Micromachina – The Hallowed-Out Insect Sculptures of Scott Bain

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Micromachina is a collection of real taxidermy insects fitted with various devices that is meant to show how we humans mistreat nature, forcing it to do our bidding.

Scott Bain’s creations show humanity’s disregard for nature in all its forms: genetic modifications, pesticides or massive urban expansion. There’s practically nothing we won’t do in our never ending quest for profit, and the artist believes there will come a time when nature will rid the world of its biggest pest, us.

The hollowed-out Micromachina insects were inspired by our way of using technology to control nature and turn every living thing into a tool.

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The Miniature Wonders of Ave Maria Grotto

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The Ave Maria Grotto is a four-acre park featuring 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most important Christian buildings and shrines, located in Cullman, Alabama.

Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature” this wonderful attraction was built from concrete, stone and seashells, by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of the nearby St. Bernard Abbey. Joseph was born in Germany, in 1878 and nearly lost his life to a flu epidemic that swept around Europe. He emigrated to the USA as a teenager, and settled in Alabama, where a freak accident left him scoliosis and a back injury. That’s probably the reason he decided to join the newly opened Benedictine monastery of Cullman. He took his vows at the age of nineteen and was put in charge of the monastery’s powerhouse.

It was around this time Brother Joseph began tinkering with stones, leftover cement and other junk he found outside the powerhouse. He would build Bible scenes from old ink bottles and rusted birdcages, and his handiwork soon attracted the attention of Father Dominic, who asked him to make two miniature grottoes for him to sell and raise money for the abbey. The artworks were so impressive they sold immediately, so what Joe though was just a one time deal turned into a regular business, and he ended up creating over 5,000 grottoes.

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The Button and Pin Artworks of Ran Hwang

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Instead of using pins and buttons to stitch-up clothes, Korean-born artist Ran Hwang uses them to create gigantic installations in the shape of birds and cherry blossom trees.

To create her unique artworks, Ran Hwang hammers thousands of needles into a wall and hangs colorful pins from them. Seen from up close, her pin and button works look pixelated, but from afar, the whole piece seems to come together naturally. “My immense wall installations are extremely time consuming and repetitive manual work. This is a form of meditative practice that helps me find my inner peace. Like the monks practicing Zen facing the wall, my work is a form of performance that leads to finding oneself.” Hwang says about her unique technique.

Asked why she uses buttons as an art medium, the artist replies “because they are common and ordinary, like the existence of human beings”. She uses no glue in her art, so the buttons are free to move or fall at any time, which reflects the irresolute nature of human beings.

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Beautiful Scotch Tape Sculptures at Off the Roll 2011

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“Off the Roll” is a yearly tape sculpture contest that challenges people to create the best artworks they can by using only Scotch tape.

I never knew it was possible to create sculptures out of Scotch tape alone, but after seeing some of the things people made for the Off the Roll contest, I started thinking this is one of the coolest materials available. Now that I think about it, I should have realized that sooner, especially after writing about the duct tape costumes of “Stuck at Prom”.

This year, Scotch is offering a grand prize of $5,000 to the most original and best executed sticky tape sculpture, as well as three other $500 prizes for runners-up and a people’s choice award. If you’re interested in participating, all you have to do is stock up on Scotch tape, create an impressive sculpture, take up to three photos of it and enter it in the competition by the end of February.

Check out some of the most beautiful Scotch tape sculptures entered in this year’s competition, and make sure you visit the Off the Roll contest page to vote for your favorites.

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Takanakuy – The Fighting Festival of Peru

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For most of us, Christmas day is a time of celebration and togetherness, but for the people of the Chumbivilcas community, near Cuzco, it’s the perfect opportunity to get into a fight.

Takanakuy, which means “when the blood is boiling” in Quechua, one of the oldest spoken dialects of Peru, is an annual celebration that gives people the chance to solve personal differences with members of their community the old fashioned way, through violence. The yearly festival, which takes place every December 25th, is an indigenous tradition that has a lot to do with family honor, reputation and distrust in the judiciary system. Takanakuy is viewed by many as the only way to put problems behind them, before New Year’s.

