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"-Icare, I care…", silica aerogel
7.5’’x4.5’’x4’’, California, 2002
© MICHALOU(di)S, 2002
Aerogels are remarkable materials with unprecedented physical properties that
fascinate researchers and space engineers. They have incredible insulating
properties with regard to thermal, electrical
and acoustic energy transfers. After being used by NASA in various space
experiments to capture cosmic dust, aerogels became, for the first time, the object
of sculptural research. Dr. Iannis MICHALOU(di)S, Research Affiliate at the Center
for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT tells us the story.
SG: When was this project started ?
MICHALOU(di)S : Three years after completing my doctorate in Visual Arts, in 2001,
I was invited by the founder of "Sky Art", artist Otto Piene and the Director of
the MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies physicist Steve Benton, to conduct
post-doctorate, artistic research with the title (Nephele)3, Nephele to the
third power. In Greek (nephele) means "cloud", and the objective of this
project is to realize what seems unrealistic and crazy: a cubic cloud, a cloud
which is delimited in space by six square immaterial planes.
SG: Aerogels are exciting materials for physicists and researchers but how does
an artist get in contact with it? How was the idea of using aerogels as a
sculptural medium born in your mind ?
MICHALOU(di)S : In my collaboration with scientists and engineers at MIT, I had a
very interesting discussion with the researcher Adam Whiton, when he showed me a
small piece of Silica Aerogel... I stood in awe!!!…
It was Thursday, October 11, 2001 exactly one month after the disaster in New
York and only nineteen days after my arriving at the Center...
That was it! Looking for clouds I had found Aerogel! Immediately, I thought of
creating immaterial, ethereal sculptures with it. I knew nothing about this
material and the difficulties of its expensive fabrication, but I was certain
that I would have something to do with it. I was so surprised by the appearance
of something that you’re not quite sure is there! To believe your eyes, you need
your hand and not only to touch, but also to handle, to move around, to press
the material...Thus you discover that it is so lightweight and fragile...
SG: What makes aerogels so different in your perspective?
MICHALOU(di)S : Silica Aerogel has no definite geometrical form! When you look at a
piece of this substance, it’s up to you to decide where to focus your eyes. We
can say that the space of Silica Aerogel is a personification of what Henri
Poincaré named a "representative space"1, a space that you cannot
just live in with all your senses. This vaporous and fragile substance breaks
the conventional boundaries of the euclidean space…The first time you look at
sculpture made of this extraordinary material you think that it is not a 3-D
object, you think that it is a gas, a projection, a hologram. However, this nebulous mass
-that is also an optical, a tactile and a kinetic space- is there,
like a memory, like a dream. It’s like all the veils of the bride are there
without loosing its mysterious and indefinite character.
You believe that it’s
an illusion, but the sculpture is there, waiting for you’re the tips of your
fingers; After seeing this ghost image, the first thing you want to do is to
touch it! It’s hard to believe it’s a solid! And it is indeed the lightest solid
in the world because 99% of it is just pure air! Therefore, the title of this
research has the name of aer( )sculpture.
looks like a ghost image, like a 3-D X-ray
SG: How long does it take to materialize…the immaterial aerogel sculpture?
MICHALOU(di)S : The first time I saw the cloudy and dreamy Silica aerogel, I was
working also on the theater project (Nob)Odyssey, so I started seriously to work
on the aer( )sculptures in the middle of January 2002, when I found a photo of Dr.Peter Tsou at NASA's J.P.L with a cube of Silica Aerogel. I had also a
contact with Dr.Arlon Hunt at Berkeley Lab who gave me the name of Dr. Larry Hrubesh at L.L.L and through him I found Dr. Michael Droege at "Ocellus
Technologies" in Livermore CA. I visited him at the end of May 2002. After our
meeting and receiving the info I needed for the casting of Silica, I returned to
Europe, where, in Paris and Athens, I produced the molds for the first aer( )sculpture. The molds were sent to California, and in September I traveled
there for the second time in order to work on the last details of the first
Silica Aerogel sculpture ever made!
SG: As far as we know this is, indeed, the first attempt to use aerogels in art.
Did you already exhibit some of your realizations?
MICHALOU(di)S : The 15th of October, at the
"Sky Art Conference 2002" I exposed and
presented the first aer( )sculpture "-Icare I care..."
at the European Cultural
Center of Delphi in Greece. Scientists and Artists were surprised by the
originality and the visual qualities of this work.
SG: Have you have frozen the blue sky by using aerogels? Did you finally obtain
MICHALOU(di)S : The objective of this project is to have these lightweight
sculptures hanging in the air with the help of magnetic fields. Imagine an
“Aphrodite” out of Aerogel free of its pedestal, suspended in the air…
Concerning its color, it's blue for the same reasons that sky is blue, so if you
keep a piece of native silica in your hand, is like you have a piece of sky
between your fingers!…
Nevertheless, when this diaphanous cyan is placed on the same line between your
eye and the light, then a complementary orange color replaces the color of the
sky, as Icarus it has also an orange-gold substance…
Its’ sky now, is a sunset sky…
1cf. Arthur Miller, Einstein-Picasso: Space,Time and the Beauty that causes
Havoc, (2001), transl. in Greek S.Pierris, edit.P.Travlos, Athens 2002,
About the Artist
Iannis MICHALOU(di)S was born in Greece in 1965. He holds a diploma in Fashion
Design from the Ecole
Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (Arts Decos) in Paris, and
a Master of Visual Arts from the University of Paris I (Sorbonne). He received
his Ph.D. in Visual Arts in 1998 from the same University. Michalous is
currently a Research Affiliate at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT.
His research (Nephele)3 focuses on the creation of immaterial, ethereal works of
arts using the sculptural media of controlled steam and aerogels. This research
is funded by the IKY Foundation, the William Fulbright Foundation, the Associate
Provost for the Arts at MIT, the Council for the Arts at MIT and the Center for
Advanced Visual Studies.
Dr. Iannis MICHALOU(di)S
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Center for Advanced Visual Studies, N52-373A
265, Mass, Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, U.S.A.
phone: + 1 617 258 6941, fax: + 1 617 253 1660