Looking and moving

I decided to put under the microscope a mixed set of objects, some of them as unrelated as I could imagine, some natural and some manufactured: a one-dollar bill (painted with blue ink), one quarter, a red flower recently picked from its plant, a lock of my own hair (not cut – I just contorted my head somehow), and a leaf from an unknown tree from Westminster Street.

The first thing that I noticed was how unsettling the experience could be in terms of trying to grasp the “real” image. On the one hand I saw with my eyes the one-dollar bill, exposed under the microscope; on the other I saw its augmented image through the instrument; but there was also the image seen through the computer screen, which was always somehow different. I tried capturing with my phone camera what my eyes could “really” see through the microscope (but mostly failed).

I also noticed how what was artificial could look natural under the microscope, while natural objects gained some sort of artificial quality once they were augmented to the point of total decontextualization. At maximum close-up, the red flower looked kind of glassy to me, or almost like a sequin textile.

My lock of hair looked like wires, or dark spaghetti.

Comparing my experience of observing through the microscope both the dollar bill and the leaf, I realize how putting these two objects out of context in such a way and magnifying their smallest detail have such a similar effect on me as an observer. While obviously they are very different objects, they both present some sort of geography, as if I was staring at two tortuous (natural and artificial) landscapes from above. While staring statically as these objects, I experience a sense of movement as I adjust each object to discover new landscapes and pathways. The act of observing these magnified miniatures seems to have a performative effect, like a thrust felt on the body, even when it never actually moves out of its stool at the Nature Lab.


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