Marvellous Transformations

An exhibition of 3D digital artwork, video, physical sculpture and wall panels by Marianne Selsjord (1955–2014), inspired by the work of Maria Sybilla Merian, artist and naturalist (1647–1717).

Jock Colville Hall | January 25–February 1, 2015 | 9am–5pm daily

3D artist Marianne Selsjord was a painter who also trained as a restorer of medieval polychrome sculpture (she completed a large carved wooden medieval Madonna and child just before Christmas 2013), who early on became fascinated by the possibilities the computer opened up for exploring colour and painting-techniques, which she taught at the National Academy of the Arts, Oslo. Marianne created 3D navigable versions of works by Zurbarán (1598–1664) and Bosch (1450–1516), initially as a way of investigating their use of colour, form, light and shade. Her intimate knowledge of Scandinavian wood-sculpture and Viking-age art informed the 3D artwork for the interactive audiovisual installation ‘RuneCast’ (2007).

Marianne’s deep love of plants and gardens led to her large-scale original 3D explorable artworks, the interactive installation Gardens of Dreaming (Henie Onsted Art Centre, 2009) inspired by Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, and the multimedia Marvellous Transformations (shown in progress at Galleri Vanntårnet 2013), inspired by the work of naturalist and artist Maria Sybilla Merian (1647–1717), who visited the Dutch colony of Suriname on the north-eastern Atlantic coast of South America in 1699.

Marianne Selsjord’s work has been shown at the Samuel Dorsky Museum, New York; Federal Reserve System Fine Arts, Washington DC; the South Bank Centre, London; Ultima Festival and Henie Onstad Art Centre, Oslo and Galleri Vanntårnet Nesodden, Norway. In Norway Marianne also created 3D projections on stage for Händels Acis and Galatea (Oslo Baroque Opera) and for the outdoor dance performance on snow, Mot Himlaleite, in the mountains at Sauda (2012).

This exhibition of Marvellous Transformations at Churchill College is the first presentation of the work in multimedia form.


Norwegian artist Marianne Selsjord, a painter who trained as a conservator, started to work with the computer as medium in the mid-1990s. She specialised in the innovative use of 3D games-software both as an original ‘dynamic painting’ medium and as a tool for exploring the techniques, styles and subject matter of 16th and 17th-century artists. In Marvellous Transformations her fluency and assured visual style in this 21st-century medium create a unique and intriguing exhibition — a new kind of gallery experience, where visitors can explore her luminous 3-dimensional works, which vividly develop modern digital aesthetics to give exuberant life to Maria Sybilla Merian’s extraordinary painting.

Merian (1647–1717), born in Frankfurt, an accomplished draftswoman, engraver and painter, studied plant and insect life with a serious scientific sensibility and was the first naturalist to observe and record the entire butterfly life-cycle closely, from nature — she has been called the first ecologist. Merian developed a unique style of painting, sensuous and intricate, to include, simultaneously, not only all stages of the marvellous transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, but also the development of the plants on which each insect lived, in vibrant, compelling images.

From 1699–1701, Maria Sybilla Merian (52) undertook a ‘long dreamed of journey’ to Surinam (accompanied by her daughter, 21) to explore and record insect and plant life — especially how caterpillars transform through the chrysalis stage to become butterflies. In 1705, she published her observations as Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam).

In 2013, Marianne Selsjord travelled to the rainforest of Borneo, accompanied by her husband, geographer and photographer Dr David Scott Silverberg, to experience first-hand its plant and insect life today. In this exhibition, her contemporary 3D art explores the full potential of Merian’s extraordinary pictures, dynamising time and motion, and adding atmosphere from her own travels and observations, to carry out her own ‘Marvellous Transformations’.

The exhibition contains two suites of Selsjord’s large UV prints, ‘Nocturnes’ and ‘Aubades’ (for sale individually or as sets), made from her virtual 3D Surinam Rainforest, also screened as fly-throughs, where the artist interprets and brings together a variety of plants and insects from Merian’s work. Merian’s own words, as part of a dramatisation by Maureen Thomas commissioned by Selsord, with original sound and musicscape composed and performed by Kariina Gretere, accompany the exhibits.

Selsjord captured stereo video, and Silverberg took still photographs, from Kinabalu National Park Rainforest, Borneo, for the exhibition, in addition to the 3D computer-generated material — Selsjord wanted to reveal the vulnerability of the endangered rainforest environment today. To this end she also designed 3D-printed sculptures of some plants and insects from the virtual rainforest, in brittle, fragile material, for display inside glass bell-jars — like the ones Merian saw in Amsterdam, housing specimens brought back from Surinam. The skeletal sculpted plants are memories of forms, some of which are gone forever. They complement Selsjord’s vibrant 3D navigable Virtual Surinam Rainforest of colourful plants and insects, preserved in the chrysalis of Maria Sybilla Merian’s paintings for three hundred years. Many are vanished now from their native habitat, but Marianne Selsjord’s 21st-century artistry quickens them all into vibrant virtual life and motion.

These Marvellous Transformations are Marianne Selsjord’s last work: she died in Spring 2014, of multiple myeloma. Her husband and colleagues have completed the preparations for this exhibition at Churchill College, Cambridge, originally planned for 2013; and, following her original plan, now present this exhibition in her memory.

David Scott Silverberg wishes particularly to thank Jørn Lambertsen, Stan Finney, Amir Soltani, Professor François Penz, Kariina Gretere, Dr. Phillip Prager and Maureen Thomas for their help and support.

Marvellous Transformations Exhibition programme