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Film

These Glittering Mandalas Aren't Crystals—They're Microscopic Organisms

Klaus Klemp resurrected a dead Victorian artform to create these intricate, microscopic bio-mandalas.

by Beckett Mufson
19 September 2014, 7:30pm

Images via

It's hard to believe that the rich history of microscope-enabled art—most recently manifest in the modern era through the likes of Vik Muniz's sand castle (etched on a grain of sand), Zammuto's microscope-enabled music video, and the crystal nanoflowers blooming at Harvard—began in the hobby houses of early Victorian scientists. Drawing his inspiration from these early bio-creatives, diatomist Klaus Klemp has spent nearly a decade uncovering, replicating, and improving upon the artform in order to create this gorgeous set of microorganism mandalas.

The diatoms Klemp gets his title from are single-celled algae, of which there are about 100,000 distinctly shaped and colored species. Diatoms were of special interest to Klemp—and to the aforementioned Victorians—because they cover themselves in jewel-like crystalline shells, glittering like organic gemstones when placed beneath a lens. Klemp arranges his diatom mandalas using a decidedly analog setup: a microscope and a pair of tweezers. The detailed patterns are the result of his incredible dexterity, patience, and the natural geometric beauty of diatoms.

According to Klemp, these fascinating single-celled beings can appear almost anywhere in nature. "It doesn't matter whether it's a horse trough, or a ditch, gutters, you name it, wherever there's water, it's worth having a look," he says in The Diatomist, a short documentary by Matthew Killip. In the film, the Killip explores Klemp's resurrection of the medium, as well as the time-consuming processes of gathering, cleaning, organizing, and arranging each set of diatoms. 

Enjoy the meticulously arranged fruits of Klemp's labor below, many of which would fit snugly on the head of a nail, and be sure check out Matthew Killip's full documentary about the man behind the microstructures, The Diatomist.

Visit Klemp's website here to learn more about diatoms and the culture behind this microscopic art form. h/t Colossal

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