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.

Open studios Cornwall 2022

It’s been two years since my last open studio in Cornwall. Since then my efforts to harness the processes of electrochemical reactions for creative expression have developed somewhat.


V3 Reaction, commenced 4/5/2022

The repurposing of old picture frames has provided an ideal ‘container’ and means of displaying new works.

Various experiments with metals, materials and solutions have also led to formulae and methods for producing multiples.

V1 Reaction, commenced 22/2/2022

What I find most fascinating and inspiring is how the work develops and evolves over time, no two reactions being the same, producing very different ‘scenes’.

I say scenes as this is the envisaged result, by choosing the appropriate metals and their arrangement and specific solutions, I can create the conditions for emergent reactions that suggest naturalistic landscapes, rock formations, hills and trees, underwater scenes.

Creating a small scale exhibition for a viewing public has also challenged me in how to convey the time based processes that is hidden in a single viewing of a work where the appearance of a work can vary from one day to another.

I gain great pleasure in visiting each work everyday to see how it has changed. Its akin to watching a plant grow, except here there is always an element of surprise, no two reactions ever produce the exact same result.

How to convey this emergent process to a viewer who is seeing the work for the first time with no memory of how it looked when it was first created?

One method that attempts to convey the changing appearance of a work has been the use of digital timelapse, using a Web cam and time lapse software. Below are two short time lapse videos of the works illustrated above, V1 and V3.

Timelapse video of V1 Reaction, 2 minute duration depicting electrochemical reactions over 17 days, 1/4 – 18/4 2022, 1 frame taken every 5 minutes.

Timelapse video of V3 Reaction, 2 minute duration depicting electrochemical reactions over 7 days, 12/5 – 19/5 2022, 1 frame taken every 5 minutes.

The timelapse does illustrate a sample of the electrochemical processing, however it does not have the immediacy or presence of a live viewing.

In 2001, during an art residency at CEMA, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, I created an installation entitled ‘The Preservation of Entropy’.

The installation used electrochemical processes to alter three metals (iron, copper, aluminium) in three hand made glass flasks containing three solutions (acid, alkaline, salt).

The three vessels

The reactions generated changing electric signals which were monitored and recorded using bespoke software. The installation was located in a thoroughfare and received regular visitors who would see the work change every day.

I also wanted to capture and convey the changing processes remotely. To achieve this I used a timelapse technique where a webcam frame of one of the glass vessels was uploaded to a remote server such that people could watch a growing time lapse video, recorded from day one.

Time lapse frames

I am planning on creating a new ‘live installation’ that amalgamates techniques inherent in my recent works with the concept of ‘an electrochemical process time lapse broadcast’ derived from ‘The Preservation of Entropy’.

Electrochemical Landscapes

I have recently began experimenting with creating electrochemical landscapes inspired by the sea and minerals of Cornwall.


e-scape 01 (30 x 30 x 1.5 cm canvas)
e-scape 02 (30 x 30 x 1.5 cm canvas)
Ferric Sea (A4 canvas board)

In the process of creating the above works, I discovered a technique for creating tree and fern like forms, which I will use in the creation of further electrochemical landscapes.

Dendritic Formations (20 x 20 x 1.5 cm canvas)
e-tree (20 x 20 x 1.5 cm canvas)

Preparation for Open Studios Cornwall


This will be my first Open Studios… ever!


Over the last few weeks I have been transforming my outdoor studio into a small gallery space and hanging the newly created collection of ‘electrochemical paintings’.

A repurposed curtain rail enabled the artworks to be easily re-arranged and the addition of LED spotlights completed the transformation from studio to gallery.

If it happens to be too sunny or raining, there is a shade/umbrella for visitors waiting to go inside the studio gallery (1 in, 1 out).