Microscopic Experiments and Studies for the Opening of the ‘Commons’ Building

                     A PDF summary of the project         





The ‘Creative Sparks’ project was an initiative to bring together students from different disciplines to bring the new ‘Commons’ building to life. Between 6 and 8pm on June the 5th, many activities took place to mark the opening – singing, dancing, poetry, debates and scientific experiments. The theme of ‘water’ was chosen to coincide with the theme of the inaugural meeting of the Global Academy of Liberal Arts (GALA) that was taking place at Bath Spa University that week.

I decided to collaborate with a biology student to create video pieces that merge the world of scientific documentation to the arts.

Throughout my work, I display an interest in the visualisation of processes that are midway between states, or invisible.

1. Initial Ideas to do with Saltwater Circuitry

Below: ‘Initial Ideas for Project’


Initially, I proposed that I create a solar purifier for salt water using a large bowl, plastic wrap, a beaker and masking tape.

Through the process of evaporation, I wanted to create distilled water. Then, for the second stage of the ‘scientific experiment / art installation’ piece, I would’ve created a saltwater circuit to test if the distillation process had occurred. I would’ve created the circuit using insulated copper wire, a 9-volt battery, a 3.7 volt light bulb and aluminium foil.
This would’ve been very relevant to my previous ‘Momentary Lightbulb’ assemblage.
I was also thinking of incorporating a performative aspect to the presentation. I e-mailed quite a few different tutors about this idea.

2. Idea to Collaborate with Victor Choquet to Document Reactions Under the Microscope

Below is the initial project proposal we submitted for the ‘Creative Sparks: Water’ project. Please view the PDF file by clicking on the below link.


3. Ideas Relating to Projecting onto Glass / Plastic Cabinets: Tony Oursler and the Like

During a tutorial, I was asked to look at the work of Tony Oursler. This was due to the fact that I had proposed to create a polyester container that I would project video pieces onto. It would mix multimedia and installation. For Oursler’s early installation work he experimented with ways of removing the moving image from the video monitor using reflections in WATER, mirrors, glass and other devices. His ‘L-7, L-5’ exhibition in New York used the translucent quality of video reflected onto broken glass.

For this ‘Creative Sparks’ project, I desired to use the steam itself as a ‘surface’ to project images. The overriding theme for the project was that of water – something that is ubiquitous but through familiarity has lost its corporeality. I sought to lend it SUBSTANCE through studying reactions in water and the unseen world of bacterium.

For Oursler’s ‘Influence Machine’, he laid out a series of telecommunication devices and shows how each was used to ‘speak with the dead’. His work has sometimes involved ‘communicating with the dead’ – lending substance to that which is immaterial.

Oursler seems concerned with transforming everyday objects into something more starry, coloured or illuminated. Oursler’s ‘H’ is about re-questioning the ubiquitous. My work for this project was partially concerned with taking water and that which dwells within it and making it appear strange and new.


Above: ‘Diagram Representing Cabinet for Steam’


Above: ‘Notebooks full of Sketches and Ideas’

Below: ‘The Final Description Board for the Installation’



Above: ‘Still from ‘Chemical Broth’


Above: ‘Installation for the Opening of the Commons Building at Newton Park’


‘Above: ‘Video Piece ‘Chemical Broth’ shown on an LCD TV’


Above: ‘Projection of ‘Work Process for Chemical Broth’ in Installation Space’


Above and Below: ‘Stills from Video Pieces’




‘Above: ‘The Work Process: Layering Petri Dishes to Create a Multi-Dimensional Look in the Films’

We have documented chemical reactions and the existence of microscopic organisms in water. Through experimenting with many materials, we have amounted a stunning array of imagery captured through the microscopic lens. Mirrors, dyes and light have been used for the purpose of creating highly magnified video pieces. Materials that are usually utilised in the arts sphere are now married to the world of scientific documentation.

The fundamental concern of this project is to look at water in a different way. Through visualising processes that, by and large remain unnoticed by the public, we seek to communicate why water, even though ubiquitous, is the most fascinating substance.

Through adding materials to a transparent, featureless body, we seek to make its presence undeniably seen and felt.

Depicting it in its solid, liquid and gaseous state we present it in the most diverse way possible.

4. The Particulars of the Reactions


 The start of the ‘Chemical Broth: Experimental Video’ is a depiction of microscopic organisms. It is presented in the 16:9 aspect ratio. 

Single-celled organisms dart about an otherworldly garden, composed of pond algae and blanket weed. As a paramecium moves amongst the debris, it jostles the matter aside, sending it flying. Using oblique illumination, we study it grazing for food items among the particles. The slides and samples of pond life are chosen and composed like a painting.

