Using powerful electromagnets, Eric Mesplé makes these substances behave in mesmerizing ways. Here’s how he works his gloopy, creepy magic.
In the early 1960s, a NASA engineer by the name of Steve Papell dreamed up a career for modern-day artist Eric Mesplé. Well, at least not directly. Papell was trying to figure out how to move fuel around an engine in zero gravity, and hit upon the idea of a “ferrofluid.” By adding magnetic nanoparticles to a liquid, you can magnetize the medium. Apply a magnetic field, and suddenly that liquid behaves like no other on Earth.
Ferrofluids never did end up in spacecraft engines, but half a century after Papell’s bright idea, Mesplé has deployed them for use in artworks that melt the mind. His installations use ferrofluids as moving elements of the 3D shapeshifting art. “When you were a kid, you could see the magnetic field in 2D iron filings on the piece of paper—you could see the striations of it,” Mesplé says. “But now you’re actually seeing, with all these nodes coming off of it, what the magnetic field looks like in a three-dimensional realm.”
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