Microscope Music

Microscope Music sets some of the texts from The Microscope Project: How Things Work to electronic music derived from the microscopes themselves, as well as their documentation. Sound samples were made by striking, bowing, rasping, dropping and otherwise physically interacting with parts of decommissioned electron and fluorescence microscopes. Other samples were made by taken images or texts associated with the microscopes and converting the raw files into sound files. Each piece uses only a single set of samples.

Listen to Microscope Music via Bandcamp:


Buy the Microscope Music CD via PayPal at the Shop.

Floribunda: Judy Morris & Ian Gibbins


Drawings by Judy Morris, poems and sound installation by Ian Gibbins, exhibited at the Hahndorf Academy, Hahndorf, 13th June – 26 July, 2015.

Floribunda was originally conceived by Judy as a collection of drawings inspired by native and introduced plants growing in the bush, urban gardens and nurseries in the greater Adelaide region. Judy is particularly attracted to the more unusual shapes and textures of these plants, carefully observing and documenting their emergence and eventual turnover. She uses a slow process of detailed mark making with graphite and coloured pencil on paper to interpret the beauty of the overall form and colour as well as the detailed structure of the plants. She seeks to discover and represent the universal appeal of these amazing works of nature in her larger than life-size drawings, encouraging others to look more closely and make discoveries of their own.

The poems in Floribunda were written by Ian in response to Judy’s drawings, their titles, and meanings hidden within the formal Latin titles of the plants: gardneri, after the curator of the Western Australian Herbarium, Charles Austin Gardner; the “bearded” Isopogon; stoechas, referring to the Mediterranean islands where Jason and the Argonauts rested while returning home with the Golden Fleece; officinalis, from a monastic storeroom; Telopea, “visible from afar”. The Type Descriptions allude to the protocols of naming new species. The Field Notes imagine an expedition into unknown, dangerous country, the explorers struggling with the environment and themselves in equal measure. The verse form is mostly based on the iambic pentameter, a five-beat line structure traditionally used for epic narratives.

Here is the text for the image on this page:
Radiant 1, 
coloured pencil and graphite on paper, 57 x 57 cm.

Isopogon anemonifolius

– Broad-leaved Drumstick –

Type description

Supernovae, gyred to earth,
one constellation at a time,
an exhilarating dance aligned with body pulse.

Field notes

We were not troubled much with appearances:
length of beard, moustachio, the curlicue of
forelock or fringe. In this labyrinthine chasm,
we harboured the irreducible apprehension,
that the ether itself writhed with probing tentacles,
contorted with asthenic twine, sensitive to the
slightest touch, hair-triggered, primed to grip and
encoil, to sting and paralyse and dissolve. We
equipped to bridle escape, clench inure against
febrile entanglement, fey chance of infinitely
knotted stasis. If sunshine tipped our foundations
awry, we would bask in youth, absorb ephemeral
scintre, share luxuriant camaraderie. We could
indeed imagine life well beyond our means.

Ian also composed an audio installation for the exhibition. Click here to listen

Ian and Judy made a video for the exhibition in which Judy discusses her approach to drawing. You can watch it here.

Buy the book featuring all the drawings and poems from Floribunda  here

Read Maureen Gordon’s launch speech, courtesy of the Rochford Street Review here

The Microscope Project

IMG_3205 thesaurus ps1


The Microscope Project

Flinders University Art Museum & City Gallery, 26th July – 21st September, 2014.

Ian Gibbins, Catherine TrumanDeb JonesAngela Valamanesh and Nicholas Folland, curated by Fiona Salmon and Madeline Reece.

For much of his time at Flinders University, Ian managed the main microscopy research facility, contained divers kinds of sophisticated microscopes. In 2012, several old scanning electron microscopes, some fluorescence microscopes, and other ancillary equipment were decommissioned. Once state-of-the-art, they were now largely dysfunctional and no longer practically operational. However, they had long histories of contributing to internationally-recognised research into the nervous and cardiovascular systems, the gut, and much more.

… and then there was all their supporting documentation: schematic diagrams and plans, manuals, advertising brochures, catalogues, certifications of performance, packing lists.

Although much of the equipment had been disassembled down to their component parts, it was all to valuable to be dumped for scrap. There were many more stories to be told about these instruments. Perhaps we could re-imagine their pasts, their futures, the people who had made them, maintained them, used them…

So, over more than 12 months, the artists collaborated with these elements in the unique shared environment of The Distillery to create The Microscope Project. As part of the project Ian wrote a series of texts that became the basis of the book, How Things Work, a unique collaboration between him, Catherine and Deb.

