Tuesday, March 12, 2013

High Voltage Art

Anyone who has watched thunderstorms knows that the form of lightning strikes can be quite beautiful (I almost typed striking...). I know that my scientific work with high voltage transmitters could be dangerous (though I'm proud to state that unlike the majority of my colleagues, I have never electrocuted myself... and while none of my colleagues have seriously injured themselves, they have had some scary experiences). Though with proper care one can safely work with high voltage sources, not only to say, probe the earth as a geophysicist, but to create art with a sort of artificial lightening. This can include making a sort of artificial fulgurite (minerals which are natural hollow glass tubes formed in quartzose sand, silica, or soil by lightning strikes).

Todd Johnson uses electron beams on acrylic slabs to create what he calls “shockfossils”, like 'Fabric of Time' above.

These pieces are created with the help of a particle accelerator. This machine produces up to five million volts and is used to accelerate a beam of electrons. The electrons are fired at pieces of acrylic plastic and penetrate deep within the slabs, resulting in a pool of electrons trapped under tremendous electrical potential within each piece.

He then taps the acryllic, with an electrically insulated tool to make the fractal channels like branching rivers you see.

You can watch the speeded up effect of applying a high voltage (15 kV) to plywood in this video, aptly named '15,000 Volts' by Pratt art student Melanie Hoff. This is like wood burning squared.

Melanie Hoff. Source: melaniehoff.squarespace.com

Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto has created beautiful and fascinating art using effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates. He writes about how he is inspired by scientific pioneers of age of discovery, like Benjamin Franklin (with his famous or notorious 1752 kite in a thunderstorm experiment to show that lightening is electricity), Michael Faraday (whose 1831 formulation of the law of electromagnetic induction led to the invention of electric generators and transformers) and his contemporary William Fox Talbot (who discovered the photosensitive properties of silver alloys and was the father of calotype photography).


This is a sort amazing, though possibly difficult to watch film by Thosten Fleisch which employs a similar technique. I'll pass on the warnings of TechCrunch, where I found it:
WARNING: Epileptics should not watch this film! It is almost entirely strobing light.
WARNING: Other people, be careful, it will put you in a trance if you put it full screen and turn it up. It takes about a minute to really get started.

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