Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Polar Bears Taking Over Abandoned Buildings

In September 2021, Photographer Dmitry Kokh visited the currently unoccupied Kolyuchin Island in the Chukchi Sea between Russia and Alaska, and documented some of the wildlife there. A bunch of polar bears seem to have settled in the abandoned buildings of a former Russian weather station.

Colossal Dmitry Kokh Kolyuchin Island Three Polar Bears

You can see the bears casually stroll in between the houses, and apparently even spend time inside the buildings, often peeking out of the glassless windows. Astounding!

See more of Kokh’s photos at his site or in Colossal.

Image by Dmitry Kokh via Colossal

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

The Unspoken Messages of an Unswept Floor

This floor mosaic comes from the dining room of a Roman house. The central parts of the floor have been lost, but the edges of the room were decorated to look like the untidy remains of a banquet. We can identify leaves, fish and poultry bones, nut shells, bits of fruit, and the shells of a wide variety of shellfish. This may seem like an odd choice for home decoration, but mosaics in this style were popular in well-to-do Greek and Roman households. To contemporary guests, mosaics like this sent a number of messages about the people who dined on them.

On one level, this mosaic simply reflected the reality of the room it was in. Diners at an ancient banquet could toss their refuse on the floor with abandon because they were not the ones who had to clean it up. The widespread use of enslaved labor for domestic service meant that the rich could lob greasy chicken bones and half-eaten olives around the place without caring about the time and effort involved in cleaning up afterward. In that sense, this mosaic identified the owners of this house as the sorts of people who had other people to do the cleaning up after them.

On the other hand, the evident abandon with which the detritus is strewn around the room is deceptive. The individual pieces are precisely placed so that there the space between them is relatively even. Larger items are spread out with smaller ones between them. They are positioned in loose diagonal lines with a subtle aesthetic regularity; similar objects repeat to help unify the image, but are spaced out and given different orientations to avoid any sense of pattern. This mosaic is an extremely fine one made of very small tesserae in many different shades that must have taken a substantial amount of work by a skilled mosaic artist and a team of workers. The details of this Roman mosaic also imitate a famous Greek predecessor created by the mosaic artist Sosos of Pergamum. The effect was meant to project wealth and power: only the very rich could afford to put so much care into looking so careless.

The choice of food to show in this mosaic is also significant. Meat had a religious, even moral, significance in Greek and Roman culture. Large land animals like cattle, sheep, and pigs were typically eaten as part of a communal religious sacrifice, and religious custom dictated how they could be cooked and served as well as who should partake in the feast. Fish, shellfish, and poultry were not constrained by similar rules and could be eaten when, how, and in any company one liked. As such, this sort of food was associated with indulgence, even decadence. To say that a fellow Greek or Roman dined on fish had a sting of moral judgment akin to declaring that someone today enjoys champagne and caviar. The variety of fish bones, chicken claws, and shells in this mosaic makes a statement that this room is not one for solemn sacrificial meals but a place where the diners can indulge in their favorite delicacies free of any religious scruples or moral condemnation.

A great deal of meaning is packed into a mosaic of an untidy floor. These were messages that the original guests in this dining room would have implicitly understood in same way that we today grasp the status-signaling meaning of a four-car garage or a water view.

Image: Detail of unswept floor mosaic, photograph by Yann Forget via Wikimedia (currently Gregorian Profano Museum, Vatican; early 2nd c. CE; glass tessera mosaic; by Heraclitus, copied from work by Sosos of Pergamum)

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Fine Art as a Three-in-One Quilt

Check out this mind-blowing quilt simultaneously copying three fine arts pieces, namely Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, and Edvard Munch’s The Scream:

Tumblr Good Stuff Flora Joy Quilt1
Tumblr Good Stuff Flora Joy Quilt2
Tumblr Good Stuff Flora Joy Quilt3

Even the intricate gold frame is sewn!

This astounding piece is called “Sleep, Play, Scream” and it was made by Flora Joy. She was deservedly awarded for her innovative trispective technique.

Any time I come across someone, typically an older white man (seriously, dudes, you’ve got to do better), sneering at sewing or other textile work, I can’t but shake my head. Poor twits, showing what they emphatically don’t know jack shit about.

Images via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Socks with Sandals, Ancient Egyptian Style

This amazingly preserved sock comes from the late Roman period of ancient Egypt. The colors of the stripes give us some idea of how bright and cheerful this sock must have been when it was new.

The notch at the end separated the big toe for wearing thong sandals. The question of whether this means “wearing socks with sandals has an ancient and honorable pedigree” or “ancient Egyptians could be huge dorks, too” is left as an exercise for the reader.

