Category Archives: Biology

Urban Evolution

Moving on from from the psychological in Emotional Evolution last Sunday, we now have the physical (well, kinda – the fashionable!). Here, the fashion focuses on organic themes evolving into a urban emphasis (London, of course). Inspired by the urban, there’s more streets brands involved (in fact, this outfit is entirely my own wardrobe, unlike most of the previous looks, with the exception of Imperial Geek Chic which was also all me). It draws on both the natural, with earthy tones, but painting them in a new light, with modern styles and city skylines. 

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My first thought for this outfit was something exceedingly natural – all earthy tones, and I’d shoot in a park and all that. I even went as far to put pieces of the outfit together before I realised it wasn’t right. The outfit was fine, but it didn’t fit. This was about evolution, not simply ‘nature’.

With this in mind I changed the shoot and outfit almost entirely. I kept the earthy tones, but offset them with splashes of colour and modern patterns; the stripey D&G bra, the embroidery and gold belt on the Punkyfish combats, and the print on the Iron Fist shirt. I moved away from natural flowing shapes to ones more edgy and urban, and brought in some ferocity with my distressed denim Ash heels, which was also added to via my Una Burke leather cuff and Bamford leather bracelet. The set changed from a purely organic nature setting to that of an urban garden.

All in all, the final look was one I’m very proud of. It had the organic and natural edge, but evolved into an urban setting. I’m very much looking forward to finding an occasion to wear it!


I’m so happy with how this look turned out, especially given how unsure I was about the outfit and setting (I was making changes right up till the very last moment, and had hardly planned the makeup and hair at all). The pictures were taken by my awesome sis Tiffany, who resides on twitter and Instagram, and the set was my home (the front ‘garden’ and roof ‘garden’ although there’s no actual grass anywhere).

I also want to give a quick shout out to Rebel State (also on twitter and Instagram!), as that’s where I got the Iron Fist t-shirt, which I love to bits, and it’s also where I get the majority of the awesome stuff I wear day-to-day. I love them because they stock lots of different brands, but all in line with the type of stuff I like – street style with a dark edge. I’m sure you’ll see more stuff I got from them on here over time, as it’s pretty much where I go whenever I’m in Camden. 

Emotional Evolution

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Many would argue that it is our emotions that make us human – that the complex and entangled nature of our internal lives is what separates us from other animals. True, other animals seem to have some emotions – your pet greets you happily when you get home, dogs get excited about going on walks, animals seem to get angry, and can love their young. But so far, most animals don’t seem to display the complex internal struggles that we humans experience. And it is easy to see how this emotional nature separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our emotions allow us to make art, not just for purely decorative purposes, or as some type of mating call (as seen in the lavishly decorated nests of bowerbirds for example), but as a way to try and express ourselves, a vehicle of passion. And passion is very important here, as that is definitely not usually seen in other species. This is especially clear when we look at some emotions that haven’t been recognised in other species.

One of these? Spite. Spite is a purely human emotion, a form of hatred which is hatred for hatred’s sake, where we derive pleasure from seeing other man is pain. It is not a practical emotion, and we gain no evolutionary advantage from it – it is not revenge to gain something new, like land or riches, but a way of seeing our fellow man suffer. And spite can create some of the greatest art, and drama of all time. Look at Shakespeare’s Othello, with the horrifically spiteful Iago. His destruction of Othello’s marriage, causing him to kill Desdemona, was as a form of revenge (for not being promoted when Cassio was), but it is not a revenge which brings him anything apart from pleasure at another man’s suffering. There were no real or practical rewards, only the resolution of his own jealousy. We see in Iago something that at once feels horrific and evil, and yet is at the same time all too familiar and human.

Humanity may be redeemed, however. Spite is not the only unique human emotion – gratitude is as well. Not the selfish gratitude, where you know someone has done something for you in return for something else (which we do observe in the animal kingdom), but gratitude that truly fulfils the old “it’s not the gift itself, but the feeling behind it” adage. Whilst we may be spiteful, we can also be kind for kindnesses sake – these are emotions whose only purpose is emotion itself, bringing us back to passion, for is that not in a sense what passion is? Large outpourings of emotion, without any real practical use, but that inspire creativity, and love, and our humanity.

