Hopeful Monsters

Hopeful Monsters takes its title from the theory of macro-mutation or large mutations first proposed by German geneticist Richard Goldschmidt (1878 – 1958). Goldschmidt proposed that mutations occasionally yield individuals within populations that deviate radically from the norm and referred to such individuals as “hopeful monsters”. Under the right environmental circumstances, these may become fixed, and the population will found a new species.

Hopeful Monsters is a speculative journey into a sort of transitional morphology, plant, insect, animal. To borrow a phrase from the science fiction author Jeff Vandermeer, I am interested in exploring  what happens when the natural world around us becomes a kind of camouflage.

Hopeful Monsters Print FINAL 2 for 88

Hopeful Monsters Hopeful Monsters, Archival pigment print on fine art baryta paper, 60 x 70 inches, 2018.

Constructed of more than 140 digital forms, Hopeful Monsters explores taxonomy and morphology with a particular emphasis on mutation. Each cabinet houses a distinct biological order; taxonomic ranks used in the classification of organisms. These include Odonata(Dragonflies), Lepidoptera ( Butterflies), Hymenoptera (Bees), Diptera(Flies), and Coleoptera(Beetles). Each form is drawn with lines of video-feedback, structures made of individual, manually placed layers of video. And each form in turn, like an insect, in its chrysalis, reassembles its parts to make a new form.


The taxonomic orders selected, such as the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) show an amazing diversity of patterns, with most of the 18,000 species distinguishable on the basis of their wing pattern. Much of this diversity is thought to arise through novel switches in the genome that turn genes on in new contexts during wing development, thereby producing new patterns. They are therefore the perfect place to begin to understand morphology.

The specimens are constructed with still images sourced from the public domain (Insect images sourced from The Insects Unlocked project at the University of Texas at Austin and https://www.pexels.com/ free stock photos.) and layers of video-feedback. Similar to the old kaleidoscopes, video feedback is created when an ordinary hand-held camera is plugged into a TV and pointed at itself. The optical equivalent of acoustic feedback, a loop is created between the video camera and the television screen or monitor. With practice, it is possible to explore a vast arena of spontaneous pattern generation.

Video-feedback, which is quite extraordinary in its origins, when transformed into the familiar, the almost mundane, retains a quality of the uncanny. The result is a feeling of their being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar.
Referencing both early modern Wunderkammer and contemporary natural-history collections this space of ‘wonder’ will derive as much from the emotions it will elicit as from the strange, and hybrid species it will contain. Through form and media, Hopeful Monsters explores the interface between pattern and randomness which causes the system to evolve in a new direction; in other words to mutate.