Image: Sock via National Museum of Scotland (currently National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh; 4th-5th c. CE; wool)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

The Couple that Eats Together Stays Together

This terra cotta Etruscan sarcophagus depicts a couple reclining on a dining couch together. Etruscans adopted a great deal of cultural influences from the Greek world (including, for instance, the style of dining while lying on a couch), but one sharp difference from the Greeks was while in the Greek world dinner parties were exclusively male affairs, Etruscan women and men dined together.

This couple looks particularly happy and loving, smiling and holding one another affectionately. Of course, art is not always a reflection of life; just because a couple wanted to be depicted as a happy family in their funeral portrait doesn’t necessarily mean they were happy together in life, but it’s certainly nice to imagine that they were, and the very fact that they wanted to be perceived as a loving, intimate couple tells us something about the values of their culture.

Image: Sarcophagus of the spouses, photograph by Sailko via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) (found Caere, currently National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, Rome; c. 530-520 BCE; terra cotta)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Visual Inspiration: Traditional Textile Patterns and Colors on Outdoor Stairs

In Lima, Peru, artist Xomatoc and local residents painted a number of stairs with colors and combinations more typically associated with traditional South American blankets and other textiles.

Colossal Jeremy Flores Xomatoc Striped Staircase

This project was a part of the Pinta Lima Bicentenario. Xomatoc’s project was only one of public art installations painted around the municipality to celebrate each participating neighborhood’s history and cultural memory.

Municipalidad de Lima Bicentenario Painting
Colossal Jeremy Flores Xomatoc Diamond-Pattern Staircase

The length of the stairs, the vibrant colors, and the large enough scale of these patterns make them really eyecatching. And, good grief, the degree of the slopes! (I grew up essentially on a flood plain, which is why mountains look so drastic to me.) The stairs definitely will be visible a long way.

Found via Colossal.

Images: Striped and diamond-patterned stairs by Jeremy Flores via Colossal. Painting in progress via Municipalidad de Lima.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Bringing Color Back to Ancient Statues with Light

Here are a few interesting pictures from the Pergamon Panorama in Berlin where colored lights are used to show a few different variations on what marble ancient statues might have looked like in their original colors. A very neat idea and some great photography from Twitterer @BelovedOfOizys!

An ancient Greek marble statue of a draped woman
An ancient Greek marble statue of a draped woman with blue light showing on the clothing
An ancient Greek marble statue of a draped woman with magenta light showing on the clothing

Images: Statuary from Pergamon with colored lights, photographs by @BelovedOfOizys via Twitter

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Herons in Amsterdam

Would you ever have thought large birds could live in cities? I would’ve found it a stretch on the basis of my experience, but apparently in Amsterdam in the Netherlands there is a large urban population of herons. Photographer Julie Hrudová has been documenting them, and the photos are very arresting.

Julie Hrudova Herons Amsterdam on Roofs

Some of the birds seem to be getting quite bold:

Julie Hrudova Herons Amsterdam Indoors Sm

Fascinating, isn’t it? Also, the pictures gives me all sorts of ideas for secondary worldbuilding. I could easily imagine semi-domesticated herons in a story, rather like the reindeer in Lapland.

Found via Colossal.

Images: On roofs by Julie Hrudová. Indoors by Julie Hrudová via Colossal.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Discrete Auroras on Mars in New, Impressive Images

Recent images taken by the Hope spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates show an improved view of auroras on Mars.

The auroras on Mars don’t just appear over the poles, however, but all around the planet. The Emirates Mars Mission didn’t discover these discrete auroras, but Hope’s images are, apparently, the most impressive captured so far.

Nature EMM Hope Discrete Auroras

Left: a spectrometer image captured by Hope; right: an artist’s impression of discrete auroras on Mars’s night side, both by Emirates Mars Mission via Springer Nature Ltd

As a fan of aurora borealis, I find it fascinating to get to see them on a neighboring planet. Yay, science!

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Placing Heaven in a Bowl

Bowl enameled in green and purple with intricate metalwork
Modern minakari bowl, photograph by Interesting009 via Wikimedia

This gorgeous bowl is an example of a style of enamel work known as minakari (also spelled meenakari or mina-kari), which literally means “to place heaven into an object.”

The style was developed in Persia under the Safavid kingdom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries CE. Artists of that time took enameling techniques from Europe and China and used them to create works whose intricate designs and vivid colors drew on the rich legacy of Persian and Islamic art.

Minakari works are still being produced today, especially in and around the city of Isfahan. “Placing heaven in an object” seems like a good enough description to me.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.