Sunday, April 20, 2008

Vitriolic Artists Send Visitors on a Sulfuric Acid Trip

psychedelic artwork created by scientist/artists who execute dangerous chemical reactions in front of an audience.

By Eric Smillie, Wired Magazine

When Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand set out to create Camera Lucida, their most recent project, they faced some resistance. Their goal was to capture a fleeting phenomenon called sonoluminescence, and it would require an unusual medium — large amounts of xenon-infused sulfuric acid. The prospect, unsurprisingly, made laboratory scientists nervous: Even in small amounts, sulfuric acid is nasty stuff because of the way it sucks the water out of anything it touches (human tissue, beware). Domnitch and Gelfand needed almost 3 gallons of the vitriol, which they were going to blast with ultrasonic waves. Oh, and the reaction they intended to photograph — the ultraviolet light emitted by the xenon bubbles collapsing as they're hit with those waves — generates temperatures as hot as the surface of the sun.

But the artists finally found a willing lab in Germany, where they turned out the lights and started shooting. The resulting supersharp photographs are psychedelic, for sure, but the installations — the pair has a show opening in April at Media Lab Enschede in the Netherlands — are weirder still. After five minutes in total darkness (to let everyone's eyes adjust), the audience is treated to a live demonstration of sonoluminescence, complete with the sound of the bubbles imploding. To avoid corrosive meltdowns, Domnitch and Gelfand leave the fearsome H2SO4 at home, opting instead for 13 gallons of water spiked with sodium hydroxide and luminol. (They also decided against using a titanium horn transducer — an absurdly powerful ultrasonic transducer — because it would deafen unsuspecting patrons.) The experience is like "being in outer space," the creators say. Or on some other long, strange trip.

1 comment:

Kate said...

where are you, madame lamb? come back home!

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