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Is This A Snowy Wonderland Or The World Inside A Petri Dish?

Artist Rogan Brown's paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens. i

Artist Rogan Brown's paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens. Courtesy of Rogan Brown hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Artist Rogan Brown's paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens.

Artist Rogan Brown's paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens.

Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Do you remember cutting paper snowflakes in school? Artist Rogan Brown has elevated that simple seasonal art form and taken it to science class.

These large-scale paper sculptures may evoke snow, but actually trade on the forms of bacteria and other organisms. The patterns may feel familiar, but also a bit alien. You're not looking at a replica of a microbe, but an interpretation of one. And that distinction, Brown says, is important.

"Both art and science seek to represent truth but in different ways," the 49-year-old artist, who lives in France, tells Shots. "It's the difference between understanding a landscape by looking at a detailed relief map and understanding it by looking at a painting by Cezanne or Van Gogh."

Brown wants to you to feel something looking at these sculptures.

Last year, he met with a group of microbiologists to plan an exhibition on the human microbiome. He became fascinated by the hidden world of microbes and the strange shapes of pathogens. He was particularly interested in humans' fear of the invisible microbiological world. That meeting led him to spend four months creating Outbreak entirely by hand.

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014. i

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014. Courtesy of Rogan Brown hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014.

Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014.

Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the "long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay." i

Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the "long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay." Courtesy of Rogan Brown hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the "long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay."

Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the "long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay."

Courtesy of Rogan Brown
A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it "embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy." i

A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it "embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy." Courtesy of Rogan Brown hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Rogan Brown
A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it "embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy."

A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it "embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy."

Courtesy of Rogan Brown

He starts each construction by sketching detailed designs and then mocking them up in larger pen and ink drawings. Then he begins to think in 3-D. Each structure is composed of layers of paper, which are stacked using foam board spacers. This floating effect allows him to build a complex colony of organisms that appear to grow beyond the confines of their housing.

In Cut Microbe, that growth is chaotic. The whip-like appendages of the creature branch outward in an invasive way. Those legs, Brown writes on his website, were inspired by the flagella of Salmonella and E. coli, tiny appendages that help the bacteria move.

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli. i

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli. Courtesy of Rogan Brown hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli.

Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli.

Courtesy of Rogan Brown

In Magic Circle, the architecture is more constructive, ordered — there are colonies of intricately shaped forms that evoke the collaborative, constructive network of a coral reef. It also evokes microbes and diatoms.

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes. i

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes. Courtesy of Rogan Brown hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes.

Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes.

Courtesy of Rogan Brown

Some of Brown's work is sliced meticulously by hand using a scalpel. Others, like the one above, are also cut using a laser. The end result is a fragile paper sculpture that borrows from what we can see as well as the artistic imagination.

"We live in a world dominated by science," Brown says. "Art needs to work hard to keep up or use the language and imagery of science for its own ends."

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