Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Six-Cornered Snowflake

The Six-Cornered Snowflake
Johannes Kepler
Edited and Translated by Colin Hardie, with essays by L.L. Whyte and B.F.J. Mason
Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1966
Kepler’s book in its first English translation. In this ‘new year’s gift’ to his patron, the influential astronomer turns his intelligence upon the snowflake, which ‘comes from heaven and looks like a star’. Kepler’s essay provides the first published evidence, in both images and text, of the regular arrangements and close-packing which have proved fundamental to crystallography. Kepler ponders on the problem of why snowflakes are hexagonal and considers the significance of the number six, while repeatedly punning on the nature of nothing. As poetic as it is mathematical or scientific, the treatise encompasses pomegranates, honeybees, stars and Turkish baths, but keeps one foot in scientific reality, recognising that ‘to ascribe a Soul to every single starlet of snow is absurd’.
From the introduction by Whyte: ‘Water has long been regarded as the basis of much that happens in this universe and the snowflake is now recognised as an important clue to the shaping agencies of nature, both in the formation of perfect micro-structures and in the formative and destructive power of glaciers and thunderstorms.’ An illustrated essay by Mason On the Shapes of Snow Crystals looks at the subsequent study of snowflakes from Descartes to Bentley, and notes that the issue of the six-pointed snowflake was raised in China as early as 135 BC. Kepler’s text is set within the context of the history of crystallography in a helpful summary of twentieth-century ideas on the atomic arrangement of snow and ice crystals.
Hardback, 76 pages, 24 x 16 cm

Monday, 16 June 2014


Annie Bissett
Iceberg (from Secret Codewords of the NSA series)
At the height of the global scandal regarding the National Security Agency's acquisition of data, artist Annie Bissett read an article in The New York Times which mentioned the codewords that the NSA uses. She decided to do a series of prints featuring selected codewords, one for each letter of the alphabet, with each codename embossed 'in the spirit of keeping things secret'. It is surely a sign of the times that the word 'iceberg' featured among them. Bissett says that she is unsure what the codeword 'iceberg' signifies, but speculates that it may refer to the fibre-optic cables which travel under the ocean, carrying international internet traffic. Of course, the NSA revelations are often described idiomatically as 'the tip of the iceberg'. Furthermore, Bissett notes, it would appear that the NSA monitored the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, giving US negotiators advance information on other governments' positions. (Notably, world leaders failed to agree a deal on climate change at this summit.)
Six colours and blind emboss mokuhanga print on kochi kozo paper, edition of 20, 152 x 152 mm.