Here is a wonderful review of the project by Rebecca Gibbs in Cordite.

After the completion of the project, two of the works, the Thesaurus of Reconstructive Microscopy and JEOL JSM-35, were installed and displayed for 12 months at the Flinders University Tonsley Campus. The Chandelier was acquired by Flinders University and installed in the main entrance to their new Student Hub. Here is a video about the Chandelier installation at Flinders:

not absolute

Not Absolute was a collaborative exhibition at the Flinders University City Gallery, 24th July – 27th September, 2009, featuring work by Ian Gibbins, Catherine Truman, Judy Morris, Gabriella Besetto, Vicki Clifton and Rachel Burgess, curated by Janice Lally.


The following is from the curator’s comments in the exhibition catalogue:

NOT ABSOLUTE has been a collaboration over some time by artists and scientists … to discover and communicate new understandings of the human body derived from interconnections between science and art practices. The visual, aural and tactile aspects of the works offer others opportunities to gain fresh insights into notions of what the body is and how it might be understood by the individual. The nature of the creative processes of artists and scientists is also part of the investigation.

“Knowledge about the body, in the abstract and from a personal viewpoint, is a concern for us all. The daily experience of living within and communicating about our bodies is central to all of us. How we wash and dress ourselves, how we move, or see, or hear, how we communicate, our health and well-being are just some facets of the boundaries that denote our understanding. However, there are no clear boundaries, the notion of body is not absolute. Cultural mores and personal histories contribute to notional boundaries, but they are essentially indefinable. How do we differentiate between our and others’ bodies? How do we distinguish between inner and outer aspects of our bodies? How can we explain the answers to these questions to those who do not know?

“The processes of creating, learning, teaching, discovering and communicating awareness of self and body are potent issues that engage the artists and scientists in this exhibition. A wealth of experiences and conceptual frameworks deriving from their various medical research and teaching disciplines and creative domains across the media of glass, drawing, sculpture, soundscapes and performance have been developed further by these participants through collaborative practices and skill sharing that have been embraced by them all to investigate that which is NOT ABSOLUTE.”

coastal, digital image by Ian Gibbins

Ian’s own artist statement continues:

“When I am teaching human anatomy, whose body am I describing? The preserved specimen before me? My own? Those of the students? Their future patients? Or an ideal archetype, described and illustrated in books and charts? It must be all these, yet no picture, no text, can communicate a deep feeling for the structure of the body. Strange then, that we do not naturally form a detailed image of our body beneath the skin.  Collaborating closely with Catherine Truman and Judy Morris, I have interpreted the uncertainty of translation between these diverse, diffuse anatomies.

“Perhaps I really could teach anatomy with my eyes closed. Yet when attention drifts, sounds and images, past and present, intrude and interrupt. The students face even more distractions. I have used sound samples recorded in class and digital images to suggest the sometimes hazy, sometimes flickering, paths that we try to follow from one perception of the body to the next.

“The Latin of anatomical terminology embodies metaphors of the world beyond the body. I have rebuilt these allusions to create poems and objects that function as figure legends for the work by Judy and Catherine. Behind all this, in our workshops and laboratories, are the sounds of objects made by hands to be used by hands for tasks that hands alone cannot achieve. For all my electronic audio processing, they remain linked to the body in action, even if those links are no longer absolute.”

Here are a couple of sections from Thoracic. The full sequence is in urban biology.


wrap your palms around
wrap your fingers around

the presence of gloves upon
the urgency of desire upon

an inkling of, a dream of
so close to, so close to

should I recoil,
more distant from

should I relax,
fall away from

something you hold against
something I hope against


with whispers folded
one against another

our voices embrace
in illicit meeting

with whispers folded
one against another

blood flows cease
hold, restart apace

with whispers folded
one against another

we pass on messages
of uncertain reconciliation

Ian Gibbins, Catherine Truman and Judy Morris




Collaboration is absolutely the norm in modern science, so perhaps it is not surprising that much of Ian’s creative work involves collaborative projects with other artists.

Follow the links or the menu items to see some of them:

Body of Evidence, curated by Carollyn Cavanagh

The Microscope Project with Catherine Truman, Deb Jones, Angela Valamanesh & Nicholas Folland

Floribunda with Judy Morris

not absolute with Catherine Truman, Judy Morris, Vicki Clifton & Rachel Burgess

Signs of Life and Way to Go: Tramstop 6 with Mike Ladd & Cathy Brooks

the art & science of embodiment with Catherine Truman

heartsong with Cheryl Pickering, Richard Chew, Dwani Oak and Sally Francis

Australian Dance Theatre with Garry Stewart

poems published on-line

Ian has published many poems in on-line journals. Click on the titles to see them.



