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.