Blackboards, the legend goes, were invented by a teacher. In the mid-19th century, James Pillans was headmaster of the Royal High School in Edinburgh, Scotland. Teaching geography, he found himself in need of a device that would allow him to share visual information with all his students, simultaneously — a more theatrical and efficient version of the slates students used to write their lessons at their desks. Pillans had chalk; he had tablets. Then he had an idea.
Today, in an age of dry-erase whiteboards and write-on wall paint — an age that has produced surfaces and markers that allow writings to be undone with the ruthless efficiency of a single swipe — blackboards have taken on the wistfulness of the outmoded technology. And the semi-erased chalkboard, in particular — its darkness swirled with the detritus of unknown decisions and revisions — compounds the nostalgia. Its spectral insights mingle in the bright dust of calcium carbonate.
Alejandro Guijarro sees that blurry beauty better than most. Over the last three years, the Spanish artist has visited some of the world’s most prestigious blackboards: the ones housed at the quantum mechanics labs of places like the University of Oxford, UC Berkeley, Stanford, CERN, Cambridge, and the Instituto de Física Corpuscular. At each place, he used a large-format camera to capture the markings left on the boards, just as he found them.
In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, girls in the UK and the US used needle and thread to embroider images and text onto pieces of fabric that were called “samplers.” Samplers, which could be quite intricate, were meant to promote basic literacy and to teach patience and carefulness.
Unlike many samplers, which featured botanical, Biblical, or domestic themes, this unusual pre-printed fabric from 1811 depicts a surprisingly scientific subject: the arrangement of the solar system. (Click on image for larger view.)
While girls and women would have found it quite difficult to pursue scientific careers in 19th-century England (the anomalous example of astronomer Caroline Herschel notwithstanding), several popular authors of the time published science books that included girl readers in their intended audiences. Astronomy and natural history were particularly common scientific topics in children’s literature, since authors could relate the information to children’s everyday lives.
This sampler includes a verse from Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which begins “These are they glorious works, parent of good.” Although we’re accustomed to thinking of scientific and religious education as incompatible, before the controversy over evolutionary theory, which began in the mid-nineteenth century, such conflicts were much more easily resolved. Within certain parameters, instruction in science could be used to reinforce lessons about religion, morality, and God’s plan.
Whoever was working the sampler didn’t get very far with it. The only part of the design that’s been completed with thread is the box around the date.
Unstable Matter is kinetic sculpture by Finnish artists Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen, a.k.a. Grönlund-Nisunen. The moving table contains thousands of small ball bearings that move and crash within the confines of a giant wobbly table, sort of a modern take on a rain stick. The table is part of several kinetic and magnetized works by the duo that were recently on view at Esther Schipper in Berlin.