What was it that
      Goedel discovered that so turned the course of
      contemporary mathematics? I think, Juan, that if
      anyone can make this idea accessible to our web
      audience it will be you. With much appreciation
      for joining our conversation, Jack

  9. Elizabeth Harvey says:

    It is difficult to visit this visually opulent site
    with its intellectual provocations and its
    saturated colours without thinking reflexively
    about the process of visitation. In a sense,
    computer technology replicates the patterns Jack
    describes–whether alveolar chamber walls, Islamic
    geometric tiling patterns, soap bubbles, or
    honeycombs–because as respondents to the site, we
    are simultaneously confined to the solitude of our
    own computer terminals and also joined within the
    honeycomb community of respondents, both divided
    and linked by the walls of our subjective
    I was especially intrigued by the exchange
    between Patrick and Jack because it brings up
    questions about memory. Patrick talked about his
    infant son being confined to an incubator and Jack
    invoked a memory that is not quite a memory about
    having spent his first weeks in an incubator. Both
    of you explicitly consider memory–as a repository
    (chamber) of experience that is always changing,
    being affected by others, altering as we add life
    experience to the mix. Of course, as psychoanalysis
    reminds us, we never have unmediated access to
    those memories, particularly to the primordial
    ones–in utero, birth, first breath, life in the
    glass chamber of the incubator. Still, they must
    shape in some primitive way our orientation to
    knowledge and they must do so in ways that are not
    just epistemological but also burdened with
    emotion. I think that looking at an image of an
    embryo or fetus is heavily freighted with
    affect–we tend to get these images in popular
    culture and the media in places where they have an
    affective dimension: illustration of the marvels of
    science or life (or both), abortion debates,
    pregnancy books. I don’t think it is possible
    (certainly not for me as a woman/femminist/mother)
    to look at these images in a way that’s shorn of
    desire, nostalgia, wonder. I expect that there’s
    always a sense of connection to our past (in utero)
    and future (children). The richness of the color
    seems to stand in some displaced way for that
    emotional register (and Julia Kristeva’s theory of
    the semiotic as the register of the pre-linguistic,
    often evoked by color, is pertinent here). And I
    wonder about my own response to the idea of fetal
    isolation, for I shared my uterine comaprment with
    a companion (a twin)!
    In looking at the images on the site, I have an
    eerie sense of invasion. Not only am I looking
    (presumably) into the private chamber of a woman’s
    body (or perhaps at what has been removed from
    it–the fetus/embryo still connotes that
    interiority), but I’m also looking at the inside of
    that embryonic/fetal body, at the various
    developmental stages of lung tissue. This radically
    interior view seems as once a violation and a
    marvel, a violation because in order to see
    properly one does need in a sense to discard the
    exterior body (of woman, of fetus). In order to see
    patterns and the relationships among them, we need
    to violate the context–isn’t this how scientific
    vision is honed (by isolating the body part so as
    to concentrate more fully on its attributes)? What
    about artistic vision? By yoking the two, Jack, you
    seem necessarily to raise ethical questions about
    science, about the appropriateness (and
    cost–literal and ethical) of cultivating
    scientific vision.
    This brings me to my final point–how
    extraordinarily visual the site and the experience
    of the site is. This seems like an obvious point,
    except that the images (fetus, soap bubble, tile,
    honeycomb) evoke the other senses as well,
    especially touch. The sheer beauty of the website
    (colour, layout, images, patterns) almost
    compensates for the senses that aren’t there, but
    not quite. And that made me think of the incubator
    again, for if you saw the world in your first weeks
    of life, Jack, through glass walls (and were
    deprived, perhaps, of certain experiences of smell
    and touch), are we replicating your state from the
    other side, looking through the glass wall of our
    computer screen deep into the early memory of an
    infant breathing?