These emotions are what make us human – they are both what make us fallible and strong. It is hard to imagine a world without them, and you would not want to – whilst some may argue we would be better off without spite, it would be a cruel world if we lost gratitude too. These emotions are the ones that can cause some of the worst conflicts in our lives, but also create some of the happiest moment. They are what make our lives real and human, and what make us, us.


This blog post was inspired by an amazing discussion panel/talk I went to at the Natural History Museum called ‘Emotional Evolution’ (where I stole the name from, funnily enough!). There were three speakers, who were all fantastic and very interesting – Dr Geoff Bird, Alastair Gill, and Dr Penny Spikins who I must pay special thanks to as she’s the one who talked about spite and gratitude being uniquely human (but they all said so many interesting things that I could probably write ten blog posts about all the different things they looked into!). The event was linked in with the ‘Britain: One million years of the human story’ exhibition, which I desperately need to go see myself, but recommend purely on the basis of the glimpse into it that the talk gave me, and was also part of the ‘After hours‘ late nights at the NHM, which (like the ones at the Science Museum) are so much fun, and I also recommend.  Thanks so much also to all the hosts of the ‘Emotional Evolution’ panel talk – I had so much fun, and learnt so much! 

Alchemical art

In Metamorphosis on Sunday we looked into the bizarre yet beautiful way iridescent blues are created in the Morpho butterfly, and how the complex form and style of nature could inspire modern artists and artisans such as Shaun Leane. Still keeping with Shaun Leane, with a look inspired by the bespoke gold beetle brooch he created for SHOWstudio, we move away from the cool blues to the fierce and fiery reds and golds, from something delicate and purely organic, to something strong and alchemical, more representative of the jewellery and metals themselves than the nature which inspires it. 

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When I first heard about the ‘SHOWcabinet: Shaun Leane’ exhibition it was being promoted with the image of a golden beetle. Because of this, my journey to find the perfect outfit initially centred purely around metallics, the hints of which can still be seen in the golden accents of the final look (and the slightly less visible golden eyeshadow and nails!).

However, although I rooted through my mum’s closet and tried on all the garish gold and other traditional metallic pieces, nothing seemed to quite fit with the mood I wanted to achieve – something with an animalistic ferocity yet elegance, but also a hint of modern urban chic –  and the only thing I was sure of were the KG black and gold heels, whose height (yet elegance) also gave me a kind of feminine ferocity which fit in perfectly to the look.

Because I was originally looking for only golden metallic tones I didn’t originally look at the red iridescent wrap-around top, because I was thinking of basing the outfit off a more vibrant/garish metallic piece. When I realised the kind of mood I wanted to portray, however (instead of simply basing my choices on colours) I realised it was the perfect fit, especially with the almost serpentine red-and-gold striped ties. The realisation of the theme also lead me towards gold accents, such as the Accessorize gold cuffs, to create a sleek darker shape which used the gold as a highlighter.

Although the look was in some ways inspired by the natural world and organic forms, it also had to have a modern elegance represented by Leane’s work. From the look, the slicked back hair and tailored Westwood mini skirt contributed to that, and the chic urban setting of Knightsbridge completed it. This is possibly one of my favourite outfits yet – I almost wore it to the opening itself, but the tininess of the miniskirt and the height of the heels changed my mind. Still, I’d love to wear this outfit out at some point, maybe with the additional accessories of Leane’s own work – I’m pretty sure it’d come in at the definition of a ‘manneater’!


I know I’ve just said it, but GOD I love this outfit/look! Now I just need a damn excuse to wear it somewhere (or I’ll end up going to Sainsbury’s dressed like this, which may be fun, but will just make bringing back the groceries very tricky).

The photos were taken by the amazing Biju, who is not only a damn great photographer, but also a kick-ass writer! Some people just have all the luck, hah.  You can find her on twitter and tumblr and keep up with all the awesome stuff she does. 

My exams are coming up now, so although I will still be posting, expect shorter and maybe shoddier posts over the next fortnight or so. However, once exams are over? It’ll be high fashion blogging time! (Probably.)

Metamorphosis

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For millennia nature has been a source of inspiration for humanity and the artists within it. From cave paintings depicting the birds and the beasts to fertility sculptures celebrating the human form, from the earliest of times we’ve received artistic inspiration from the organic forms and beings surrounding us, to a point that many early religions were based around the worship of the natural world. And really, who can blame them? Even now, with scientific explanations for so many of the wonders of the world so many people’s belief in a divine architect stems from the mindboggling creativity and complexity of the forms that surround us. Of course, whether or not you want to invoke the celestial, the science behind some of the beauty has it’s own elegance.