Cordite has published several poems, a video poem and an audio poem.


Five Islands Press Ron Pretty Prize 2014 shortlist




Four animated GIF poems:

The Various Contrivances By Which…  and Game Over: Grand Final Edition including a video of Game Over.

a skeleton of desire and eclipse midsummer

egress and phillip adams headshot (animated GIF)



cataplexy poem with video.


The Guide


Found Poetry Review

and furthermore (indexed)  Listen to an audio version here.



Uneven Floor

open home poem with video.


Right Hand Pointing / One Sentence Poems

Why Mice Cannot Type



Editor’s Selection (video-poem)


Transnational Literature

Space Invaders // Squirrel Hill // Taboo // The Impossibility of Flight and 100 Words // A Captain Cook


Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Prospectus // Open Door


Southerly / The Long Paddock

Dr Korsakoff and Colleagues Report


Recours au Poème (France)

Ceci n’est pas / This is not … //  signature // Closed captioned / Sous-titrées (poems in English and French)


The Inflectionist Review

Firefront (also published in Best Australian Science Writing 2014)


Famous Reporter



floribunda front cover pic 1

Drawings by Judy Morris with accompanying poems by Ian Gibbins,

exhibited at the Hahndorf Academy, Hahndorf, 13th June – 26th July, 2015.

Floribunda was originally conceived by Judy Morris as a collection of drawings inspired by native and introduced plants growing in the greater Adelaide region. Judy is particularly attracted to the more unusual shapes and textures of these plants, carefully observing and documenting their emergence and eventual turnover.

The poems in Floribunda were written by Ian Gibbins in response to Judy’s drawings, their titles, and meanings hidden within the formal Latin titles of the plants. They imagine an expedition into unknown, dangerous country, the explorers struggling with the environment and themselves in equal measure.

Here is the poem relating to the title image:

Helleborus x hybridus

– Winter Rose –

Type description

Parenthetic warnings to maintain distance,
deceptively comfortable,
too often prone to swoon.

Field notes

Temperatures fell, vacated sodden nights,
reft seditious drowse, queathed stoney quave.
We should have predicted she would follow
her own route, her singular disjunctive path.
Tough and perpetually feisty, resilient turns
of phrase poised sharp on her perfumed lips.
Yet she surprised us, and faltered, overtaken
by qualm on a cusp of illusion. Pallor dissolute,
her mien a chimera of ghostly translucence,
she withered, cruelled by mysterious fates.
For a moment, she stayed her chrysalis dream,
held our consternation at bay, spurned our
vexed avail. “I have two abiding wishes,”
she murmured through her gid, “bathe me
in freshly budded flowers, abrim with astral
blush; and, before the sapphire moonrise,
cede me, with neither prejudice nor condition,
three embracing breaths of pure unsullied air.”

To see more about Floribunda

Click here

To buy the Floribunda book with all Judy’s drawings and Ian’s poems

Click here

The Microscope Project: How Things Work

TMP How Things Work front cover COVER small

What were we going to do with a collection of decommissioned research microscopes? Two scanning electron microscopes, one almost completely disassembled, fluorescence microscopes, once state-of-the-art, that generated the images underpinning the international recognition of a generation of neuroscientists at Flinders University, a whole room of ancillary preparatory equipment and spare parts?

… and then there was all their supporting documentation: schematic diagrams and plans, manuals, advertising brochures, catalogues, certifications of performance, packing lists.

Some of the texts were so powerful, they needed only to be sampled and edited according to a pre-determined rule. Others formed the core of a new piece of writing. And in cases where we lacked any clear documentation, new texts were invented, imagining, re-imagining how things might have been, who might have been involved, how things might look, how things work…

Over more than 12 months, Ian Gibbins, Catherine Truman, Deb Jones, Angela Valamanesh and Nicholas Folland collaborated with these elements in the unique shared environment of The Distillery to create The Microscope Project, exhibited at the Flinders University Art Museum & City Gallery, 26th July – 21st September, 2014, and curated by Fiona Salmon and Madeline Reece.

How Things Work, features poems, fictions and text sampled from the microscope manuals, schematic diagrams and advertising brochures by Ian. The texts are complemented by full colour images by Catherine Truman, Deb Jones and Ian.

Here are some sample pages:

getting started web
thesaurus book 3.3
Box 11 web1


How Things Work is accompanied by a CD Microscope Music featuring several of the texts set to music generated from parts of the microscopes, their images, or even the texts themselves. Listen to Microscope Music here.

You can buy How Things Work and Microscope Music via PayPal at the Shop.