How do you make sculptures out of the stuff Nasa uses to catch stardust? The silicon-based aerogel used by the space agency to capture minute particles from space is to be exhibited to the public for the first time.
The New York-born artist Liliane Lijn, 69, has created four glowing sculptures out of this ethereal substance, which is 99 per cent air and 1 per cent glass, heated to become solid.
She was inspired by a residency in 2005 on the Nasa-funded Stardust mission at the Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) at the University of California, Berkeley. "When I examined the aerogel under an electron microscope, I was mesmerised by it."
Lijn is known for her kinetic sculptures dating back to the 1960s, including Liquid Reflections, a Perspex drum of water and acrylic balls on a motorised turntable. She draws inspiration from science, Oriental and Western philosophies and mythology.
The artist sent metal moulds to the Nasa labs to create the translucent aerogel sculptures, including the conical The Ruins of Kasch. Other works include Heavenly Fragments, Solar Disk and Burma Requiem, all of which have video images of Earth projected on to them.
Lijn describes the resulting sculptures as "holographic". She says: "I have worked with the scientists and the material with which they collected the dust to create a metaphorical dialogue that relates to their Stardust mission. My work is in essence an artist's vision of their project. I see the Stardust mission as an archaeology of outer space."
Catching stardust is a long process, Lijn says. "A collector is left out in space for two years to catch a couple of dust particles. They are invisible to the naked eye. Even one particle of interstellar dust contained in cubes of aerogel would be worth millions of dollars. So you can imagine they would be rather careful with it."
Lijn recently completed Starslide, a fibreglass sculpture/helter-skelter for the new Evelina Children's Hospital in London. She hopes to create large-scale solar installations in the Hollywood Hills that will define the horizon with light.
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