"Surely whoever invented the wheel must have been looking up. When we look at the moon, we consider our place in the universe and imagine destinations beyond our reach. We look to the orbit of the planets around the sun to understand night and day. We leave in the morning, we return at night. Motors, industry, and ultimately transportation itself were no doubt born out of this singular encounter between man and sphere."
“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is the one they would like to show to the world… Every so often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe.”
Since seeing his first diatom arrangement—an intricate pattern of algae crafted by German microscopist J.D. Möller—Matthew Killip has been enthralled with the Victorian art form. “I love seeing the hand of man display the work of nature so beautifully,” he says.
Almost immediately, the British filmmaker had two questions. First, how did these 19th-century artists manage to assemble diatoms, each just microns long, into dazzling shapes invisible to the naked eye? And secondly, is anyone still working in this medium?
Killip’s search for answers led him to Klaus Kemp, the only living practicioner. He spent an afternoon with the eccentric Englishman, cameras rolling, and produced the documentary, seen above, called “The Diatomist.” The short film was released this week.
I interviewed Killip by email to find out more about this lost art:
What exactly is a diatom?
Diatoms are microscopic single-cell algae housed in beautiful glass shells. There are hundreds of thousands of varieties of diatoms all with unique forms.
So when and how did diatom arrangement emerge as an art form?
The first diatom arrangements date back to the early 1800s, but the art form reached its peak in the latter part of the century. It was a period of intense interest in the natural world and also a time when the arts and sciences were more closely aligned. Diatom arrangements are a stunning example of that particularly Victorian desire to bring order to the world, to display nature in a rational way.
“I suffered from a slow growing cancer in my pineal gland while I attended art school and during subsequent years while my paintings developed with an underlined mythology that alluded directly to the pineal years before I even know of its existence.
I think I’d work myself into a frenzy for a while and yes, when I would fall lie down in bed I’d have something like a manic episode that was very lucid and visionary. That still applies to this day, but I try to control it better so I don’t get sick again.
I’ve had a lot of truly mystical and otherworldly experiences as a result of my history and battle with brain cancer and I’m really drawn to things that resonate with a certain powerful energy, and I’m always honing in on that more and more. whether consciously or subconsciously.
I treat depression with mushrooms. Haven’t done DMT ‘intentionally’. Man made chemicals are a thing of the past for me, as I’m really sensitive.” -Reddit