    • Jack Butler says:

      1. Counterpoint
      Listening to Edward Said on “Ideas” the other
      night (the radio was just audible above the noise
      of traffic, my attention was focused on surviving
      the 401), on some other plane of consciousness I
      was picturing “… my state from the other side,
      looking through the glass wall of our computer
      screen deep into the early memory of an infant
      breathing?” (your question about the visual
      experience of this website). Your allusion –
      through the glass wall of the computer screen –
      disolved before my minds eye into the heavy
      greenish sheets of glass I had been etching in my
      studio – pictures of embryological development, my
      own children as babies, my own (possibly) first
      (primitive pre-conscious) views of the world from
      inside the glass walls of an incubator (so my
      mother tells me). Concurrent with my visual
      reverie I think I heard Said say that the multiple
      voices of postmodern culture could by imagined by
      analogy to a fugue by Bach (a surpirising analogy,
      it seems to me, for Said’s post-colonial
      discourse) but, whether I am quoting Said
      correctly or not, my visual thoughts were
      instantly stratified into the layered
      picture-voices of a fugue.
      Counterpoint: two, three, as many as seven
      individual coherent sustained voices picture
      simultaneously. I experience the polyphonic syntax
      , now consonant now dissonant, at one moment
      transparent at another opaque. While the multiple
      and indeterminate visual semantics (the pictures)
      seem to be simultaneously private and public,
      constructed and revealed.

      In the (virtual/electronic) imaging of the
      website, as in the layered (material) glass
      pictures in progress for The Miners’ Canary
      exhibition, I have been attending to the syntax –
      the counterpoint – while you, Elizabeth, have been
      most generously attending to the semantics.

      2. “…we tend to get these images in popular
      culture and the media in places where they have an
      affective dimension: illustration of the marvels
      of science or life (or both), abortion debates,
      pregnancy books.”

      I believe a very important picture-voice is
      missing from my visual counterpoint – a visual
      layer representing exactly those affectively
      freighted images from popular culture that you
      mention. Would you, “as a woman/femminist/mother”
      identify the key picture (or pictures) that you
      have in mind, from your own experience, so that I
      could (with your permission) incorporate this
      missing voice? I, too, am in search for THE (my)
      source picture emblematic of Comming into Being
      and Passing Away. But your source picture is not
      likely to be the same as mine. Or could it be?

      And then there is colour.

      Jack 11/29/99

      • Ruby Arngna'naaq says:

        Jack and Sheila: If I have not told you that I
        am so pleased and grateful for both your ways of
        thinking that questions – or is it a state of
        learning lifestyle. Having searched the whole of
        this website a number of times I am struck by it
        everytime of its warming/humane learning and
        thinking. I like, the Biblical King David half
        sing: “Marvel in awe how amazing and wonderfully
        made, you have created me.” and the hymn going
        throughmy mind of: “O Lord my God, when I in
        awesome wonder; consider all the world thy hands
        have made…” And how often I sadly think of the
        times precious humans have been turned of by His
        supposed priests/deciples how far we have looked
        through “the vail” and how oft we deliberately
        cover the truth, the life and the freedom His son
        meant to bring.
        Your questions of when and how did “the breath of
        life” enter and how does it end and what can we
        do to prolong the breath of life. I am reminded
        of: “And God breathed on his creation of dust
        and soil and he became a LIVING BEING.”, and also
        of words within the same books: “He gave up the
        ghost…” Again in the same set of Books in
        Isaiah and again I believe in The Psalms: “I
        knew you when I formed you in your mother’s
        womb.” bein an Inuk, I too, like my anscestral
        people believe that “abortion only when the life
        of the mother is in danger.” Unlike the
        feminists and proabortionist know that a fetus is
        not part of the mother’s body otherwise we would
        all be physically connected to our mothers. As
        Attuat, one of our late elders once blatently
        stated: “In many ways us women/mothers are just
        bags and carriers of another human being.” Inuit
        (most) believe that we have no more right to
        interrupt/kill a pregnancy than we do in killing
        another (born) human being. the truth is, we had
        little to do with being formed, nor of where we
        were born to so where do we get off snubbing
        someone else’s life? the question is asked: did
        you decide to be formed and born? If you have no
        control of your own birth then where do you get
        being a sigle parent, I have to admit I had to
        answer those very questions and not having
        killed, and now 24 years later no one know the
        joy, releif I feel of not having aborted someone
        who has taught me to give my all. Also in
        relexion against those whom I know have
        aborted/ended an embroyo I have a fuller and reer
        life than they do.
        Just couple months back, I watched a little 7
        year old fight for life after a heart-lung
        operation, she fought for 36 hours, and watching
        her dying for water/juice any liquid during those
        hours was one of the hardest “good for you act” I
        have ever done. Her fight seemed so ironic when
        she started to fight fluid build-up around her
        upper chest around her lungs. during those hours
        as I prayed I have to admit I had your artworks
        visible going through my mind – there were times
        I was at a loss for words – liquid is so needed
        but too much sure can make physical life very
        painful, thoughts that some of those breathes
        might be her last – and watching the oxygen air
        bag, in-out, in-out, the longest a seconds or so
        later of out, relief flowing through me. I must
        admit those 3 weeks were the longest seconds and
        minuites i have every gone through. For the sake
        of continueing life/abortion opinion, I also knew
        taht her life was in jeopardy during the first
        month of her growth sends shivers and rejection
        of those kinds of thoughts go through me – can
        not imagine death of her – how much more richer
        and and giving I have learned because their lives
        were spared as they were just beginning to enjoy

