The unfortunate disappearance and triumphant return of the formerly smelly slime mold

Last week I turned 30. To celebrate, I had the grand opening of the exhibit I've been curating / designing / fabricating over the last 9 months. I'll share some photos of the party soon, but first, an important back-story about one of many obstacles I faced in the week and a half preceding.

Slime Mold Life Cycle concept sketch, presented via Skype to my friend / biologist Laura Walker.

Slime Mold Life Cycle concept sketch, presented via Skype to my friend / biologist Laura Walker.

A slime mold's life in ink

A slime mold's life in ink

The above images illustrate how a slime mold's life works. Complex, bizarre, and combining aspects of the lives of animals and fungi, this cycle has befuddled scientists and scientific illustrators for centuries. I decided to translate the scientific storyline into a giant gilded installation across the wall of the Library. 

My friend Tom came all the way from Upstate NY to help me install it. 

My friend Tom came all the way from Upstate NY to help me install it. 

Tom and I installed this cardboard sculpture of a plasmodium (a young, one-celled slime mold) a week and a half before the opening. But, the Library made us take it down. Earlier, I wrote about my desire to make exhibits completely out of "sustainable" and biodegradable materials. But as I said, this time around, I used some spraypaint. Turns out, the Library is not cool with spraypaint. 

slime mold in the backyard

slime mold in the backyard

Don't the spray-foam puffs resemble the amoeboid beginnings of life? I love this image, and I can still smell the adrenaline I felt when--after weeks of intermittent spray-painting--I realized suddenly that the library might be unhappy with my choice of materials. But it was too late. The morning after I took this photo, this thing was going up on the wall.

From concept to implementation, the plasmodium took months of hard work.

From concept to implementation, the plasmodium took months of hard work.

Traveling plasmodium

Traveling plasmodium

So, we took it down and shoved it back in my trunk. This time Tom didn't bother to lay between its layers, clinging to it to keep it from escaping as I drove across town. 

Adaptation

Adaptation

What was I going to do? I couldn't spend more money on the plasmodium. My mom was in town by now. We started making a new one in the most sustainable way possible, out of my vast piles of paper waste from the exhibit design process. But it looked a lot like trash. 

Zhongming sips wine with a thriving slime mold

Zhongming sips wine with a thriving slime mold

To make a long story short, my mom and I found an environmentally friendly sealant at an environmentally friendly hardware store, slathered it on the by then well-worn sculpture, and convinced the library that all was well. They very kindly allowed us to stick it back up on the wall. It looks way better than trash, I think, but I will never use spray-paint again. 

Now You See It! The Slime Mold Revelation

I'm building an exhibit about 400 years of art about slime molds. Now You See It! The Slime Mold Revelation will live at Seattle's Center for Urban Horticulture in Fall, 2015. Come party in the CUH library on September 18th (my birthday!)

Here are some images of the exhibit's conception, gestation, and installation.

A Flyer.

A Flyer.

First, I should explain that I've been immersed in slime molds for the past few years. I'm illustrating a field guide for world-renowned slime mold researcher Dr. Stephen L. Stephenson, at the University of Arkansas. His writing and my images are very close to being done!

Diderma effusum in progress

Diderma effusum in progress

Diderma effusum: consider it done

Diderma effusum: consider it done

Second, you'll want to know more about slime molds. Slime molds are the golden spore-filled blobs that appeared in your lawn overnight. They're the iridescent millimeter-tall corndog-looking things on your houseplant. The tiny parfait-cups and elaborate orange pretzels you stepped on in the woods. Slime molds are one-celled bacteria-eating protists, traveling the soils of every continent.  

Todd, not breaking my plasmodium 

Todd, not breaking my plasmodium 

So if they're so small and sparkly, Why the gross name? Slime molds begin their life as a fluid, pulsating, traveling, multinucleate cell called a plasmodium, like the cardboard one Todd is holding. Plasmodia can grow to be many feet long -- but still, they're just one cell. 

The holes are for petri dishes. 

The holes are for petri dishes. 

I designed this plasmodium as a vector so that a robot could cut it out with the push of a button. 

Alex dremels cardboard

Alex dremels cardboard

But the human in charge of pushing the robot's button became preoccupied with things unrelated to slime mold, so other humans stepped in to cut cardboard the old-fashioned way (with a Dremel tool and beer). Thank you, generous people. 

(This is a test.) Slime molds thrive through the formation of the Montlake Cut. 

(This is a test.) Slime molds thrive through the formation of the Montlake Cut. 

Nothing says Awe and Wonder like a diorama. I aspired to use free and natural materials: cardboard for the underground plasmodia, wax for the fruiting bodies (red and brown), Soy-based inks for the background images.

In the end, to be honest, some chemicals got mixed in. One day all my exhibits will be made of mycelium and treasures from dumpsters.

I did lots of Photoshopping to show myself and others how things might turn out. 

I did lots of Photoshopping to show myself and others how things might turn out. 

Physarum roseum

Physarum roseum

Enlarged on the walls and windows will be the incredible and little-known illustrations from The Myxomycetes of Japan, 1977. 

This is a test. 

This is a test. 

I e-mailed slime mold art experts around the world in order to curate the exhibit. Here are some of the images I got my hands on. 

Ernst Haeckel, 1902

Ernst Haeckel, 1902

Giulielma Lister, early 20th century. Miss Lister painted every slime mold known at the time. 

Giulielma Lister, early 20th century. Miss Lister painted every slime mold known at the time. 

A photo from an international slime mold Facebook group. 

A photo from an international slime mold Facebook group. 

Pier Antonio Micheli, 1729. Pier discovered spore germination. Nobody cared. 

Pier Antonio Micheli, 1729. Pier discovered spore germination. Nobody cared. 

Sakuma Bungo, circa 1942. At 71, Sakuma decided to spend the last year of his life drawing slime mold. 

Sakuma Bungo, circa 1942. At 71, Sakuma decided to spend the last year of his life drawing slime mold. 

This one's mine: Craterium leucocephalum with inner structure and spores. 

This one's mine: Craterium leucocephalum with inner structure and spores. 

Mini Maker Faire at the EMP

All of Spring Break weekend was spent alerting Seattleites of their local slime molds. 

My booth, replete with specimens, magnifying devices, and explanations.  

My booth, replete with specimens, magnifying devices, and explanations.

 

Setting up in the wind

Setting up in the wind

"They're these tiny things that live on dying leaves and sticks and eat bacteria. Trust me, they're cool."

"They're these tiny things that live on dying leaves and sticks and eat bacteria. Trust me, they're cool."

budding Cribaria cancellata enthusiast

budding Cribaria cancellata enthusiast

Everyone was invited to create their own slime mold post cards: 

Everyone was invited to create their own slime mold post cards: 

Bennett illustrates Cribraria cancellata's ability to withstand an erupting crater.

Bennett illustrates Cribraria cancellata's ability to withstand an erupting crater.