Plankton art meets science

Plankton art meets science

plankton art meets science study
Nelson Swiss artist Yael Deer has become fascinated with the world of plankton, the micro-organisms taking centre stage in an international campaign to highlight their crucial part in the health of oceans.

Yael is the only New Zealand artist so far to take part in a French-based “Plankton art” project which is an unusual merging of art and science.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) Bachelor of Arts & Media student has produced five plankton images, using a line art technique.

They’re to be printed on T-shirts as part of an international plankton conference for scientists scheduled in Auckland next July. The T-shirt images are part of Yael’s “Wearable Plankton” idea.

Photographs and other artworks of some of the hundreds of families of plankton will be exhibited at the same time to mark the Plankton Planet project started in France and involving scientists in New Zealand and the United States.

The aim is to promote awareness of plankton’s critical state in the world’s oceans and their importance not only in the food chain of fish but as oxygen producers. The project involves sailors around the world collecting plankton samples for scientists to analyse.

Yael has become a huge fan of the tiny creatures - “a litre of water could contain a million” - as she has laboriously worked to create two-dimensional images, using hundreds of photographs as the initial guide.

The NMIT student who mixes study with time spent in her Switzerland homeland, worked with scientists from the Cawthron Institute involved in plankton research.

Yael Deer's plankton inspired T-shirts.
Yael Deer's plankton inspired T-shirts.

“The question was, how big do we make the images. In the end they wanted them huge so they could be reproduced on t-shirts. In fact, plankton are so tiny you need a microscope to see them.”

Yael is in her second year of the Bachelor of Arts and Media programme, re-inventing herself as an artist after spending 15 years as a glass painter in Switzerland.

She came to Nelson with her New Zealand husband and two children, deciding to further her studies at NMIT to “approach arts and media with a new eye. It is amazing to be doing graphic arts, screen printing, digital learning and so much else.”

Her plankton images became a project as part of the Bachelor of Arts & Media programme. Yael started by poring over 500 or more images of plankton which she found utterly fascinating.

Finally, she selected five plankton from the vast number of choices and set about creating a strong two-dimensional shape by tracing the images over and over until she had the result she wanted. Then she started creating the images from thin, black liner pencils.

The whole process has made Yael a convert to the Plankton Planet movement. “They are amazing creatures, so tiny yet they produce 50% of our oxygen and absorb a huge amount of the world’s carbon dioxide.”

Yael hopes her artistic contribution will play a small part in efforts to promote awareness of the vital place of plankton.

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