Cupric corrosion

Today, 1/12/2022, I revisited a work created on 22/5/2022 to discover the rather beautiful aftereffects of ongoing electrochemical reactions..

The work however is leaking some rather disagreeable looking liquid and at some point the iron tripod base looks likely collapse from severe corrosion.

The work is in an outside workshop prone to damp, so the ongoing reactions are aided by suitable moist environmental conditions.

Twin Reactions: T1 & T2

Re-inspired by The Electrochemical Glass, I decided to once again experiment with geometrical arrangements of metal discs.

I created two near identical reaction works, T1 & T2, the same arrangement of metals and a share of the same electrolyte in equal portions.

However, due to a faulty seal, one work, T2 began to leak, electrolyte dripping down the wall of my studio. I was aghast! Dismayed!!

But interestingly this ‘failure’ has resulted in two very different electrochemical reactions taking place. T1 seems to be simply growing copper dendrites, whilst the leaky T2 has produced a completely different set of reactions with the central iron disc producing orange ferrous compounds and the outer aluminium discs a range of blue and green cupric compounds.

T1 Reaction, 15/07/2022
T2 Reaction, 15/07/2022

The works were documented as they evolved, a webcam time lapse recording of the T2 reaction, a frame automatically taken every 10 minutes and a photograph manually taken of the T1 Reaction every 12 hours.

However the leak eventually led to the T2 reaction drying out such that the ongoing electrochemical reactions finally ceased taking place. As a result I abandoned the time lapse of T2, swapping it to time lapse the continuing dendritic T1 Reaction.

Rather than abandoning the dried out and leaky T2 Reaction, I attempted to seal the leaks and support the evolution of the work by the adding of electrolyte.

T2 Reaction 17/07/2022

What have I learnt? Apart from the need to find a better and more foolproof method of creating good seals between disparate materials, the construction failure resulted in recognising the powerful effect of ‘environmental conditions’, in this case the ratio of liquid to air.

T1 was well sealed and full of liquid, whereas with T2 there was much more air and less liquid, promoting a series of clearly different, possibly oxygen related reactions. The fact that as yet, the iron in T1 has not produced any orange ferrous oxide compunds tends to support this observation.

In addition the electrochemical reactions requiring the presence of a conductive electrolyte are visibly stronger in T1 with the presence of continually growing copper dendrites, perhaps the electrical reactions are taking precedence over the mainly chemical reactions prevalent in T2.

T1 Reaction 17/07/2022

This argument is supported by the observation that the two lower discs in T1, being more immersed in electrolyte are rich with dendritic growth whilst the upper disc being far less immersed shows only a small amount of dendritic growth coupled with tell tale blue chemical reactions indicating copper compounds.

T1 Reaction 19/07/2022

The latest image (above) suggests that the dendrites on the two lower discs are beginning to decompose too, transforming into blue and green cupric compounds, possibly due to the slow decline of electrochemical activity.. Time will tell…

Dendritic T1 Reaction (Gif) 19/07/2022

V5 Reaction with added iron compound

Since the emergence of iron dendrites in the Electrochemical Glass (1997 – present) and through observing the reactions in recent works (V1 – V5 series, 2022), iron appears to be an interesting and significant if relatively slow reactive element.

Aluminium and copper react quickly (over days) producing copper dendrites which then dissolve into beautiful blue compounds, whereas over many weeks, iron slowly turns orange, brown and black producing strange forms which stir the imagination into seeing faces, animals trees and bushes.

The challenge is to enhance the iron reactions and research has led me to investigate whether a chemical process known as chelation might promote the process.

“Chelation is a type of bonding of ions and molecules to metal ions. It involves the formation or presence of two or more separate coordinate bonds between a polydentate (multiple bonded) ligand and a single central metal atom.” (Wikipedia)

As a first experiment I have chosen to test the readily available chelated compound EDTA iron which is used as an iron supplement in fertilisers bring readily soluble in water.

EDTA stands for Ethylenediaminetetraacetic and represents an interesting branch of chemistry involving ‘ligands’, an amalgamation of inorganic and organic chemistry where organic structures bond with inorganic elements such as iron.

V5 reaction 29/05/2022
V5 reaction 04/07/2022

The second image shows the immediate effects a few days after adding EDTA iron solution to the V5 reaction.

Orange (iron) compounds are forming over the underlying aluminium ‘hill’ and within it, indicating the beginning of a new set of reactions.

It will be interesting to see how this work now develops!

The Electrochemical Glass Revisited

The Electrochemical Glass was created in 1997. It was an experimental work consisting of three metal discs, copper, iron and aluminium, cotton wool and conductive fluid sandwiched between glass sheets.