Take the colour of iridescent butterflies for instance, such as the Morpho butterfly.

The fabulous Morpho butterfly.

If you haven’t had the luck to see one of these in the flesh, then you’ve most definitely seen pictures of them before, or other creatures with the same iridescent colouring. It’s easy to wonder how the hell such brilliant blues can be created through pigment alone, and that’s because there is no pigment involved. In fact, the colour of the Morpho butterfly’s wings come from the physical structure – lots of overlapping scales with grooves in – as the wings themselves are actually colourless and transparent. How could transparent scales create such vivid colours without pigment is obviously the next question, and here the answer is physics! (Although technically, physics is the answer to everything.) To try and explain it simply, the grooves in the scales cause the light to reflect off the scales at slightly different distances, means the peaks and troughs of the waves (time to remember your GCSE physics!) start to add up, causing what is called constructive interference, which causes iridescence (as it makes the light brighter and therefore the butterfly wings shinier!). The reason the butterfly appears blue is because of the spacing on the groves of the butterfly scales, which correspond to the wavelength of blue light (or well, half the wavelength, but the spacing is equal to half the wavelength).

But I digress – but that’s kind of the point. The sights and science of the natural world are so inspiring it’s hard for me now not to go on another spiel about bioluminescence. Of course, it’s easy for everyone to get inspired by nature, but it takes a true artist to be able to communicate the beauty of the world without simply replicating it, and Shaun Leane is one of the few who can do it well. Not only is he inspired by organic forms, but as an artisan jeweller he also works with organic materials, which adds a whole new element to the elemental inspiration. The new SHOWcabinet exhibition demonstrates this all, not only showing bespoke pieces of his work, but also artwork, fashion pieces and natural specimens that inspired them. From emeralds in their natural forms, to feather Philip Treacy headdresses, an actual live snake, and a Damien Hirst butterfly painting, the sources of inspiration unlocks the story behind the showpieces. It’s an inspiring exhibition, and one that I would definitely recommend that you go see, whether your interest is purely aesthetic or deeper. Just be careful not to become broke from wanting to buy it all!


If you’re based in or around London you should totally go check out the SHOWcabinet: Shaun Leane exhibition, which is held at SHOWstudio (19 Motcombe, SW1X 8LB), which just in general has awesome stuff going on in it. Even if you can’t go there (if you’re not based in London, or whatever) you should check it out online. If you like Shaun Leane‘s work, or are interested in finding out more about his life and artistic process there’s a wonderful interview of him by the fabulous Lou Stoppard which I used as a primer to write this piece.  

Pretty much everything which goes on at SHOWstudio is awesome (although I may be slightly biased), so you should follow them on twitter/tumblr/facebook and also check out their website. I love seeing all the exhibitions and things which go on there – I haven’t been to a bad one yet, and everyone there is so lovely it’s ridiculous. 

Empirically Curated Art

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Imagine the scene. You’ve had a long day at work: maybe your boss was being especially cruel today, or your boyfriend broke up with you at lunch over the extra special anniversary picnic you had planned. Maybe you’ve been nominated to organise the surprise birthday party of that one person in your friend group who is just never satisfied. Whatever it is, now you’re home you just need to take a break from it all. You turn on your TV (A.I. controlled of course – everyone has one now darling), and the biosensor around your wrist bleeps once. Almost immediately, Mulan is playing on the screen in front of you, and before you know it your troubles begin to melt away as you join in singing ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ (with choreographed dance and martial arts routines, of course).

It’s actually a scenario which isn’t that improbable; one where A.I.s can gauge your mood through biosensors and respond accordingly – in this case, choosing just the right film to allow you to let out the stress of a hectic day. Of course, we’re not quite there, but a performance at the V&A last Friday – ‘Conducting Shakespeare’ – went someway towards opening the door to let us have a peek at what it might be like.

The set-up at the V&A involved four volunteers all hooked into biosensors. There was a muscle tension gauge, a heart rate monitor, a brain wave monitor (which measures electrical signals from neural activity, giving a measure of ‘emotional arousal’), and a galvanic skin monitor (measures the conductivity of the skin, which increases when we sweat). All of this data was then combined together in a linear weighted sum and interpreted by our “A.I.” in this scenario to curate the arts that would be seen and performed. However, our A.I. here has a not-so-artificial intelligence, being Alexis Kirke from Plymouth University. He was to act as conductor, orchestrating and guiding the emotions of the performance. Performance of what, you ask (although you may have guessed, given the subtitle)? Well, performances that have captured the hearts and minds of audiences for centuries – the words of the bard!