The second part is the process of experimentation with chemicals and substances. It is presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio. It is an experimental video piece studying the graphic aspect of reactions with water. The goal was to find and isolate natural patterns by mixing as many products and chemicals as we could find.

Strappini and Choquet are a duo of artists who use the chemistry of surface reactions to create abstract videos full of exploding and imploding droplets of colours. The basis for these reactions is that the catalyst has to be water. As chemicals react, local concentrations at the interface vary, which changes the local surface tension to those of higher surface tension.

 Microscopic image of potamogeton (pond weed)

Dropping sodium into an oil sphere suspended in water. It ionizes in the water as we watch. A mirror is used underneath the oil – the white sodium bicarbonate reflects onto the mirror.

Later, dye is dropped into the sphere. The oil restricts its movement. Due to the usage of mirrors, the whole image adopts a blue tinge

 Droplets of dye in oil and water are brought into focus

 The aftermath of a reaction between sodium bicarbonate and water

Ice gradually melts

 A painting is engulfed by water

 Close-up of hydrogen produced by the reaction between magnesium and water

Bubbles inflated with dyes and oils are enlivened by sodium

 A polymer bead reacting with salt, silicate and suspended in water. A hollow tube forms from the bead

Dishes full of cylinders coloured with dyes are positioned above each other and filmed from above. Mirrors are used to further emphasise the layering effect

 A syringe interacts with oils positioned over mirrors. The particular look could only be created through positioning lights exactly

 Yeast and a 3% solution of water under the microscope. Yeast has an enzyme – catalase (every eucaryotic organism has it in special organelles – peroxisomes) which catalyzes the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. We can see the bubbles of oxygen.

Ice melts

A pipette ejects a bubble

Continuation of the documentation of polymer beads reacting with salt and silicate, all suspended in water

Slicing an onion into thin slivers, the chunks are placed under microscope slides. The epidermal cells become acutely visible under high magnification. To document the process of osmosis is to track the movement of molecules and water from one place to another.

To create the layered look produced in the piece, the placement of cover slips over one another became essential; this procedure could be seen to be akin to that of traditional animation, layering frames to build up a scene


Above: ‘The Process of Osmosis Captured on Film’

5. References: Fernan Federici 

Geneticist / artist Dr. Fernan Federici has created microscopic photographs of plant life. His images were created without the use of Photoshop or other ‘artificially enhancing’ tools.

Federici composes surreal images of various plants. He tracks the growth of plant cells and tissues, creating models of how cell structures form.

He tags the interaction of two cell-types with fluorescent proteins. This is much like the ‘tagging’ of substances with dyes for many aspects of my video works.

Each of Federici’s photographs depicts the cellular life of a different form of flora. He seems to be concerned with bringing the cellular life that escapes our attention to the fore, and give that which goes unnoticed some recognition. I believe this is partially what I was striving to do with my video pieces.

Below: ‘Still from ‘Chemical Broth: Experimental Video”


Below: ‘The Work Process’






6: Videographic Phenomena 

Before   (azure/turquoise hue)


After   (blackened hue)


Above: ‘Reflection of Sodium Bicarbonate captured in Mirror Positioned under Oil.’


The positioning of the mirror allowed for a greater impression of depth, and a greater ambiguity as to what the viewer would perceive.


An observation was made only after footage was reviewed.

The images captured by the microscope camera are subject to automatic contrast correction.

Before the very ‘white’ sodium bicarbonate was added to the image, the overall impression was azure/turquoise.

The contrast is supremely powerful.

I will explore this videographic phenomenon further.


‘Above and below: ‘Sodium Reacts with Water, a Light Illuminates the Process’


7: What Worked: Conclusions

This project has progressed through many stages. I have become more acutely aware that to get placed in the public eye, certain aspects  of productions need to be trimmed. Initially, we wanted to use steam for the work. It then became obvious of the impracticalities of that : the new ‘Commons’ building is full of smoke detectors. Despite having our original proposal accepted for the launch of the building, it seems the acceptance was inadvertently retracted! However, we strove on, and came ip with myriad other ideas.

To retain the idea of projecting onto water, but place it in a more contained atmosphere, we thought of projecting instead onto fish tanks. Through meeting with the ‘Creative Sparks’ admin, we were told that no water could be used inside the technology-filled, officious rooms. These developments would place the focus almost entirely on the visual impression of the pieces. This forced us to ‘up the game’ with our attempts to make the visual impact of the works particularly stunning.


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