21 April 2017
There’s a strange yet beautiful glow coming from the Blue Mountains - all thanks to a collaboration between artist Marta Ferracin and chemist Dr Robert Baker.
Marta’s sculpture, entitled Organic Chemistry, is part of the sixth Sculpture at Scenic World festival, in Katoomba. A fascination with the way in which Nature uses chemistry to create light encouraged Marta to seek out some scientific expertise.
Expertise that came in the form of organic chemist, Rob Baker.
Through a series of experiments in the laboratory, Rob demonstrated to Marta some examples of chemilumonesence - the process by which chemical reactions generate a cold form of light. When such reactions take place in living things - like fireflies or glow worms - the phenomena is called bioluminescence.
Marta’s aim was to create an immersive artwork that could emulate this type of ‘living light’. But both collaborators soon realised that chemiluminescence couldn’t be used in her sculpture because of different restrictions with chemicals.
“It’s based on chemicals, so eventually the chemicals run out and the light is no longer emitted,” explained Rob.
Additionally, the liquid chemicals required could be brought into the natural environment, so Marta and Rob decided to illuminate the sculpture using different processes.
Marta used a mixture of phosphorescent and fluorescent pigments to create a resin, which she used to fill 1000s of pieces of disposable laboratory glassware to provide the building blocks for her sculpture.
The resin in the sculpture is ‘charged’ by irradiation from the sun and extra light sources that Marta sneaked beneath the canopy. When the light sources are removed, this energy is released by the resin as a different wavelength of light, resulting in a beautiful glow.
“Of course the most effective glowing is towards the end of the day when it’s all dark,” Marta explained. "... and it will be even more mysterious and beautiful during the night, but unfortunately it’s not open during the night and I think this performance will be only reserved for the Nature living in the forest.”
Both Marta and Rob strongly encourage other scientists and artists to collaborate and were struck by the similarity between their processes.
“We look very much alike, in the way that both of us are passionate about our projects and experiments,” said Marta. “We our curious about how to collect all of the data and the different ways in which the material react. And we are creative in some way, because Dr Baker is creating his research and I’m creating my artwork – I find it fascinating how these disciplines can blend together.”
ARTWORK BY MARTA FERRACIN