Vantablack: Artistic & Existential Applications

11/21/2014 11:01 PM |

Developed by a British company known as Surrey Nanosystems, Vantablack is a “superblack” substance made of carbon nanotubes. It’s considered the world’s darkest material, its chasmic blackness so deep and visually bewildering that its application to three dimensions appears to flatten them into two. Albeit not breaking news—its creation was announced several months ago—Vantablack’s existence is deeply cool. What’s more, it is also a very rich substance for pondering potential uses, artistic and otherwise, which recently prompted this writer to encourage others to do the same, prefaced more or less as such:

Prediction: Someone, sooner or later—in which ‘someone’ will almost certainly be some super-rich artist—will acquire enough Vantablack to coat the interior of, say, some big gallery, then just dangle a light somewhere in its midst, likely outfitted with one of those vintage-filament bulbs, so that a lone gallery visitor will be able to perceive nothing in the space except for the illumination. No walls, no corners, no depth, nothing. Just a light. This person will probably call it a ‘painting,’ and people will flock to and celebrate it much like they did Rain Room. Maybe Marina Abramovic will be that artist—she fits the wealth criteria, at least—and she’ll bill it as the inverse of her current show in Chelsea. Perhaps she’d also lurk about the space cloaked in a Vantablack dress. People will cry, laugh, change their lives, etc. The entertaining potential of its use in sculpture is as much a no-brainer as its potential for military use. Anyway, it’s loads of fun to think about ways to use Vantablack for art, or ‘art,’ or pranks, or whatever. It’s also fun to think about what kind of meaning it could impart to, say, existentialist discourse—life’s meaninglessness visio-physically equated with apparent dimensionlessness, finally!—or about the wonderful functions it could have for haunted houses, meditation rooms, candle-lit dinners and, naturally, heavy metal concerts. And skateboard parks. And tree houses. And sports. And furniture. Perhaps also electoral campaigns. And so on.

Of course, one of the first things I learned upon sharing this prompt was that my conjectural ‘someone’ already exists, Anish Kapoor. I mean, Sir Anish Kapoor. (Super-rich? Check. Thanks, Andrew Prayzner, for alerting me.) Still, Kapoor’s plan to use Vantablack in his work makes it no less fun for those of us whose pockets aren’t Vantablack-deep to make both serious and preposterous proposals. Because really, however brilliantly anyone uses it, much of the yields’ brilliance—or brilliant anti-brilliance, in this case?—should be attributed to the material itself—e.g. Chamber of Devastation, Joy and Sprained Ankles, by Someone Somewhere and Surrey Nanosystems, dimensions variable (!), 2014.

And now for the ideas of several others, mostly Brooklyn-based creatives:

Timothy Shaw: The first thing I thought of was using it on an ice skating rink, but it would probably wouldn’t work with the ice. Maybe a roller rink? Just have a big black ‘hole’ in the middle?

Susan Surface: I’d make artwork that addresses race and racial profiling. It could be a powerful metaphor to use a material that transforms things so that no matter what is underneath, all you can see is the blackness.

Oliver Jones: In the immediate lead up to the Civil War, there was a pro-Union, martial protest movement called the “Wide Awakes.” They would just appear on city streets, unannounced, in the middle of the night. No banners declaring their purpose or allegiance. Just torches and shiny, black capes and hats, torches blazing. Their presence was, an omen of a war looming. With access to plentiful quantities of Vantablack, I would set out to create a piece of public intervention, the blackest block imaginable. Protests are typically based on increasing visibility, but the tropes of protests are so clichéd, and the state apparatus is so designed to control them, that they barely register anymore. So how about a protest of invisibility? An absence so jarring it becomes a presence? Like John Galt but for poor people. A uniform to replace all the Guy Fawkes masks. The rallying cry of a new generation: Disappear in the Streets!

Liz Atzberger: I would love to get my hands on this stuff to actually learn its properties, but until then, I’d make a flat Vantablack painting with hidden (made in China) cell phone jammer (pictured, image courtesy the artist).

Elisa Jensen: Vantablack is the opposite of gold leaf in byzantine art—gold leaf being the light of God, the holy space (now many artists use glitter hoping for the same effect). Vantablack is the near absence of light, so for me it is a metaphor for death. What else sucks in all light and holds it, hides it away? Finally it is a substance of death, of stealth, and warfare. My idea for the use of an infinite amount of Vantablack is to burn it in a giant pyre. A sort of Viking funeral, and a grand one it would be.

Jonathan Quinn: A twin-blade fan spins in front of a strobe light timed to blink between the passage of the two white blades. In front of the fan —at a right angle and positioned dead-center—is an irregular rectangular surface that resembles a (frozen in time) flag waving in the breeze. Both sides of the surface are coated with Vantablack. As the fan spins the light from the strobe rocks back and forth on either side of the rectangle.

Chris D’Acunto: My first thought would be to do some sort of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner black hole tunnel sort of art piece on a highly textured surface, perhaps a brick wall. I think it would be real funny. But as we all know when dealing with anything in the creative process, the truly great ideas arise in the reflexive and spontaneous moments of when you have the material in your hands.

Vincent Romaniello: In the interest of wordplay, I’d make a sculpture of Vanna White and coat it in Vantablack. It would be Vanna White as Vantablack, and vice-versa. I guess I’d just have to spin the Wheel and ask Chuck for a T. Also, I make sculptures of drones out of cardboard. Coating those in Vantablack could be fun.

Marcy Rosenblat: For me, to be able to see nothing in space but light is heavenly. My idea is simple. In keeping with what I’m most drawn to in my own painting—which is usually something covered or being slightly revealed—I couldn’t help but think of the the pure delight of being able to have layers of screen-like pattern (in my case I’d use a mundane paper towel pattern) to create a magical web of light coming out of the ultra black space.

Carey Maxon: I would use Vantablack to make a dot installation in Madison Square Park. I would also use it to make tiny table-sized dot sculptures. Some would be compositions set by me, and some would be sold as a set of dots for anyone to play with, a meditation object similar to the sand tray. As I am a painter, I would also research if this material can be used to paint dots.

Vincent Como: My thinking is really to allow the material to be simply be the material and intervene as little as possible. I would ideally create a modest-sized ‘painting,’ possibly scaled to the same dimensions of something historically significant like the Mona Lisa, in order to showcase the material as a beautiful and intimate object of pure darkness. Were I able to do this, and then exhibit the piece, it would be the only thing on display. One small excruciatingly black painting in a room.

Andrew Prayzner: For a performance sketch I would paint the entire stage with the pigment including the outer edges toward the audience. Typical black pigments tend to reflect projected light. With the Vantablack, a projection of light, in this case backlit on a movable screen from a central location on the stage, would appear to float in the middle of the set in a sea of black (not unlike a James Turrell piece). The projection would “hover” for a while, then move downstage toward the audience and appear to grow. The colors of the projected light would alter slightly from warmer orange reds to cool white-yellows. Dancers dressed in Vantablack Morphsuits would emerge and move around the projection at various counts. The projection would then move back upstage and begin to dim and eventually fade to black(!).

Okay, Sir Kapoor. Your turn!

(In the meantime, Vantablack holiday decorations, perhaps? T’would be extra fun to unstuff such stockings, especially if laden with lumps of coal.)

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