        • Jack Butler says:

          “…When I in awesome wonder…”. It has been
          about 46 years since I began my first art/science
          works as my medium to research the development of
          life in the embryo. It is that overpowering
          feeling of awesome wonder that propelled me as a
          teenager and that moves me now to continue this
          questioning research on the Embryogenesis of
          Breath website. The art studio and laboratory
          research disciplines for both analysis and
          expression in the website are focused on Picturing
          (representation, illustration, etc.) and Knowledge
          (theories about development, growth, form,
          structure). But Ethics (the moral dimensions of
          biological research), religious beliefs and
          abortion debates surround the pages of the site
          like a halo of bright light and underlie the site
          like a dark shadow.

          Your story about the weight of responsibility
          associated with your personal decision to become a
          mother is inspiring. And your “good-for-you-act”,
          watching, in terror, the oxygen air bag go in and
          out, as you waited beside the child who had come
          through heart and lung surgery add your light and
          your darkness to the growing meaning of this
          conversation about the awesome wonder of human
          development. Thank you dear Ruby. Jack

    • Patrick Mahon says:

      Hello Jack, Jeremy and other participants. It is a
      long while since I visited — and contributed —
      to the site. I have a lot of responses to what I
      see here now, but my most direct one is to remark
      on how beautiful the site is…. did I
      forget?(Mind you, I have a better monitor now…
      Funny, my eyes are deteriorating but my monitor is

      Further, the layers of responses have the effect,
      for me, of invoking a more complex spatial model
      here. This, I suppose, is the ultimate
      abstraction: thinking through a developing spatial
      construction in virtual space.

      I’m glad Jeremy invited me back in… and do I
      intend to come back to the table/keyboard with
      more to say on embriogenisis.


  10. rob labossiere says:

    How do emotion and desire effect the
    representation of truth in science and truth in

    Is that effect or affect?

    • Jack Butler says:

      Effect or Affect? good question. Either effect or
      affect would make sense in this context, but here
      is what I had in mind.

      – effect (tr. vb.) to cause to occur; bring
      about; accomplish …
      – affect (tr. vb) to act upon or influence,
      espec. in an adverse way: to move or disturb

      My (admittedly unanalysed) question regards the
      effect of … . Insofar as representations (true
      or false, science or art) to my mind are social,
      historical entities and, therefore, intentionally
      constructed (as opposed to revealed or

      Again, to my way of thinking, if the question is
      phrased, “How do emotion and desire affect the
      representation of truth …?”, emotion and desire
      are reduced to being passive affects of some
      (possibly transcendent, probably revealed)

      How would you word this question? Or, what
      question would you ask in its place?

