The Curious Watchmaker

Where to see it and where it’s been.

Visualising Agriculture.  Southern Alberta Art Gallery.  February 2018.

This is the first presentation of this work, and true to my methods, will undergo changes as I respond to it.
The themes will remain the same, but some of the aesthetic decisions will change. Overall, there will still be a lab bench of some sort with stereo cameras examining a plant with projections of genetic information, be projected and viewed with ReadD 3D glasses.

The Curious Watchmaker.

If we are to survive climate change, it is to science and technology that we must look. If, in the interests of a peaceful world, we want to make sure all people have enough to eat, it is to science and technology that we must look. Turning our backs on this, looking instead to an idyllic, plentiful, disease free past that never existed is the road to superstition and ignorance, misery and death. Looking to the future is looking with hope, if we are willing to challenge our irrational fears and try to remember the lessons from science so many of us have forgotten.

An ingredients list of any plant, no matter its provenance, reads as a baffling list of chemical names that would challenge any linguist.  It also acts as a reminder that all things are made up of combinations of matter, born of exploding stars, that can be understood and reconfigured. Living machines, built through millions of years of evolution and our crude persuasion, have rarely stumbled into a state of being to suit humanity’s needs perfectly.  

Some would wonder if we should attempt to change that. Our superstitious minds project a mystical quality onto living things – as if their component parts are also imbued with an indetectable life force. To interrogate, improve, or adjust their configuration with surgical precision (rather than the toss of a dice and the crossing of fingers) amounts, apparently, to playing god.

The ill-defined pitfalls of impersonating a mythical being have never stopped us from attempting to improve our lot before though.  We can credit the recent phenomenon of long and healthy lives to this imitation. I wonder if the hesitation to interfere with living things extends to the microscopic population of the natural world that does not hesitate to kill us if it increases their own chances of survival. 


The title refers to the notions of both the Divine Watchmaker favoured by creationists and The Blind Watchmaker; the title of Richard Dawkin’s 1986 book describing the processes of evolution. The Curious Watchmaker is an imagined character who explores and tinkers with the building blocks of life.

The piece, as it was presented here, is using wheat plants that are infected with Leaf Rust. It was presented as part of the Visualising Agriculture exhibition, in consultation with Dr. André Laroche and Dr. Jamie Larsen of the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.