Monday, July 13, 2009

Life on Mars

Three pins in a row

I'm balancing my attention, my research and my stitching between two forces of evolutionary change. On the one hand I cherish the poignancy of fossils, with their stories of climate change and extinction. On the other hand, I am drawn to stories of the resilience and persistence of life in the harshest of environments.

Crinoid- Sea Lily

Launching into my second fossil embroidery, I wondered why I was so determined to give some mossy background to my Paleozoic sea lily. At first I thought it was a simple desire for some colour to brighten up my drab stony scheme, but after a while I realised it was a longing for life itself.

Mossy fossil stem

My stitched fossils are telling stories of evolution and extinctions caused by climate change whether caused by meteor strikes, the long cycles of Earth moving closer to and further from the sun, or human behaviours. I'm intrigued by the theory that in the past, bursts of evolutionary change have been triggered by major climate change clearing ecosystems with mass extinctions.

I decided to channel my longing for life into some small stitched works and see where they led me. And the first place they've taken me is Mars. I've made a set of three embroidered pins as tiny Mars gardens, inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy of novels of Mars colonisation. I've long been fascinated by his alternative narrative of climate change to support new life, rather than causing inadvertent extinction.

In Green Mars, he describes in loving detail the emergence of plant life in Mars' harsh environment, still freezing and toxic even after 60 or so years of deliberate climate change to warm and oxygenate the atmosphere. Huge floods caused by warming and drilling have covered swathes of Mars in ice and fellfield gardens are growing around the glaciers.

Much of the regolith on Mars had been superarid, so arid that when water touched it there were powerful chemical reactions- lots of hydrogen peroxide release, and salt crystallisations- in essence the ground disintegrated, flowing away in sandy muds that only set downstream... in frosty new proto-fellfields.... those rocky swathes that were the first living communities after ice receded, their living component made of algae and lichens and moss. (p131)

As he hiked through the frigid air he spotted many different species of snow algae and lichen. The glacier-facing slopes of the two lateral ridges were especially well populated, flecked by small patches of green, gold, olive, black, rust, and many other colors- perhaps thirty or forty all told. Sax strolled over these pseudo moraines carefully, as unwilling to step on plant life as he would be to step on any experiment in the lab. Although truthfully it looked as though most of the lichens would not notice. They were tough, bare rock and water were all they required, plus light- though not much of that appeared necessary- they grew under ice, inside ice, and even inside porous chunks of translucent rock. In something as hospitable as a crack in the moraine they positively flourished. Every crack Sax looked in sported knobs of Iceland lichen, yellow and bronze, which under the glass revealed tiny forking stalks, fringed by spines. On flat rocks he found crustose lichens: button lichen, stud lichen, shield lichen, candlelaria, apple-green map lichen and the red-orange jewel lichen that indicated a concentration of sodium nitrate in the regolith. Clumped under the ice flowers were growths of pale gray-green snow lichen, which under magnification proved to have stalks like Iceland lichen. (p172)

All three Mars Garden pins are for sale on Etsy, but if you are uncomfortable with internet shopping or USdollars, please contact me directly.
By the way, don't forget to enter the draw for a stitched coral brooch. Comment here to be in to win!


Carol said...

Oh Meliors, these are really so beautiful. I'll have to find the Mars books, they sound wonderful and they've inspired you to do great things.

Johanna Knox said...

Wow - those are absolutely stunning!

PG said...

They are super! They are little works of art. I never wear ornamentation, but they would be lovely pinned to something. All those little knots...

Anonymous said...

What lovely "organic" creations!Like Carol, I'll seek those books.

Tim Jones said...

These are so lovely! I think you should contact KSR - I imagine he would feel pleased that his books have inspired these wonderful creations.