Author Archives: Mays

Slow-cooker human recipe


For the recipe project, I will attempt a partial reconstruction of the recipe for making humans by Jabir Ibn Hayyan, reportedly written in his Book of Assembly. My inital reconstruction is based on my quick translation, sometimes aided by Ali Mohammad Isbar’s analysis of Jabir Ibn Hayyan’s Book of Assembly. The reconstruction will accompany an annotated version of the recipe that I will draft from my translations of Jabir’s original text, sourced from Adonis’s publication of the recipe in AlHayat Newspaper in 2003 (link & link).

Driving my curiosity in this recipe is a line of inquiry that weaves through my studio practice. I am interested in what we use as qualifiers to validate the personhood of an entity.

What I hope to do is to go over my translation and interpretation of the recipe, and annotate it with my questions, decisions, and discoveries, as I go through the attempt to reconstruct part of the recipe. I want to make clear where my own interpretation of a word comes in, and where directions weren’t clear and so I had to approximate meaning/instruction.

Figure 1: Jābir, ibn Hayyan, and ʻAlī M. Isbir. Kitāb Al-Tajmīʻ: Takwīn Insān Bi-Ṣināʻat Al-Kīmiyāʼ. Jablah, Sūriyā: Bidāyāt lil-Ṭibāʻah wa-al-Nashr, 2007. Print.

My current reconstructed translation of the written recipe:

To prepare the simulacrum, you need: 

  • 1 finger-thick vessel glass(preferred)/crystal/stone/a color, length to taste. 
  • Sperm from a man with attributes you want to imbue the product with. 
  • (sperm substitutes: soil from a specific mountain, or a piece of flesh from an animal with attributes you want to imbue the product with.) 
  • Medicines and drugs, to taste.

To prepare the womb, you need: 

  • Glass 
  • Wisdom Clay 

OR (if one believed that creation only occurs with growth of mold)

  • Hollow Copper Sphere 
  • Water 
  • Wisdom Clay

OR (iIf one believed that creation of the soul requires air)

  • Hollow, Semi-perforated Glass Sphere 
  • Hollow Copper Sphere 
  • Water 
  • Wisdom Clay 

To prepare the axis, you need: 

  • an iron column
  • a polished, concave mirror
  • a fire of a single fuel


  1. Work the finger-thick vessel into the form you desire the product to be. 
  2. Place the vessel inside the first level sphere. 
  3. Place the first level sphere into higher level spheres, until you arrive at the Clay sphere. 
  4. Leave it to dry and harden. 
  5. Polish its exterior until it is like the surface of a mirror. 
  6. Cut the final sphere in half, using a non-serrated knife. 
  7. Polish the inside, until the substances are as though they were one substance. 
  8. Using the components desired for the simulacrum, place everything in its appropriate location. note: make sure each limb/component is independent and can be attached and detached separately. 
  9. Mount one hemisphere on the metal column, then the other hemisphere, so that they are fixed and unmoving.
  10. Attach the column to the concave mirror so that it can move freely and infinitely.
  11. Caliberate the rotation exactly to that of the earth’s (any mistakes in this step will cause the creation to fail.)
  12. Use a fire from a single fuel.

Figure 2: a page from Kitāb al-Burhān fī asrār ‘ilm al-mīzān (The Book of the Proof Regarding the Secrets of the Science of the Balance) كتاب البرهان فى اسرار علم الميزان by ‘Izz al-Dīn Aydamir ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Jaldakī عز الدين ايدمر ابن عبد الله الجلدكى. The text refers to the illustrated vessels as “machines” (a word Geber uses that I was uncertain about its meaning until I found this.)

From Spacecraft to Microscope

“A recurrent scene in sci-fi movies shows the earth withdrawing from the spacecraft until it becomes a horizon, a beachball, a grapefruit, a golf ball, a star. From a certain height, people are generally good. Vertical distance encourages this generosity. Horizontality doesn’t seem to have the same moral virtue. Faraway figures may be approaching and we anticipate the insecurities of encounter. Life is horizontal, just one thing after another, a conveyer belt shuffling us toward the horizon. But history, the view from the departing spacecraft, is different. As the scale changes, layers of time are superimposed and through them we project perspectives with which to recover and correct the past.”

Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space.

The idea of the shift in scales of seeing affecting our perception of what we see is multi-disciplinary one. O’Doherty here talks about a distinction between vertical shifts of scale and horizontal ones. He doesn’t argue for or against truth (or a truth.) His departing spacecraft of History places time, when dealt with at a macro scale, as a vertical axis.

Last week’s class in NatureLab shifted the scale on the same axis, but in the opposite dimension. If we take O’Doherty’s thoughts to heart, would this mean that looking through a microscope is looking at the future? Are future layers of time superimposed, and can we project through them perspectives with which to recover and correct the future?

I suspect O’Doherty’s time on axis Y might not stand a thorough testing, but it is an interesting concept to think about, looking back to our class last week.

the futurians getting oriented to use the tools of the field.

De Linguae Musculis

The room is quiet. There’s only the soft tappings of fingers on keyboards, the hushed swishes of paper turned. 

The book being wheeled to me is large. Large as my forearm and just as thick. It comes in a thin wooden sleeve, covered in canvas and patterned paper.  

It is heavy, this book. Heavy as though the body’s inside it are merely compressed, losing nothing of their mass, instead just gaining in density. 

The wood of the sleeve bends obligingly as I slip my hand between it and the book’s cover, gently, like a caress, and I coax the book out. 

I rest it on its incongruous throne of gray foam. 

Its cover is handled-smooth leather, and its stacked pages make a freckled pattern of brown and red on long waves of paper, like strata that has formed over centuries. 

This book is 4 and a half centuries old. It wears one-century-old sheepskin that’s discoloring and peeling.

Studying this book is a full body exercise. The act of reading is becoming an illustration of bones and joints and muscles and skin. I focus on the tension in the muscles of my arm as I slip the book out of its box, on the soft cushion of my palm as I carry it to the table, on the texture of my fingertips as I touch the pages.

I lay the newer and English-translated edition on the other side of my computer. It fits better on its cushion couch. I listen to my skin skim its paper. the texture is remarkably close to the original, and yet my fingers seem louder to me, as they skim over the new paper.  

The pages fall to one side, curving and springy, like a supple youthful body. The spaces they create waiting to be filled with memory and weighed down with age.

This volume is a collection of books, Vesalius’s classification of the human body, and is based on his lectures at the University of Padua. In these lectures, Vesalius himself dissected corpses, at a time when dissection was considered base manual labor, and usually conducted by barber surgeons, under a doctor’s direction.

I’m squeamish. I try not to imagine opening this book is like opening a person’s chest.

I sit between the two copies, in a space where translation from one language to the other has begun but not yet fully formed. The Latin is set, but the English is still in flux.


I find the indeterminacy that’s in the translation space interesting, and the changing sentences sometimes read like poetry. I am focusing on the mouth for this post, the public spaces for language in our bodies. Vesalius’s language in his headings and descriptions translate in ways that lack the scientific sterility that I expect. If I were to take this forward, I would want to continue translating, using the imperfect google translate, and mining for interesting and poignant lines that come up through the process. I would also like to look more into the Skin category of the book, and translate from those pages. The experience of handling the book itself can make you hyper-aware of your skin, and I would be interested to explore that process.