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What is Abundant, Diverse, Widespread, Beautiful, Fascinating, Little Known and Totally Inedible? Bryozoans of the Otago Shelf.

I collaborated with Professor Abigail Smith, a marine geologist who works on skeletal carbonate biogeochemistry (what shells are made of) and ocean acidification (how shells dissolve). She has an interest in the bryozoans of the Otago Shelf, off the coast of Dunedin, New Zealand.

In her book Bryozoans of Southern New Zealand: A Field Identification Guide, Abby has reproduced many colourful photographs that I have used in an attempt to recreate some of the locally collected samples. I was intrigued with the shapes, sizes, colours and textures of the featured bryozoa and have tried to capture them using a variety of fabrics, felts, netting, beads, trims and threads.

Some of these reproductions have been set out, neatly identified, in a specimen box. Others have been set out in an 'aquarium' in an attempt to capture the look of the Otago Shelf where these specimens have come from. All are set out on a scientist's desk complete with a toy microscope and magnifying glass.

In my face-to-face meeting with Abby, she commented that the recreated bryozoans were interesting, but she was more interested in how they replicate themselves.

When looked at microscopically, the bryozoans are simple repeating modules, starting with a single dot that is then repeated in an amazing variety of combinations to create the very complex individual bryozoa. This can be visualised by looking at tessellations such as Escher's or the modular constructions created with Lego bricks in an infinite range of possibilities.

Abby produced a couple of simple drawings that demonstrated their modular construction. This got us thinking about how this could be interpreted in art terms, to be made interactive and have viewers participate.

I conducted several trial-and-error experiments using a variety of attachment methods in an attempt to keep the elements together in credible bryozoan forms. Finally, I developed the blue- and red-covered magnets. The long covered dowels with magnets glued to each end, the covered non-magnetic metal discs, and the added ball bearings have achieved a working interactive piece.

A number of viewers have stopped to 'play' with the pieces, creating an ever-changing display of random bryozoa.

Collaborating with Professor Abigail Smith has been a wonderful experience and an opportunity to learn a great deal about a subject with which I have previously had very little personal experience.

We hope the viewer can take away an appreciation of the way in which nature has put together these very small but fascinating marine creatures.

Susan Nunn completed her Bachelor of Visual Art (Hons) at the Dunedin School of Art in 2016. She works predominately in textiles and has previously taken part in similar collaborations in art and science.

Caption: Figure 1: Beania bilaminata, original on left, recreation on right. Photographs: Abby Smith, left. Susan Nunn, right.

Caption: Figure 2: Completed installation (detail). Photographs: Pam McKinlay.

Caption: Figure 3: Created Bryozoa. Photograph: Pam McKinlay.

Caption: Figure 4. Opening night guest 'creating' Bryozoa. Photograph: Jesse-James Pickery

Caption: Figure 5: Completed Installation. Photograph: Pam McKinlay.

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Author:Nunn, Susan
Publication:Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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