Jeffrey Yoo Warren

Box microscopes

Imagining possible pasts is as important as possible futures. It requires rethinking how the world looks, feels, and with whom it is in conversation. As part of my series on Instruments for Multiple Worlds and my work on Predecessor Sciences, I’ve been building a series of microscopes that unmake the embodied material and visual ideas of eurocentric masculine science by finding among traditions that resonate with my own identity. These are photos of my first completed prototype.

A small pine box with interlocking joints sits on a marble countertop in a dimly lit room, lid open, with a green-screened tablet resting on top and a yellow light illuminating the box interior from a silver gooseneck hovering above it, which leads to the rear of the box. A red cable runs off the table in the background.

This year, I started reading about the history of microscopes, and while there was mention of “water-filled” microscopes “in ancient China,” English-language accounts spoke of these in vague, almost mythological terms. Maybe because the history is actually lost – intentionally or not – or because it is inaccessible to English-language scholars. Where are those records, and who were those people? What were their lives like?

Side by side images of details of the box microscope, showing cords entering a red-lined circular hole and the gooseneck light and assorted wooden fixtures fit inside, ready for the lid to close.

Imagining and rebuilding a future that has more space for non-dominant cultures requires more than theory, and more than action; Instruments for Multiple Worlds is a future world-building project as much as it is a prototyping of lost pasts. It’s this reasoning that inspires me to craft artifacts which support ancestral knowledge, and which nourish creativity and joy.

A view downward to the open box microscope, showing the silver focus knob and white acrylic top surface within the box.

I’m now working on an illustrated essay about this series of microscopes, their acupuncture needle joysticks which enable physical contact with the microcosmos, and the shaping of a visual, material, and sensory experience in micro-narrative work.

I’m open to limited commissions/inquiries for borrowing or purchasing one of these microscopes, in exchange for barter or funds depending on your situation.

A front-on view of the box showing the contrasting grain direction of the box joints and the semicircular brass latch. The box is reflected in the marble countertop.

I’m grateful to be building ideas among ppl like Sadie Prego/@djespiral (Anti-Assimilation), Ananda Gabo (Ancestral Science) and inspired by so many more; worldmaker Aisha Jandosova who I work with daily, Dr Max Liboiron who asks students to imagine a feminist microscope, Sandra Harding on successor sciences, afrotectopia for exploring and imagining futures and pasts.

A 3/4 view of the open box with the light off and no tablet, showing silver acorn nuts and the wooden tablet stand, as well as the tiny gold-and-white LED hovering above on its gooseneck.

Images CC-BY-SA Jeffrey Yoo Warren

Jeffrey Yoo Warren is an artist, community scientist, illustrator, and researcher in Providence, Rhode Island.