As science speeds us towards a brave new world, art is hot on its trail, taking advantage of the arresting visual impacts that accompany new technology. Part-mad scientist, part-artistic visionary, Swiss-based pioneer Fabian Oefner is urging photography into new territory with an experimental approach to his craft. His latest series Millefiori (from the Italian for ‘a thousand flowers’) combines space-age ferrofluid with watercolours to form intricate dancing patterns. Each meteoric creation – the size of a thumbnail – is a visual expression of magnetic fields bending materials to their will.
“I would like to invite the viewer to stop for a moment and think about the world around them,” says Oefner. “That’s why I often use scientific phenomena that we are all surrounded by and familiar with, be it sound waves that make colours dance or magnetic forces that create Pop Art-like paintings. By showing them in an unseen or poetic way, I would like to gain the viewer’s attention and make them think about what they are looking at for a moment.”
Ferrofluid is a material straight from the realms of science fiction. A viscous liquid carrier for nanoparticles of iron, it is capable of morphing into strange and wonderful 3D formations when placed within a magnetic field. It has applications in medicine, is often used in loudspeakers and has been developed for use in NASA spacecraft. In its raw form, it is reminiscent of T-1000 from Terminator 2, shape-shifting like a living oil slick.
Artists have already used ferrofluid to create alien-like sculptures leaping spontaneously into being. In pursuit of a striking aesthetic, Oefner began mixing other substances with ferrofluid before settling on watercolours. A few drops of the oily liquid are held in place with a magnetic field before paints are added with a syringe. The black ferrrofluid makes channels between the marbling hues.
“I am always amazed,” he says, “how beautifully the colours merge with each other between the black channels.”
With split-second timing, Oefner captures super-still life moments too fleeting for the naked eye. Past projects Iridient and Vanishing Beauty, a series of images of bursting bubbles and balloons respectively, explored the flash of energy that exists between being and oblivion – a microcosmic Big Bang.
Recently, his Dancing Colour series earned Oefner a commendation from the Sony World Photography Awards. In these images, luminous powders are seen to jump to the beat from powerful speakers in a visual embodiment of sound.
These preoccupations with movement, colour and the sense of the microscopic, both fragile and powerful, unite in Millefiori [pictured}. Oefner explains: “Without today’s technology, it would simply be impossible to capture most of the images I take, whether high-speed events or high magnifications. I can only control the process to a certain extent – something that applies to nearly all my projects. This circumstance makes the images even more exciting to me because, at the start, I never know what the final outcome will be.”
Photographed by Oefner in his Zurich studio, the shots are greatly magnified to display the intricacy of each scene. Check out our iPad App to see a video of the ferrofluid in action.
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