Archives for the Month of August, 2015

Cypraea mappa – The Mollusc Cartographer

CypraeaCyprea (Cowry) Shells from Thesaurus Conchyliorum – G.B Sowerby (Cyprea mappa shown in center)

Remi Rorschach, one of a few dozen or so characters in George Perec’s immensely complex and ingeniously constrained masterpiece ‘Life a Users Manual’, has a series of seemingly incongruous occupations –  first a clown and circus manager, then an international shell trader before finally becoming a TV executive. As a cowry shell trader he travels across Africa hoping to make his fortune by off loading a cache of Cypraea to local tribes where the shells were (really) used as money.

Rorschach’s surname might have been all the more appropriate if Perec would have chosen Cypraea Mappa (The Map Cowry) for his trading enterprises as this subspecies is named for its shell patterns being perceived as resembling antique maps. Using groups of activator inhibitor cells this marine gastropod mollusc secrets pigments incrementally into its shell row by row, as it grows, like an inkjet printer rendering a pointillist reaction-diffusion facsimile of a faded ancient map. Study the faded contours of these shell maps and you will find rivers, estuaries and peninsulars, Some shells may even represent the terrains Remi Rorschach journeyed in pursuit of his fortune.

CypraeaCyprea (Cowry) Shells from Thesaurus Conchyliorum, or, Monographs of genera of shells – ed. G.B Sowerby

CypraeaCyprea mappa, The Map Cowry

CypraeaCyprea (Cowry) Shells from Thesaurus Conchyliorum, or, Monographs of genera of shells – ed. G.B Sowerby

Cowries of all subspecies are common finds in archaeological digs. Aside from their importance as currency, they have been used in tribal masks, worshipped as fertility emblems, used in fortune telling and divination. In India they have been used in astrological predictions. They are considered precious enough that clever fakes have been made by etching elaborate patterns using chemicals or creating less sophisticated hybrid morphologies by glueing fragments of different shells together.

Further Viewing:
Thesaurus conchyliorum, or, Monographs of genera of shells – ed. G.B Sowerby
Historic shell illustrations, found in the Biodiversity Heritage Library collection

Related Posts:
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Animated musical notation/scores using algorithmic processes for rule based composition – Ryan Ross Smith.

The Cybernetic Brain, Sketches of Another Future – Andrew Pickering [PDF].

Hyper-geological structures generated with X-Gen by Lee Griggs. Elongated cubes en masse on mesh.

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Deconstructions and extensions of human forms using growth algorithms – Cen Pekdemir.

Processing particle sketches revealing refractive geologies – 414c45’s Emergence set

Jole de Sanna on the Metaphysical Mathematics of de Chirico’s paintings [PDF, translated].

Mathematical surface models and other sculpted and knitted surfaces – Alexander Crum Brown [1900].

William Turner’s Perspective Diagrams at Socks Studio. Pedagogical diagrams as visual aids for Turner’s lectures.

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A New Elucidation of Colours – James Sowerby [1809].

Color Problems: A Practical Manual – Emily Vanderpoel [1903].

The Commander’s Radiation Guide & other fission fragment fallout decay slide-rules.

James-SowerbyPlate from A New Elucidation of Colours – James Sowerby [1809]

Aerial tuning inductor – Rugby Radio Station, 1943-1966.

12-minute Mandelbrot Fractals on a 50 year old IBM 1401 Mainframe – Ken Shirriff.

Xenakis’s Spatialised Music – ‘Meta order’ from chaotic systems.

Richard Giblett’s Architectural Algorithms. Axonometric projections of over developed dystopias.

Geometric ruleset drawings with Rorshach symmetries – Laura Battle.