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In the eye of the beholder

In the Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Evolution

In_the_Eye_of_the_Beholder_-_Intro_a Wellcome_logo

This project formed part of Darwin 200 - a national programme of events that celebrated Charles Darwin during 2009, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of, On the Origin of Species.

Building on previous work inspired by iridescent butterflies and moths, Schenk turned her attention to species featuring astonishingly realistic fake eyes on their wings to confuse predators. These so-called eyespots (together with Darwinian theories of eyespot development and evolution) provided the central artistic leitmotiv for a series of new artwork shown in Birmingham and Glasgow during 2009. This Wellcome Trust-funded project was part of the Trust’s Darwin200 initiative.

In_the_Eye_of_the_Beholder_-_Intro_b Wellcome_logo
Please visit: Tree of Life   The Art of Darwin Darwin 200

In the Eye of the Beholder: Project


The original painting.


A detail of the original replicated and duplicated.

The artwork

In response to Darwin's iconic description of the development of the eye, Schenk drew on novel biomimetic techniques and paint-technology to create artworks inspired by the astonishingly realistic eyespots adorning the wings of the rare moth Erebus obscura.


Mirroring the process of evolution, latest colour-shifting nano-particles and innovative reproduction techniques were employed to create successively 'modified' variations of the 'same' moth painting. Simultaneously magnifying, yet focusing in on, the subject, each additional repeated version evolves from the previous template - but inevitably change and mutation leads to the formation of new, modified patterns, shapes and hues.


To capture the ephemeral quality of the colour, the artist drew on her unique expertise of utilising cutting-edge iridescent 'pigments'. Thus, depending on the light and viewing angle, an apparently dull brown moth transforms itself into a glittering beauty - before our very eyes.


In short, the complex interrelationships between the evolution of colour, camouflage, display and perception are artistically explored.


The science

The project's immediacy to biology is evident in both animal coloration/display and in the evolutionary development of the eye. Colour adaptation, eye development and perception are inextricably linked. Butterfly eyespots benefit the insect by tricking the eye of (and so warding off) predators. Since Darwin first described a sequence of eye development, molecular genetics has shed much light on the actual genes and biochemical pathways involved. Extensive work on the development of eyespots is currently being undertaken in the emerging field of evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo). Also, crucially due to its profound implications well beyond biology, evolutionary theory can provide a link between art and science - one the artist is exploring.


A smaller detail duplicated.

The outcome

The resulting series of interrelated paintings formed the centerpiece for exhibitions and public engagement activities throughout the Year of Darwin (2009). In the run up to the main event (a solo-show/ public lecture to mark the 150's anniversary of Darwin's publication of 'The Origin') selected works were shown at Glasgow Science Centre and the Central Library, Birmingham. In addition, various public lectures and conference presentations were delivered in Birmingham, London, France and Spain.

Right: A pattern created from a multiplied detail of 'the original'.


Below: A range of patterns is achieved by re-arranging a multiplied detail of 'the original'.


In the Eye of the Beholder: Exhibitions

Tour 2009

In the Eye of the Beholder. Solo exhibition in conjunction with Darwin 200 - a national programme of activities to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. School of Art, Birmingham, Nov.


From Sea to Air. Solo exhibition as part of Birmingham Artsfest, Central Library, Birmingham, Sept.



The Evolution of Evolution. Group exhibition. Glasgow Science Centre, June.


In the Eye of the Beholder: Writing

header-writing Writings_-_text header_SciArt_Iridescence_press_release_3 Diptych III illuminated from different angles to illustrate the colour change from brown to cyan.

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