Taken across six continents, the entries to the 2021 World Nature Photography Awards capture the hungry, curious, and ingenious animals around the globe. This year’s winners include an arctic fox braving an Icelandic snowstorm, a trio of red ants forming a bridge to let each other pass between rocks, and a serendipitous shot of a leopard seal preparing to snack on a gentoo penguin, which garnered the top prize. Centering on both the largest and the often imperceptible creatures inhabiting the planet, the photos are diverse and an example of the wonder and awe that exists at every level of the animal kingdom. See some of our favorite shots below and the full collection on the award’s site.
Share this story
At once rigidly skeletal and imbued with rhythmic movement, the porcelain sculptures that comprise Shiyuan Xu’s Growth series are intricate recreations of single-celled organisms, molecules, and other micro lifeforms. The Chinese artist hand-builds delicate ceramic works of three-dimensional webbing that swell and surges into amorphous shapes mimicking a range of living creatures. Stretching up to two feet, the enlarged, abstract sculptures incorporate both the universal nature of evolution and change, while directly tying to Xu’s background. “My attempt of using the classical Chinese blue and white and celadon color palette in a contemporary way reflects my own narratives, life experience, and cultural heritage” she shares, explaining further:
The regular and irregular structures and layers of my piece blend in with the memory of my sensations and personal experience. The repetitive and labor-intensive process seems to be a therapy to ease my anxiety and sense of uncertainty while facing constant challenges in the intersections of two cultures.
To create each piece, Xu undertakes a laborious process that involves applying a heavy glaze and then using a knife to scratch the edges away. The removal leaves a line of raw clay coursing through the middle of each segment, and works like “Blue Vein #4” and “Hybrid #1” emphasize that central element with color. “After the piece is fired, I repeat the same process many times, to spray, scrape, and fire again, until the surface texture is accumulating to a very obvious degree,” she tells Colossal, noting that she sometimes replicates these steps ten times—check out the artist’s Instagram for a detailed look at her process.
Share this story
Bologna-based artist Michele Volpi (previously) inoculates his monochromatic tattoos of anatomical figures and biological diagrams with a dose of the surreal. Working in black ink, Volpi renders exquisite scientific illustrations across botany, astronomy, physiology, and chemistry with precise detail. He uses intricate linework and stippled shading to create realistic renderings of human skeletal systems and weather cycles, while skewing the scale or pairing seemingly disparate subject matters to achieve the more unusual qualities.
Share this story
Amanda Cobbett suspends a singular moment in the fleeting lives of fungi by stitching their likeness in thread. The textile artist photographs and gathers specimens that she brings back to her Surrey Hills-based studio, where she finds fibers to match pale green lichens and golden chanterelles. Using a free-motion embroidery technique on a sewing machine, she then stitches multiple layers onto a piece of dissolvable fabric that, once the organism is complete, is washed away to leave just the mushroom or mossy bark intact. As a scroll through her Instagram reveals, the resulting sculptures are so realistic in color, shape, and size that it’s difficult to distinguish the artist’s iterations from their counterparts.
Share this story
Japan-based artist Ayumi Shibata (previously) designs intricate landscapes using layers upon layers of white paper. Some of her sculptures are miniature, whereas others are immersive installations, and all are brought to life with the play of light and shadow, which create “movement” throughout her pieces. The works feature architectural domes, cave-like forests, and swirling suns hovering over tree-filled cities. These picturesque places aren’t based on a particular location but what the artist “hopes and believes the future of the planet could look like”.
Shibata’s ethereal landscapes envision a world in which humans and natural forms coexist, and she describes her pieces as having a “Yin and Yang” element. Paper represents Yin, the material, and the ways the works emit shadows correlates to Yang, the invisible world. “The light represents spirit and life, how the sun rises and breathes life into the world,” she explains. “I believe my pieces are a place to observe the material world and the visible one.”
The physical elements have a deeper meaning for the artist, as well: In Japanese, Kami means god or spirit but also paper, a sacred material in the Shinto religion. “Invisible ‘Kami’ spirits dwell in various objects and events, places, as well as in our houses and in our bodies,” she says. “I use my technique to express my thankfulness to the Kami spirits for having been born in this life. Each piece of paper I cut is a prayer.”
Shibata began constructing these sculptures when living in New York. She would visit a church to meditate and escape the noise of the city, and it was when she observed light illuminating stained glass that she was reminded of her love of working with paper. The artist explains:
The city was full of noise. Everything, people, time goes so fast and moves rapidly, and I needed a quiet space to go back to myself. One day, I opened my eyes after meditation and saw colorful light flooding the floor through the stained glass. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It reminded me of a memory from childhood where I used to cut black paper and stick colored cellophane behind it to make a ‘paper’ stained glass piece. I got the tools on my way home and tried it that night. From that moment, I continued to cut paper.
Currently, Shibata is working on an installation called “Inochino-uta, Poetry of Life,” for an exhibition later this year. The large-scale project is made out of 108 pieces of paper connected by strings and suspended from the ceiling. To view more of the artist’s work, visit her Instagram or website.
Share this story
Hailing from fifteen countries, the individuals participating in Eyes as Big as Plates have backgrounds as varied as their surroundings: there are zoologists, academics, and librarians; fishermen, wild boar hunters, and Sami reindeer herders; and opera singers, kantele players, and artists. They’re tethered by the ongoing project, which dresses each figure in sculptural wearables made of organic materials that allow them to blend in with the surrounding landscape.
Launched in 2011 by Norwegian-Finnish artist duo Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen (previously), Eyes as Big as Plates hinges on the idea that it’s essential to explore how humans exist within nature. The portraits center on lone figures partially camouflaged with their backdrops or outfitted with imaginative garments constructed with objects found nearby. Boubou (shown below), for example, is a Senegalese fisherman who wears a mesh shawl of sea creatures, while North Tolsta-based photographer Andrea (above) is almost entirely masked by spindly branches and peat near her home. Every portrait comes after a conversation with the subject and a collaborative effort to find the proper location and attire.
The duo has now compiled dozens of photos in a forthcoming book that marks the 10th anniversary of the project. A follow-up to their sold-out first volume, Eyes as Big as Plates 2 is comprised of 52 new portraits, conversations with those featured, and field notes from their travels. “While transcribing the interviews for each of the collaborators here, we got to experience what many of them often say is the most exciting part: ‘ … just being there, looking at a familiar landscape like you’ve never looked at it before. Letting the surroundings wash over you,'” they write.
Eyes as Big as Plates 2 is currently available for pre-order on the project’s site. Some of the series is on view through June at the landmarked entry at 200 5th Avenue in New York and will be up this May at London’s Barbican and at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto in September.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.