On the day of the festival, participants (men, women and children alike) gather in the local bullring, where they engage in a bare knuckle fight, supervised by local authorities who act as referees. Men mostly stick to punching, but in women’s matches kicking is very popular and while contenders don’t seem to be holding back much, injuries are rarely reported. Fighters are not allowed to hit their opponents while they’re down, and they risk getting whipped if they forget about this important rule.

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Kapala – The Human Skull Cup of the Gods

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The kapala is a sacred sculpted cup made from the top of a human skull frequently offered by Hindu and Buddhist worshipers to their fierce deities.

A legacy of the ancient tradition of human sacrifice, the kapala is nowadays perceived as a dark but fascinating form of sculpture. Tibetan kapalas, in particular, feature impressive bas-relief artworks depicting religious figures and scenes, and are often adorned with semi-precious stones and silver-work. The elaborate carvings were handmade and the skull was soaked in water to soften the bone.

In Tibet, skull cups are used at Buddhist altars to offer wrathful divinities either wine, which symbolizes blood, or dough cakes shaped as human eyes or ears. Through the force of tantric visualization based on meditation and deep philosophical study,  a sort of transubstantiation will occur and the wine will be transformed into the Wisdom Nectar, a liquid form of the enlightened mind of one or all the deities in the Celestial Palace of the Mandala. This is just one of the many uses of the kapala in Tibetan ritual culture.

Some modern-day kapalas are still shaped like the top of a human skull, but they are made of brass and while they are adorned with artistic motifs, they aren’t nearly as fascinating as  genuine human skull cups.

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Artist Creates Detailed Cardboard Busts of Famous Figures

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Scott Fife is an American sculptor well-known for his incredibly detailed busts of popular icons, made only from archival cardboard, drywall screws and glue.

Scott says he has been working with cardboard for the last 25 years, and he remembers he first decided to use it purely for economic reasons. He would find cardboard boxes on the streets, cut them up into pieces, paint on them and create unique artworks, but the high acid content of cardboard meant the lifespan of his works could be limited, so he eventually switched to archival cardboard. He liked the coolness of the blueberry coloring from the beginning, and it wasn’t that much different to work with than ordinary cardboard, so archival cardboard became his favorite material.

The cardboard busts Scott Fife creates look so realistic, it’s hard to believe he uses only low-tech tools. All he really needs is loads of archival cardboard, an Xacto knife, drywall screws, a screw gun, and glue.

Seattle-based Fife has been exhibiting his works across America since 1976, and while his technique hasn’t changed much since then, his incredible cardboard art is just as fresh and popular today as it was back then.

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Belgian Blue Cattle – Bodybuilders of the Bovine World

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Belgian Blue cattle may look like they’ve spent most of their lives pumping iron, but they owe their double muscle characteristics to years of careful breeding and genetics.

Like the name implies, this incredible bred of cattle originated in Belgium. In the second half of the 19th century, Shorthorn bulls from the United Kingdom were sent to Belgium to improve the muscle structure of the native cattle population, which was mostly of the dairy type. Until the 1960s, a balanced animal, which provided average quantities of milk and had averagely lean meat was desired, but in response to the demands of the meat industry and the general economic climate, the Belgian Blue began being bread for its meat. This is when the “double muscling” breakthrough was achieved, after farmers began breeding their most muscular animals to each other. The size of its muscles, low fat and especially the tenderness of the meat made the Belgian Blue a very popular breed.

Some people believe “double muscling” means these cattle have two of every muscle, but that isn’t the case. The term refers only to the size of each muscle, meaning that muscles of Belgian Blue cows and bulls are at least twice as developed as normal cow muscles. Genetic scientists have managed to achieve this by “breaking” the gene that controls the secretion of Myostatin – a protein that inhibits muscle growth after a certain point of development. By suppressing the production of Myostatin, they’ve created a kind of Arnold Schwarzenegger of the animal world.

