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  • Looking Beneath the Surface:The Radial Spread of Ink in Water
  • Pery Burge (bio)

The author discusses her use of ink in water to create three-dimensional radial spreads (outward movements of liquid about a central point). The radial spreads form patterns as the ink moves across and in the water. The patterns have both scientific and aesthetic aspects and form the basis for speculation in both areas. They also provide an exciting new dimension to the artist's work relating to fluid flow: Unique patterns, often seen only by the eye of the camera, can be generated and preserved within one photograph or a photographic sequence.

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Pery Burge, Complex Space, photograph, 2006. (© Pery Burge) A radial spread shown 6 seconds after its initial burst. The gold wall of paint has moved outward beyond the central area of filamentous ink, which is forming a 3D pattern broadly axisymmetrical about the central hexagon, through which more ink is visible.

The phrase "going with the flow" describes both the content of my work and my artistic approach. My "chronoscape" paintings, full of naturally occurring forms, tracks and trails in ink, exemplify my role as a "catalyst-artist" who sets up potentially interesting conditions and then allows nature to take its own course [1]. The pictures present natural processes in microcosm, where tracks and trails of ink are visible threads of time, looking as if they could still move—similar to the work of Jackson Pollock, whose dynamic trajectories of paint capture moments in time [2]. Working in this way—thinking on one's feet—presents the challenge of making fast, instinctive decisions based on what the ink is doing and what is artistically worthwhile. This open-ended, flexible approach has offered me many opportunities for experimentation, both on paper and, more recently, with ink in water (Article Frontispiece).

Watching Water: Beginnings

First let me place my work on radial spreads in historical perspective. The 19th-century chemist F.F. Runge [3] made "self-grown pictures," as he called them, using scientific processes to create aesthetic images (as do I). His chemically formed pictures on filter paper record every stage of the process that made them. In some respects our work differs: Runge generated his 2D images by setting up chemical reactions; my 3D images are generated by physical reactions. However, his methods and mine have common elements, and I believe there is a way of combining them to create a 3D chromatography, as I will discuss in the concluding remarks.

I started to work with ink in water in 2004, when, working on a project on color, I was trying to encourage inks to mix and form new colors on their own. I tried dropping the inks in agitated water—they did not mix well. They did, however, do something special, namely, indicate the direction in which the water was moving. To observe more, I experimented with different inks and types of flow (turbulence and rotation) and photographed sequences of vortices that I introduced into the flow.

The flow of fluid produced beautiful lines and formations. The aesthetic potential, the three-dimensionality of different levels of ink moving in different ways and the "time-rich" quality (seen in sequences and blurred pathways of moving ink) all influenced later work.

Painting in Water

After these first experiences with ink in water, I wanted to consolidate all my work by using ink to build images in water, a flexible, 3D substrate (i.e. an underlying substance in which processes can occur). I wanted to preserve these short-lived images with photography, so I started experimenting and soon noticed that the camera was capturing intriguing small-scale patterns unseen by the naked eye, at a point where ink spread suddenly outward across the water. This invited further investigation, so through trial and error I developed a reliable method of producing the patterns. At that stage I also did some research to find out what caused these "inksplosions," or radial spreads, an explanation of which follows.

Radial Spread

The distinguishing feature of my method is that the ink simultaneously generates the radial spread and provides a method of...


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pp. 484-488
Launched on MUSE
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