Transforming Soap Film Into Kinetic Light Installations: Q&A with Nicky Assmann

<p>The Dutch artist discusses her installation <i>Solace</i> which involves soap bubbles and mirror effects.</p>

Julie Le Baron

Julie Le Baron

Nicky Assmann is a multidipliscinary Dutch artist who creates airy, colorful installations with something of a scientific basis. So enthralling is her work that we can safely describe it as “incredibly creative,” “wonderfully imaginative,” or “amazingly inspiring” without being afraid of sounding sycophantic. Following her studies in science, art, and film, Assmann works with different mediums, from wearable technology to kinectic light installations. Amidst her most stunning works, one can quote Solace, an installation made of soap film that explores the mental process and physical activity of seeing. We asked her a few questions to learn a little bit more about her works and inspirations, and she was kind enough to explain to us a few tidbits of science we had forgotten since high school chemistry class.

The Creators Project: You seem to draw a close connection between art and science, how do you manage to blur the line between these two disciplines?
Nicky Assmann:
I am always very interested in science. I find it speaks to my imagination. Often, matters that are researched are still undiscovered territories and based on theories from which we sometimes don’t know if it’s based on truth at all. Therefore there’s still a lot of freedom in it. As an artist I use this freedom to try to think beyond and think what’s more possible. In another sense when I experiment with materials. I base it on a hypothesis and test it as pragmatic as I can, changing one parameter at a time. This sometimes feels like being a scientist in my own created lab.

Inductivism doesn’t take part in your creative proccess then?
My creative process usually starts with reading into matters that I’m interested in like science and nature combined with experimenting with materials that I like. Then follows a long process of trial and error when working with these materials, usually such an error or an accidental finding leads me to the next step. This is a very long and intensive process of working, but also very enjoyable. This last project took me in total two years of experimenting and more than half a year of building and perfecting the final installation.

Photo: Nicky Assmann

What kind of research did you do for your Solace project?
I was studying building structures and came into my research onto R. Buckminster Fuller, a renowned 20th century inventor and visionary. He’s, in my eyes, one of our most recent Homo Universalis, a very inspiring person. One of the structures he used to work with was the “tensegrity” model and the geodesic dome was a result of Fuller’s exploration of nature’s constructing principles to find design solutions. The dome is very lightweight but also very strong & stable structure.

From there I looked into other lightweight but stable structures and I quickly came onto foam made from soap. A very strong structures but with a small side effect that it’s only temporal—once it’s evaporated, it’s gone. This poetic contrast appealed to me and I started working and experimenting with foam. I had different physical outcomes during my research, amongst which a sphere made from soap in which you can stand, so you are surrounded by a soap bubble, but also an instrument that creates a landscape of domes made from foam with a soundscape from the blowing and bursting of the bubbles. Along the line, I made the choice to go from a 3D bubble to one 2D soap film and from there it became bigger and bigger, until it became this room-filling size. You could say Solace is actually a big zoom into one soap bubble with all its characteristics enhanced, like the iridescent colors, the colored reflections, and the bursting of the film when it evaporates.

How exactly does it work?
There are two bars in a basin filled with a soap solution that are continuously lifted up. The bars bring up a soap film, and because the room is divided in a black background and a white foreground that is lit up with bright lamps, the soap film will start to work as mirror. Think of a room with a window and it’s dark outside. Once you put on a lamp you can see yourself in the window. The light also reflects from the white walls onto the soap film, and here the iridescent aspect comes forward. These iridescent colors of the soap film are caused by the interference of reflected light waves and are determined by the thickness of the film. Because the soap film is lifted, gravity will show the turbulence of the soap falling down, creating beautiful patterns of iridescent color and fluid motion. To create this phenomena, the complete space is adjusted and controlled in temperature and humidity. Also, the lights and the movement of the two screens are controlled showing a composition with all the different images.

In my work, I try to approach more senses than just the visual. With Solace, I wanted to see how to create a space in which the body is actively engaged through all the senses. So I tried to also emphasize the tactile aspect, with the humid air, but also with the touching of the colored reflections on the skin, the smell with the scent of the soap, and the hearing with the very subtle sound of the bursting of the soap film.

Photos: Gregory Bohnenblust

Are there other chemical/physical reactions you would like to explore in an artistic project?
Since I’m working with soap, I learned how aggressively this reacts with other materials. Everything is effected by it, which made it quite hard to build a stable installation, but it also gave some beautiful results. It got me inspired to research the process of oxidation, especially oxidation in metals.

What others projects are you working on?
It’s possible to freeze a soap bubble before it bursts, because it’s such a thin layer of water. I’m now working to see if I can find a place where I can control the climate as such that I can do some experiments with freezing a large soap film. I would love to see what happens to the colors, the interference with the light, the mirror effect, and of course what happens when the frozen soap film bursts.

Solace is set to be displayed in Pittsburgh on July 13, 2012 at the Wood Street Galleries.