Close-up: Artist Liliane Lijn

She partied with the Surrealists, and modelled for Miyake – now the artist is heading for the stars
Click to follow

Liliane Lijn's new exhibition is out of this world: the New York-born "kinetic sculptor" has taken the stuff Nasa uses to gather stardust in space, and turned it into a filter of fragments of life on Earth.

In the summer of 2005, Lijn spent three months as artist-in-residence at the Space Sciences Laboratory in the US, where the director of the Nasa-funded Stardust mission introduced her to "aerogel", the material his team has used to collect dust from the outer reaches of the solar system. Ninety-nine per cent air and one per cent glass, it's fragile stuff. Looked at under a microscope, says Lijn, it reveals the conical-impact craters made by infinitesimal crumbs of stardust far out in space.

Now 69 and long based in London, Lijn has always been fascinated by materials, and has experimented with liquid, light, fire and acid in her work. One of her first residencies was in a plastics factory. "I'm inspired by materials – they're full of stories – but also by events and relationships," she says. "In this instance I was inspired by the mission itself, the idea of gathering dust that is a memory of another world or is going to form future worlds."

Lijn has a Zelig-like knack for remaining at the art world's cutting edge. She spent the late-1950s hanging out with the Surrealists, took part in the first art "happenings" in the 1960s and modelled for fashion designer Issey Miyake in the 1980s. Nonetheless, she was, at first, unsure of how to turn the aerogel into art.

"It's evanescent, but what it does to images of reality is fascinating," she says. "I've projected video of the world as we know it on to it: India, Burma, New York, Mexico; images of people, signs, markets, temples. Yet when you look at it you don't see any of that. What you see is a different world."

Liliane Lijn exhibits at Riflemaker, London W1, to 5 July (