  11. rob again says:

    i’ve been thinking about jack’s site on and off,
    you know, sort of noticing things, remind me of it
    or vice versa. like this bit, from the latest
    issue of the magazine Fast Company:
    “Women are canaries in the coal mine of power.
    They fall over dead whenever work gets stifling.
    They groove whenever new models of business
    behaviour are emerging: consensual management,
    flextime, the belief that work should have
    meaning. Women are early adapters of technology.

    “For that reason, we won’t see great leaders until
    we see great women leaders.”

    • Jack Butler says:

      Response to Rob: Written in the spirit of – let’s
      torment Rob!
      “Women are canaries in the coal mine of power.”
      Sounds great. Should be written on the walls in
      The Miners’ Canary exhibition. Consensual
      management, flextime, etc., are definitely the
      right changes to conditions of labour. But wait:
      something is very wrong here. It seems to me that
      any statement that starts with “Women are …”
      (great leaders, canaries, etc.) is liable to the
      same stereotyping, generalizing abuses of power
      historically associated with statements such as
      “Men are …” (great leaders, eagles, etc.).
      But you sure have got me thinking about the
      relationship between the title and the intention
      of The Miners’ Canary exhibition.

  12. rob 3 says:

    “Although Hamlet is not the first character to
    reveal his thoughts on stage or to utter a
    soliloguy, his particular expression of meditative
    self-consciousness is both original and universal.
    It represents a truth about human experience that
    could not be told before.”
    – from Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck

    In her book Murray is talking about how new media
    can be expected to produce new narrative
    structures in the same way books and film, as new
    technologies, affected (effected?:) cultural
    production. She tried (1997) to anticipate what
    the new narrative might look like by examining
    what we had so far at that time: avatars, MUDs,
    games, simulations. It didn’t get her too far but
    far enough to give me a sense of virtigo.

    Its on my mind — the new media — as you know
    Jack, facing yet again a shift in work strategy
    (as if it were a strategy and not a reaction).

    Notwithstanding Murray’s essentialism (the notion
    that art always represents a truth about human
    experience as opposed to behaviours in cultural
    parentheses), isn’t there a struggle in
    Embryogenesis to wrest some new truth out of the
    interface between science and art? And doesn’t
    that mirror, though in a slightly different medium
    (the web being after all, involved, though not too
    self-consciously) the struggle going on in new
    media: looking for something in the technology,
    frustrated by familiar narrative structures, yet
    bending the rules and structures too, however

    I find myself searching backwards, as we are
    taught, to your root directory: ~fatemaps (access
    forbidden): searching for what? arithmetic
    formulae? as if, if I could only find the
    equation, I could be certain then of the
    truthfulness of the product and proceed
    untroubled, without contradictions, breathing
    easily at last.

  13. Ruby Arngna'naaq says:

    Jack I attempted once again to contact you through
    your own mail but unable to so thank God for this
    site. I have indirect questions for Tom as well –
    it’s the Storybone game that I am wondering
    about. I just need to know what I had promised to
    do. I also obtained an old (1995) Apple computer
    for my mother as a hand-me-down. I do know the
    question is what site Mom should access the
    internet for her part in the future of Storybones,
    – I’ve called my brother Silas for info on
    location, but he has not responded. To maintain
    the line (phone) is $25. per month plus
    longdistance costs (telephone) but unable to find
    out who and at what costs connection would be. I
    guess that is enough on that project – meanwhile
    how long is the life of embryogenesis? How was
    the wedding and what is Alexis’ up to?. take care
    and a great big “hello” to sheila. Also are the 2
    of you still planning to go to Baker? If so when?

Leave a Response