If you’re having trouble understanding just how big and muscular these animals are, you should know some bulls weigh over a tonne. And to think that’s mostly muscle…Some countries, like Denmark, have advocated eliminating the strain, but considering Belgian Blue is for meat what the Holstein breed is for milk, I doubt breeders will stop raising these animal bodybuilders anytime soon.

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World’s Most Expensive and Amazing Children’s Beds

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Every parent wants the best for his child, but would you pay the price of a luxury car to get them the fantasy bed they’ve always dreamed of?

Posh Tots, a company that makes “the most extraordinary children’s furnishings in the world”, is offering you the chance to buy your little princess a real palace bed, complete with a fiberglass slide, staircase and enchanted balcony, for the modest price of $47,000. No, I didn’t add an extra zero by mistake, that really is the price of a children’s bed. It looks perfect, and I’m sure any little girl would be happy to have it (if not, the company’s also makes a Fantasy Coach bed, for the same price), but you’d need to be shoveling cash to pay almost fifty grand for it.

If the beds mentioned above are a little out of your league, Posh Tots offers a few cheaper alternatives, like the $22,605 Woodland Princess Castle Bunk Bed. Still way too rich for my blood, but after reading about the world’s ultimate children’s playhouse, I’m sure some people consider this a bargain. Still, if you can’t afford to buy one of this furnishing masterpieces, you could try building one, like this guy.

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Man Lives in Real Life Adams Family House

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Steve’s Weird House is a Victorian home decorated with all kinds of oddities and unusual artifacts one would expect to find in the Adams Family mansion.

Steve Bard, also known as “Weird Steve” is just an average guy from Seattle who has dedicated his life to decorating his humble abode in the most unusual way possible. Every inch of his house is covered with curiosities, circus sideshow exhibits, antique medical instruments and all kinds of other weird junk. The items in Steve’s collection include the world’s smallest mummy, Siamese twin calves, wreaths woven from human hair, skeletons, and various two-faced animals.

Apart from all the creepy decorations he collected over the years, Steve has also put together a veritable Toaster Museum with over 150 antique toasters, a Funky Future Room decorated in the style of “The Jetsons” and “Barbarella”, and a Minotaur Garden set up in his back yard. The latter features a 13-foot-tall bust of a minotaur, a 25-foot-tall Rapunzel Castle Tower and a sinister cemetery.

Unfortunately, Steve’s Weird House isn’t an attraction open to the general public. He likes to keep all his precious esoteric collections to himself, although he could probably make loads of money if he turned his house into a tourist spot. Still, you can check out the inside of this real life Adams Family mansion through a virtual tour and two Youtube videos, at the bottom.

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Size Does Matter at Controversial Pigs of God Festival

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Pigs of God is a controversial Taiwanese festival and contest where pigs that have been force-fed for years are publicly slaughtered, then put on floats and paraded through the city streets.

The origins of this gruesome event aren’t very clear, but while some say it’s part of the religious beliefs of the Hakkas, an ethnic group with a population of over four million in Taiwan, animal rights activists claim that in the last few decades it has become a simple meaningless contest used by families to show off their wealth and power. They are currently fighting for the banning of a clear form of animal cruelty, and the substitution of real pigs with ones made of dough, rice or flowers.

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The Microscopic Marvels of Vladimir Aniskin

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Vladimir Aniskin is one of the few people in the world who can create microscopic artworks so tiny they fit on half a poppy seed.

The 33-year-old scientist, who works at the Syberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science, in Tyumen, has been practicing microminiature art since 1998, and devotes several months to completing a single piece. Over the years, he has learned to work in between heartbeats, which gives him about half a second to do a controlled movement before his hand shakes. “While working I hold my creation in my fingers. Even one’s heartbeat disturbs such minute work, so particularly delicate work has to be done between heartbeats.” Vladimir says.

