Black reflections. Nanoart by Frederik De Wilde @ ars electronica 2010

Frederik de Wilde likes black art. At Ars Electronica 2010 he showed a patch of the blackest black ever, a nano-structured material that absorbs 99.97% of the incident light, winning him the “[the next idea] voestalpine Art and Technology Grant”. He envisions a bright future for the material, with applications ranging from superblack magneto-levitated cubes to increasingly large patches that might finally allow the observer to get immersed in infinite darkness.

For now, De Wilde leaves us in the dark in other ways: In an interview with derstandard.at, he impishly refuses to explain the details of how the trick works, pointing out that Rembrandt and Picasso didn’t publish their color recipes either. The scientists of Prof. Lin’s group at Rice University who developed the material did publish their findings, albeit in a closed-access journal. Probably they also filed a patent. German newspaper Die Zeit has a story on how British scientists discovered the material in the wings of a butterfly. Later, this feat of nature was mimicked using nanofabrication techniques in a Houston cleanroom.

In the exhibition space, the material is covered by plexiglass since dust particles would quickly degrade its properties. The glass surface however creates quite strong reflections, indeed reminding us of a Rembrandt painting hidden behind security glass in a carelessly illuminated museum. A prototype problem only, says De Wilde, to be solved by further research.

In our interview, quantum physicist Tobias Nöbauer finds out more about the physical principle and artistic concepts behind De Wilde’s work: How are the incident photons being treated? What’s the artist’s approach to taking a nano-material from the cleanroom into the exhibition space? Art as alchemy, uncontrolled reflections, whispering black magic? There’s a new shade of nano on the artistic reasearcher’s color palette: What do we get shown?

Interview: Tobias Nöbauer
Camera: Franziska Mayr-Keber
Editing: Sophie-Carolin Wagner

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