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Happy Halloween!  This year, I have been working on a new series of artworks centered on flatfish.  I suppose flatfish have supplanted toruses as the primary focus of my art. People seem to like flounder better than donuts (the asymmetric fish have more personality…or at least they have faces), however the universe is not shaped like a flatfish (according to current models), so it raises the question of what the flounder means symbolically.  Flatfish are regarded as a delicious prey animal by humans, however they are excellent predators in their own right:  they are sort of the middle-class of the oceans.   Like the middle class, the pleurectiformes are experts at blending in, and they change their color and pattern to match their circumstances.  Today’s circumstances, however, are not merely muddy sand flats—the whole world is filled with wild eclectic ambiguity which is hard for anyone to follow (much less a bottom-dwelling fish). My full flounder series thus explore the larger human and natural ecosystems of the late Holocene and early Anthropocene world.  Each one lives in a little predatory microcosm where it is hunting and hunted.

The bizarre asymmetry of the flatfish also appeals to me.  Since my artwork seemingly concerns topology, this may be significant—although a classical knot theorist would blithely observe that a flatfish is homeomorphic with a torus (assuming one regards the digestive tract as a continuous tube).  At any rate it is currently Halloween and the flounder need to blend in with the monsters, goblins, witches, and mummies of the scary season! I made three black and white pen and ink flounders to use as Halloween coloring pages. These are supposed to print out at 8.5 inches x 11 inches, but who knows how wordpress will format them for your device?  Let me know if you want me to send you a JPEG.

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The top flounder is a classical Halloween artwork of haunted houses bats, witches, pumpkins, and mummies. In the center, mortality and the devil grasp for the human soul. The mood of the second artwork  is more elusive and elegiac: dark fungi grow upon the sole as an underling hauls a dead gladiator away in the depths.  Serpent monsters fill up the sky and our lady of the flowers blesses a corpse.  The final pen and ink drawing is unfinished (so you can add your own monster) but it centers around a haunted jack-in-the-box and a ruined windmill. A bog monster, scarecrow and lady ghost haunt the doomed landscape.

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I also threw in three little colored Halloween flounder at the bottom–as a teaser for my Instagram page.  You should check it out for your daily flounder (free of commentary and text, as is increasingly the way of our digital age).  I hope you enjoy these colorful treats and have a wonderful holiday!

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Ancient Egyptian bee Hieroglyph

In prehistoric times there was no sugar.  Sweetness was only to be found in fruits and berries–with one gleaming exception. Pre-agricultural humans were obsessed with hunting honey (in fact there are rock paintings from 15,000 years ago showing humans robbing honey from wild bees).  The golden food made by bees from pollen and nectar of flowers was not merely delectable: honey is antiseptic and was used as a medicine or preservative.  The wax was also valued for numerous artistic, magical, medicinal, sealing, and manufacturing purposes.

But wild bees were hard to find and capable of protecting themselves with their fearsome stinging abilities.  One of the most useful early forms of agriculture was therefore beekeeping.  The first records we have of domesticated bees come from ancient Egypt.  An illustration on the walls of the sun temple of Nyuserre Ini (from the 5th Dynasty, circa 2422 BC) shows beekeepers blowing smoke into hives in order to remove the honeycomb.  The first written record of beekeeping—an official list of apiarists–is nearly as old and dates back to 2400 BC.  Cylinders filled with honey were found among the grave goods discovered in royal tombs.

Honey was treasured in the (sugar-free) world of ancient Egypt.  It was given as a fancy gift and used as an ointment for wounds. Although honey was too expensive for the lowest orders of society to afford, ancient texts have come down to us concerning thieving servants “seduced by sweetness.” Wax was also precious.  Wax tablets were used for writing.  Wax was an ingredient in cosmetics, an adhesive, a medicine, and a waterproofing agent.  Wigs were shaped with wax. It served as the binding agent for paints.  Mummification required wax for all sorts of unpleasant mortuary functions.  Perhaps most seriously (to the ancient Egyptian mind at least) wax was necessary for magic casting.  By crafting a replica of a person, place, or thing, Egyptians believed they could affect the real world version.

According to Egyptian mythology, bees were created when the golden tears of Ra, the sun god, fell to earth.  Bees are even a part of the foundation of the Egyptian state—one of the pharaoh’s titles was “king bee” (although Egyptians might have grasped rudimentary beekeeping skills they missed many of the important nuances of hive life and they thought the queen was a king).  The symbol of fertile Lower Egypt was the honey bee and the Deshret–the Red Crown of Lower Egypt is believed to be a stylized representation of a bee’s sting and its proboscis.

The Red Crown of Lower Egypt

The Tarim Basin

Tarim Lake was a salty lake which once covered more than 10,000 square kilometers (3,900 sq mi) in a dry region of Xinjiang, China.  The Lake was formed because the Tarim River and the Shule River both emptied into an endorheic basin–a landlocked area which prevents the outflow of any water. Since the time of the Yuan Dynasty the region has been called Lop Nur— a Mongolian name which apparently means something like “lake of many converging water sources”.  The name has become ironic: because of climate change, deforestation, and a series of ill-conceived dams, Lop Nur is now an inhospitable desert with a few small seasonal salt ponds. The region is today an arid wasteland.

Ruins of Loulan City in Xinjiang

Lop Nur boasts a complex history stretching back to before the Bronze Age and the region has been the site of a number of fascinating but mysterious archaeological finds. A number of exceptionally preserved mummies (known as the Tarim mummies) which date from 1900 BC to 200 BC intrigue scholars because of their Caucasian features and DNA. These inhabitants of the Tarim Basin probably spoke Tocharian, the eastern-most known Indo-European language.  As history ebbed and flowed, the Tarim/Tocharian people became mixed with Uighurs, Kazaks, Kyrgyzs, and Han Chinese to form a vibrant culture.

A Tarim Mummy The mummy of a young woman nicknamed "The Beauty of Xiaohu", dating from about 1500-1800 BC

Lop Nur is thus the site of one of the great lost cities from Chinese history. During the time of the Han Dynasty, a large oasis town now known as the Loulan Ancient City flourished by the lake and grew rich from its position along the Silk Road.  But in the 7th century, due to a changing climate, the Loulan Ancient City vanished entirely destroyed by desertification, sandstorms, and other factors.   It is believed that the deforestation of the swampy poplar forests around the lake may have been an important factor contributing to the swift decline.  The region holds on to its treasures fiercely.  Numerous archaeologists and treasure hunters have been killed by the dunes, quicksands, and flash floods of the desert including noted archaelogist Peng Jiamu, who disappeared in 1980, and the explorer Yu Chunshun, who died there in 1996.  Because of its desolation and danger Lop Nar is also called the forbidden zone.

Satellite photo of Tarim Basin

There are other even more compelling reasons that the region has that name. The Red army uses parts of the desolate and unpopulated evaporite wasteland as a testing ground (much in the manner the US Defence department makes use of certain desert regions Nevada).  In 1964, Lop Nur was the site of the first successful thermonuclear fission test by the Peoples Republic of China, a project which was blandly codenamed “596”. Three years later in an exercise known as “Project Number 6” the Chinese military successfully tested a hydrogen bomb at the site thereby simultaneously demonstrating their power, scientific aplomb, and ability to craft boring secret names.

A Photo of Project 6 a hydrogen bomb detonated in the air at an altitude of 2960 meters (9549 feet)

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