This was no ordinary performance of Shakespeare – this was to be a Shakespeare remix, with successive scenes being chosen based on the emotion reaction of the audience (as measured by the biosensors hooked up to the volunteers), the whole thing being curated by Alexis the conductor, who could then direct the path of our emotions as he liked.

We started out with a bit of light comedy, with Benedict and Beatrice’s quick-witted sparring duologue from the opening scene of Much Ado about Nothing. Romance then began to spark in the air with Juliet’s ‘Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds’ monologue, before the tone begins to turn altogether more sombre with an appearance of Hamlet in his tortured ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’ speech. Staying sad (although with a distinct change of tone) we move to Hermione’s ‘Tell me what blessings I have here alive that I should fear to die?’ monologue from A Winter’s Tale, before back to Hamlet, although this time he is chastising Ophelia and demanding she ‘get thee to a nunnery’, ramping up the anger and bitterness.

Finally we get a reprise from all the sorrow (although anyone with knowledge of the play will find it bittersweet), as Romeo and Juliet enter and talk of love – ‘how silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night’ – before straight back to the sorrow with Queen Gertrude’s dead Ophelia monologue from Hamlet. Then we’re back to anger and annoyance with Richard II, and ‘no matter where, of comfort no man speaks’, before tricksy ambition enters the room as we see Lady Macbeth reading the letter describing Macbeth’s encounter with the three witches. Staying in the same play, the power begins to build as we see the Macbeths planning the murder of Duncan, with Lady Macbeth chastising Macbeth and telling him to ‘screw your courage to the sticking-place’, before we come full circle, and return to humour with Katharina and Petruchio duelling with words, a nice bit of comedy with allows us all to let off the tension that was building in the room – sexual innuendos will make anyone laugh, especially those of Shakespeare’s finesse – ‘my tongue in your tail’ indeed!

The performance was extremely effective – my heart was in my throat the whole time – and the eternal iambic pentameter of Shakespeare (and the brevity of the scenes) meant that even with the differing plotlines and characters, the whole thing flowed together smoothly. However, whilst the scenes were in part chosen from the data provided by the volunteers’ biosensors, a certain amount of human intuition was needed to make the whole thing run perfectly, as demonstrated by the final scene, an artistic decision on the part of the director that worked perfectly to let everyone let off some steam.

The need for this human component (instead of simply letting the conductor be an A.I.) comes down to many reasons – not least because this set-up had only been calibrated once before so the output data itself needed to be taken with a pinch of scientific salt. More so, however, the biosensors themselves can only detect the (fallible and fickle) physical symptoms of emotions, not the emotions themselves. In fact, with our limited biological understand of emotions, it’s hard to see how we could use biosensors to perfectly measure emotions (although some could argue this is the role of a combination of biosensors and fMRIs), and therefore whilst this problem still exists, the role of human understanding and intuition is crucial in this scenario.

Whilst perhaps we’re not quite at the stage to implement handy empathetic TVs, the use of measured emotional and physical responses to guide and curate performance (and other kinds of) art opens up some very interesting avenues, as demonstrated by ‘Conducting Shakespeare’ at the V&A. Imagine exhibitions where you wear headsets, and your emotional arousal if monitored as you wander through the gallery, and you get directly to things that you’d probably like based on it! The ability to empirically measure the body’s response to art is extremely interesting, and opens up the possibility of looking into things like how art affects your short-term and long-term mental health and emotional state. It’s an area that holds much potential and interest, both for the scientific and artistic communities, and as a personal interest for myself!

‘Conducting Shakespeare’ was part of a series of events held at the V&A to celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. It was produced by Alexis Kirke and Peter Hinds from Plymouth University in collaboration with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with actors Melanie Heslop and James Mack playing the female and male roles respectively. 


 

And, well, there’s my first ever blog post done! The image used in the header is part of a tie-in little shoot I did inspired by Shakespeare (it kinda turned into a femme Puck look by the end) which will be published this Wednesday. I hope you enjoyed the piece, and please comment below (I’d really appreciate concrit and suggestions)!