The Prismatic Compound Microscope

There are unmistakable similarities in material, dimension and construction shared by scientist Royal Rife's prismatic compound microscope (No. 5, 1938) and artist László Moholy-Nagy's Nickel Construction (1921).

The upper part of Nickel Construction is a spiral welded to the vertical axis of the sculpture. The upper part of the prismatic compound microscope holds an eye piece through which the researcher using the instrument studies a specimen.  Any observation carried out through the microscope will have a top-down orientation. When the light source—in the case of this particular microscope, a light bulb called the arch-light—illuminates the specimen-plate, the light is inverted because it travels from the bottom to the top of the microscope.

How is perception working?  Is it that the researcher is looking down with the direction of sight thus moving from the eye to the specimen, or is it that the light is travelling up, bringing the experience of vision from the specimen to the eye?

If we go back to Nickel Construction, the sculpture by Moholy-Nagy, we can see that the metallic spiral turns vertically from the top to the bottom, ending at the right front corner of the base. Its trajectory in space is like the motion of vision that is happening during the researchers use of the microscope for observation. Nickel Construction can be looked at as a model of augmented perception: a model of the way perception is extended through the use of an instrument that is not technically part of the body but that the nervous system transforms into an extension of itself.

The extruded oval rectangle fixed on the base of Nickel Construction, seen just to the right of the vertical axis of the sculpture, can also be likened to the specimen-plate on the microscope since both are similarly positioned on their respective structures.

The third object shares some similarities with the two previously described, but is quite different.  In terms of materials, it is very distinct, made of PLA (a kind of thermoplastic), glass, and glue.  In terms of construction, this third object is a replica of sorts, created by scanning the various individual components of the already existing compound microscope; yet, in the process of scanning, it is also the case that information was lost, creating gaps in the details of the various components when the rendered objects were printed. This creates a fossil-like appearance.

As far as tectonics is concerned, the various components are not fixed together in the third object as they are in the other two, but are rather arranged through a shelf-system created by individual glass boxes that hold each part of the structure like autonomous figures.  The glass boxes reflect light and diffuse it around the sculpture.  The boxes could be rearranged to create a different object, in some ways making this third object more similar to Nickel Construction than to the microscope from which it took information as a quasi-replica. This third object occupies the space of neither-nor.

fig.1. (left) Moholy-Nagy, László. Nickel Construction. 1921. [Sculpture]. Dimensions: 14 1/8 x 6 7/8 x 9 3/8 in. (35.9 x 17.5 x 23.8 cm). Gift of Mrs. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Artstor.

fig.2. (right) Richardson, Claire. Rife's prismatic compound microscope No 5. [Scientific instrument] 1938. © Science Museum / Science Society Picture Library Image Ref: 10327360.Description: Microscope No 5. is one of the five instruments designed and built by American-born Royal Raymond Rife, who worked on the making of lenses and microscopes in Germany before returning to America. Papers held at the Science Museum imply that Rife No 5. was used for studying viruses and cancer-causing organisms, but tests in 1978 suggested the microscope was not remarkable, and in fact only after replacing the original optics was a very imperfect image of leukemic blood cells finally obtained.

fig.3-4. Blazsek, A. 3D print [replica of the microscope No 5.]