His miniature masterpieces are created using powerful microscopes and a set of tools he himself designed, and to fully appreciate the fine detail of his art, one also needs a microscope. That’s because some of his works are measured in microns. Aniskin’s amazing portfolio includes a grain of rice inscribed with 2,027 letters, which took three months to complete, a caravan of camels in the eye of a needle, and a Christmas scene on a thin horse hair.

The following photos don’t do Vladimir Aniskin’s work justice, but if you’re ever in St. Petersburg, you can admire 80 of his microscopic wonders at the first Russian museum of micro-miniatures – The Russian Lefty.

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Upcycled Action Figures Made by a Soldier in Afghanistan

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This wonderful collection of junk action figures was put together by Private First Class Rupert Valero, who is stationed at a forward operating base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

A former oil rig engineer, Valero has been collecting and customizing action figures for years, but ever since he was sent to Afghanistan, he had to create his own action figures from recycled materials like bottle caps, soda cans and fabric. The artists/soldier says he has the mind of an engineer and never stops thinking about building things, whether they be robots, buildings, or anything else for that matter. It’s just his way of staying sane in a dangerous place like Afghanistan.

Because toys are universal, people react to them the same whether they are in the middle of the desert or in America, and Private Valero says they have allowed him to interact with the locals. By giving a child one of his upcycled action figures he puts a smile on his face and maybe takes his mind off doing something that he shouldn’t do.

You can buy Rupert’s upcycled action figures at reasonable prices, on his Etsy shop, and you can find an extended interview with him, here.

 

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The Tree of Life – A Mysterious Natural Phenomenon

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Standing alone in the heart of the desert, miles away from any water source and other vegetation , the Tree of Life, in Bahrain, is one of the world’s most remarkable phenomena.

The Tree of Life is located 2 kilometers away from Jebel Dukhan, atop a 25-meter-high sandy hill, overlooking a golden sea of sand. The mystery of its survival in such harsh conditions has made it a legend among the people of Bahrain, and has attracted people from all around the world curious to see it first hand. The 400-year-old natural wonder has baffled biologists and scientists for years, and even though they’ve come up with several theories, it remains an enigma. Seeing this is a mesquite tree, some say its roots spread very deep and wide, reaching unknown sources of water, but no one has been able to prove it.

Locals have their own explanations when it comes to the secret of the Tree of Life, but theirs have little to do with science. Many of them believe this is the actual location of the Garden of Eden, while Bedouins are convinced the tree has been blessed by Enki, the mythical God of water. Whatever the explanation, it’s amazing how Sharajat-al-Hayat, as the Arabs call it, has kept growing continuously for around 4 centuries.

While the Tree of Life is one of the most famous attractions of Bahrain, visitors are instructed to double check their gear and make sure their car doesn’t get stuck in the sand, as we are talking about the middle of a desert.

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Arthrobots – Steampunk Insects by Tom Hardwidge

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Using nuts and bolts to connect various bits of metal, English artist Tom Hardwidge creates beautiful steampunk insects he calls Arthrobots.

They may look like metal toys, but Tom’s arthrobots are actually intricate steampunk sculptures inspired by real insects and built from various recycled metallic parts. The Manchester-based artist starts by drawing up a series of sketches, then starts looking for parts on sites like eBay, and local small shops. The assembling happens on the dinning-room table, to make sure no actual dinning takes place there.

In case you’re wondering what arthrobots are made of, Tom says most of them start off as pieces of deactivated ammunition, that are later covered with sheets of copper, brass or aluminum. Limbs, wings and antennae  are then attached, and no respectable steampunk creation would be complete without some old pocket watch gears and springs.

Arthrobots come in a cool-looking wooden box, together with a small leaflet which includes a series of details like the sculpture’s name, the phylum, order and class it belongs to and some of the early sketches. If you’re a fan of steampunk, head over to the arthrobots official site, for more details.

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