Artists Heinrich & Palmer have been working collaboratively with the University of Chester to develop a new artistic research project that explores the microscopic world of Chester inspired by their research into the Grosvenor Museum diatom slide collection. Diatoms are microscopic single-cell or colonial algae and are one of the most common forms of life on earth. There are over 10,000 known species and they live in a wide variety of damp habitats including ponds, rivers, sea, and soil. Most diatoms are microscopic and are mostly invisible to the naked eye, yet their presence in the world is extremely important. They produce around 20 to 25 percent of the world’s oxygen and are indicators of hydrologic and climatic changes in the world.
The museum's diatom collection donated by Dr. Henry Stolterfoth contains over 2000 slides. Many of these diatoms were sampled from the local area and the artists are interested in instigating a new collection of samples and using different imaging techniques to investigate this hidden aspect of the city and its connecting waterways.
They have been working with Associate Professor Bernadine Murray and Tabitha Jussa from the Department of Art & Design and the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Chester who have been instrumental in providing the support and imaging facilities for their research which due to the C-19 restrictions has needed to be undertaken remotely.
Tabitha has been collecting diatom samples from around Chester and using scanning electron microscopy to explore these microscopic landscapes. Alongside this Tabitha has been working with Professor Graham Smith, Associate Dean and Professor of Physical Sciences, to scan a number of slides from the Grosvenor Museum diatom collection using a compound microscope.
These scan images show a selection of diatoms that were collected in July 1875 from the Dee Estuary, which historically was a major trading and military route connecting Chester with the Wirral area. They offer a microscopic glimpse into a landscape that was experiencing rapid industrial changes.
The artists are keen to develop this collaboration with the university and to explore different ways to present these outcomes around the city.