science is art: jean painlevé

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“les danseuses de la mer”/”sea ballerinas”

My thesis adviser would always hiss when the Criterion logo came on the screen of a film we watched, so I guess my wariness towards them is due to a conditioned response much more than any legitimate negative experience.

Recently, after we finished a bottle of rosé and a triangle of brie, my friend lent me her Criterion-issued DVD set of Jean Painlevé short films called “Science is Fiction.”  Flipping through the booklet inside, I was struck by how much more the chosen frames resembled abstract art than sea creatures.

I love octopi and sea horses especially, and watched the shorts about those immediately (“les amours de la pieuvre”/”love lives of the octopus” and “l’hippocampe”/”the sea horse”).  It seemed as though Painlevé tackled similar concepts in each–intercourse, gestation, babies, movement–but with a unique sense of poetic tenderness.  I then chose to watch the short film about star fish.  This film typifies both the tender treatment of the subject AND the abstract art quality of the image.  The images in this post show Painlevé’s deeply aesthetic appreciation for the sea stars, whose unlikely beauty are so successfully captured in the film.

Although it’s true that “science is fiction” in terms of Painlevé’s imaginative engagement with the various underwater species, I’d also suggest that it is equally true that for the spectator of these films, science becomes art.


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