Great Works: Landscape (The Hare) (1927), Joan Miró

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York

We are in the full growth of summer. In the lab, a synthetic cell has just been created. Life burgeons. The myriad organisms have another sibling. And is it a new friend?

Twenty-five years ago, the biologist Edward Wilson announced the term "biophilia, which I will be so bold as to define as the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes." We are drawn, he says, to our fellow creatures, animal and vegetable, great and small. "We are literally kin to other organisms." And he means all them, not just the nice ones or the normal ones.

The call of the wild is in us. "We are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought... I offer this as a formula of re-enchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little-known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions." Back to our microscopic roots.

Meanwhile modern art, like modern man, is sometimes seen as anti-nature. It tends not to focus on life. It is disenchanted, mechanised, and – unlike earlier art – out of love with the growing world. This isn't entirely true. It can have its own nature poetry and myth. It is occupied creating mysterious and little-known organisms. But these life-forms are often strange. They are invented organisms. They use biomorphic elements up to a point – fluctuating edges, irregular but rounded, going in and out, curvaceous contours – but use them as material for new biological fictions.

So these creatures seems to have slipped the catalogue of nature. And it puts biophilia to a test. Are such synthesised life-forms still an extension of the nature family, and within its wide embrace? Or are these aliens beyond our universal feelings of life-love?

Joan Miró's Landscape (The Hare) certainly introduces (in brackets) a well-known animal. Its view shows a simple landscape, a chocolate earth under an orange sky. Some kind phenomenon, perhaps a comet, floats above the horizon, with a spiralling tail of dotted line, pursued inconceivably by a simple bird. But the most conspicuous and complicated figure in the scene is surely a kind of creature.

It is not an anonymous or abstract shape. It may not belong to any recognisable species, and without the title it probably wouldn't strike you as Lepus europaeus. Those arcing, whiskery "ears" are more like a snail's horns or an insect's antenna. Its bug-eyes and bulbous snout recall a seahorse. But it still has a creaturely aspect.

Go for a larger likeness, if you can. It has a body, with a head, fore limbs, rear limbs, a bottom, even a tail. Its whole stance has in fact echoes of a famous cave painting – the horned human image of The Sorcerer, discovered in the Trois Frères cave (or at any rate, as recorded in the drawing made by the archaeologist Abbé Breuil). This entity, glowing in white and red and orange and purple, could also suggest a lambent deep-sea creature, or again (overlook the head) a flowering.

It has a protean identity. Its fluctuating curvaceous coastline is calculated. It can take on various characters because its shape lets you pick out possibilities. It depends on what you pay attention to. Equally, you can ignore the potential organisms entirely. You can simply consider the contours of this form. What substances is it made of?

This shape could be a pool of a liquid, for instance. Some of its curves suggest an area of split drink, doodled around undulatingly on a tabletop – or perhaps pancake mix dropped into a hot pan. It is entirely fluid and malleable and passive. But some of the contours can suggest something else – a flat and sharp-edged sheet. It can be a blade. The fore limbs, say, curving round with a hook, look like a pruning knife. There are also inlet bays, which feel as if they've been carved out. The form is like a jigsaw piece or a painter's palette. Its form is both cutting and cut out.

Finally, there is the possibility of an inflatable, something rubber and blown-up. It can be clearly felt in the head and nose, but all over there are glimpses of a swelling balloon. And now the form acquires a three-dimensional existence, whereas the pool of fluid and the cut sheet were both flat. Each of these aspects brings out contrary kinds of matter, with contrary tactile sensations: unresisting, hard, squeezy.

On these terms, it isn't lifelike at all. Its ingredients appear mineral or man-made. None of them imply the stuff of life – and seeing it now like this, now like that, this form becomes an impossible object also. But then, Miró's The Hare is a multiple duck-rabbit. Within its form several creatures continue to coexist. Its organic contours are what yield its various non-organic possibilities. Everything changes into everything else.

But beneath all these roles there is still a basic form, a single blob, which doesn't have any firm identity but doesn't disintegrate either. It's like a bit of minimal living matter, the classic amoeba. The organism survives in a state of flux, a piece of pure creation. To that extent, it is life – and possibly lovable too.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a maker of worlds. The Catalan painter became a modern-art version of Hieronymus Bosch. His cosmos is a phantasmagoria of insects, sperms, eyes, paper decorations, dots, body parts, turds, letters, stars. In the 1920s, his creativity rages. From 1940, he is stuck.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss