Photo by: Heather J. McClelland
A central focus of his research been the occurrence of developmental deformities and population declines among amphibians and other cold-blooded vertebrates. His book Malamp: The Occurrence of Deformities in Amphibians, was published in 2010, followed by a solo exhibition at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.
The 2019 TEDxLSU speaker continued his amphibian research as a visiting scientist at McGill University in Montréal and earned a PhD in Transdisciplinary Art and Biology from Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. Currently, Brandon serves as a postdoctoral researcher at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, studying the impact on fishes from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. As an artist, Brandon is inspired by the nature around us and, in turn, is moved to inspire others to appreciate and support the diversity of other species.
“Today’s environmental problems are global in scale and complex,” he says. “To face this milieu of issues, we need the creativity of artists, scientists and those focused on other disciplines combined to creatively address such challenges we and other species currently face.”
Here’s a look at a few of Brandon’s artworks and commentary in his own words. You can learn more about Brandon, his research and his art on the TEDxLSU stage on March 23.
“These reliquaries are created by chemically “clearing and staining” terminally deformed frogs found in nature. This process obscures direct representation — as I do not want to exhibit large images of “monsters,”which would be frightening and be exploitative to the organisms.
“This process is followed by high-resolution scanner photography of each specimen to create individual portraits. These portraits are printed as unique watercolor ink prints (never made into editions) and each individual frog will be centered appearing to “float” in what looks to be clouds.
“This otherworldly quality is reinforced by the titles named after ancient characters from Greco-Roman mythology. They are scaled so the frogs appear approximately the size of a human toddler, in an attempt to invoke empathy in the viewer instead of detachment or fear. If they are too small they will dismissed but if they are too large they will become monsters. Each finished artwork is unique and never editioned, to recall the individual animal and become a reliquary to a short-lived non-human life.”
“As artworks this series began in 2012, where I selected a species that firstly is ancient (in the evolutionary sense) and secondly is able to survive (perhaps even thrive) in habitats environmentally impacted by human activity. Such organisms literally have endured for millions of years and now are adapting to today’s ecological degradation. For the works in this exhibition, three Nine-spined stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) collected from the a polluted canal in Chamarande (France) were chosen as subjects and carefully stained using Alizarin red dye, which adhered to bone then cleared using digestive enzymes to make surrounding tissues transparent.
“From the biological research side this was done to analyze specimens for any developmental abnormalities that in life we could not have seen. Secondly, this treatment was performed as an artistic choice — as clearing and staining is a way to change the way we are able look at such organisms, how we perceive them- they are abstracted yet made more clear. Next they were photographed on coal (literally fossilized carbon) meant to recall ancient life as well as changes to today’s climate made through the continued burning of such fossil fuels.”
“The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most important and biologically diverse environments in the world. It is a nursery for thousands of marine species, and numerous endemic organisms inhabit these warm waters. Gulf seafood is an important source of food for millions of people in North America, and, as marine species migrate following the Gulf Stream, people throughout Europe rely on these fish for protein. As such, the DWH spill could not have occurred at a worse place, from an ecological and economic standpoint.
“These images were made by chemically clearing and staining species collected in the Gulf after the DWH disaster. These species, once common, may now be in decline and are meant to be seen as apparitions. The clearing and staining process involves firstly preserving specimens then placing them in an acid bath with blue stain, which adheres to cartilage. Next the specimens are masticated in a digestive enzyme called trypsin, which begins the clearing of other tissues. Then the specimens are bathed in an alkaline solution with red dye which bonds with bone. The final stages transition the specimens threw a series of baths from Potassium Hydroxide to glycerin whereby the specimen tissues become transparent except for the bones and cartilage, which are vividly dyed red and blue. The final specimen looks like a brightly colored x-ray revealing the complex architectural anatomy of these beautiful and disappearing species.”
To learn more about Brandon or about TEDxLSU 2019, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to experience his talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2019 speakers.