I expected a reaction between the differing metals, and the formation of bright blue and green colours from the metal salts. However I was not prepared for the root like formations emerging from the iron!

I later discovered that alchemists, including Isaac Newton had also explored techniques for producing what they termed Vegetative Metals, organic forms resulting from alchemical processes, with names such as Tree of Diana (silver) and Tree of Mars (iron).

To this day I have not yet reproduced this surprising example of emergence, only suggestions of the effect with the assistance of external electrical stimuli as can be seen in the images below.


A solar panel provided the electricity causing copper dendrites to grow over a few days, unlike ‘The Electrochemical Glass’, where the dendritic formations took five years to begin to emerge, followed by one long dendritic root emerging over a period of five months (July – December 2003).

My theory is that the metals and fluid in ‘The Electrochemical Glass’ act as a very weak battery and the iron took a long time to dissolve and provide sufficient metal ions necessary for the formation of the iron dendrites.

In contrast, the alchemical experiments Tree of Mars/Diana used exceedingly strong acids to dissolve the metals such as “Spirit of Nitre”, “Aqueous Forte” aka Nitric acid.

The electrochemical formation of copper dendrites powered by a solar panel (24/8/2020) was further assisted by copper ions being readily available in the copper sulphate electrolyte, a solution obtained by dissolving copper in sulphuric acid.

Given the above observations it should be possible to replicate the Electrochemical Glass where the iron dendrites emerge over a much shorter time period than five years!

Animation of reactions

As mentioned in previous posts, the art of revealing the ongoing ‘invisible’ reactions in my work is key to their understanding and contemplation.

Time lapse video is one method, somewhat related is GIF animation, a method I have just begun to explore.

Timelapse video recording requires a digital camera and artificial lighting, as well as a computer, all fixed in place and permanently powered during the recording process. The requisite technology means the work cannot be easily viewed as in a gallery context.

In my #openstudioscornwall2022 exhibition, the relatively new work ‘V3 Reaction’ is developing many intriguing artifacts and changes in form and colour as the electrochemical reactions proceed.

The type of time lapse recording previously used is not feasible in the current gallery context, so I’ve taken to taking a photograph every morning before the show opens. Careful cropping and the use of a gif animation app on my phone is producing a type of time lapse animation where the electrochemical changes are made highly visible, if a little jumpy.

4 day gif animation of V3 Reaction

Alchemy, emergence and creativity

For some time I have been interested in alchemy as a source of creative inspiration and as an ongoing self-reflective process.

After Jung, the gold is within and alchemical processes act upon the world of things and on the more subtle etheric notions within. Processes such as distillation, calcination, dissolution, conjunction and fermentation – described in The Seven Stages of Alchemical Transformation

In 2003 I wrote the paper: Alchemy, mimetics, immersion and consciousness, which was published at MelbourneDAC, the 5th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference, 2003.

“In this paper I discuss a number of ideas on the representation and perception of space, time and energy and how these ideas have been inspirational in creating experiential art works. Areas I have explored include the concept of a fourth dimension, alchemy, mimetics, immersion, artificial-life and ideas about the nature of consciousness. I carry out these explorations through “art as a mode of enquiry”, producing experiential artworks rather than written theory. This paper summarises a number of ideas I have found useful and inspiring in creating artworks that explore the perception and experience of space, time and consciousness.”

19 years later, in 2022 the processes of creation and reflection continue. Notions of Dynamic Form and the Fourth Dimension are imbued in my practice, permeating the work I make.

Today two visitors to my exhibition at #OpenStudiosCornwall2022 pointed out the importance of the timelapse video, that it revealed the unseen and the hidden processes behind two of the works, V1 Reaction and V3 Reaction. This additional knowledge enhanced their appreciation of the work, apparently unmoving and unchanging in the present.

It is not the immediately perceived that is important, but instead it is the mainly invisible time based processes of change and emergence that can only be perceived through the device of memory.

The Electrochemical Glass
April 2002 & October 2002

“Our understanding of space-time is shaped by our everyday perceptual mechanisms. Time is perplexing, it is seemingly artiicial and malleable. Hypnosis, meditation, mind-altering substances, mental illness and accidental head injuries reveal how our perception of time may be altered.” (see paper above)

Imagine that we might be able to look at the world where space-time might be altered, slowed down, speeded up, reversed or extrapolated into possible futures.

In my previous post this idea is at the heart of the formation of a new work, one that enables a distant viewer to look at the art work in the present, or wind it back, slow it down, speed it up, look at it moving forwards or backwards in time, or in the current moment, the present, at the very edge of the unfolding of time.