Fabian Oefner

Fabian Oefner: Psychedelic Science

The Swiss artist and photographer Fabian Oefner is on a mission to create impressive works of art from everyday science.
In this charming speech, she shows some recent psychedelic images, including crystal pictures while interacting with sound waves. In a live show, it shows what really happens when you mix paint with magnetic fluid, or when you fire a whiskey.

It was translated into Greek by Chryssa Rapessi. The editing was done by Aphrodite Constantinou for the TED Talks.

A picture is worth more than a thousand words, so I will start my speech by stopping talking and showing you some pictures I took recently. So now, my speech already has 6.000 words and I think I should stop here. (Laughter) At the same time, I probably owe you an explanation for the pictures you just saw. What I am trying to do as a photographer, as an artist, is to unite the world of art and science. Whether it's the image of a soap bubble I photographed bursting, as you can see in this photo, or a universe of tiny beads of oil paint, strange liquids behaving in strange ways, or paint formed by centrifugal forces, I always try to connect these two fields. What I find very interesting about these two is that they both look at the same thing: It 's a reaction to their environment. And yet, they do it in a very different way. If you look at science on the one hand, science is a very logical approach to its environment, while on the other hand, art is an emotional approach to its environment. What I'm trying to do is bring these two opinions together so that my images speak to both the heart of the viewer and the brain.
Fabian Oefner

Let me make a show based on three projects. The first one has to do with the visualization of the sound.
Now, as you may know, the sound travels in waves, so if you have a speaker, the speaker does nothing but get the beep, turn it into a vibration, which then is transported through the air, is captured by the our ear and turns back into a beep. Now I was thinking, how can I make these sounds visible? So I did the following scene.
I got a speaker, I placed a thin plastic film on this speaker and then added tiny crystals over the speaker. And now, if I play a sound through this speaker, it will make the crystals move up. This happens very quickly, in the blink of an eye, so along with LG, we recorded this motion with a camera that can record over 3.000 frames per second.
Let me show you how it looks. (Music: "Teardrop" by Massive Attack) (Applause)

Thank you very much. I agree, it looks amazing. But I have to tell you a funny story. I was burned indoors when I took photos in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles you can get a good sunburn on any of the beaches, but my own got it inside and what happened when you shoot at 3.000 frames per second, you need incredible light, too many lights.
So we set this speaker and we put the camera to see it and very light to the speaker and set the speaker, I put the tiny crystals on this speaker and we did it over and over and went to noon to realize that my face had become reddish because of the light that was aimed at the speaker. The joke is that the speaker was only on the right side, so the right side of my face was red and I looked like the Phantom of the Opera for the rest of the week. Let's go to another project that has to do with less harmful substances. Have you heard the ironwork? Ah, some of you know him. Wonderful. Should I skip this piece? (Laughter) Hydrate has a very odd behavior.
It is a liquid that is totally black. It has an oily texture. And it has tiny particles of metal that make it magnetic. So if I place this liquid in a magnetic field, it will change its appearance. I have a live presentation here to show you. I have a camera looking at this dish and under this dish I have a magnet.
Now I will add a little bit of iron to this magnet. Let's move it a little to the right and maybe focus a bit further. Wonderful.
What you are seeing is the sprout iron. This is due to the attraction and fading of the individual particles into the liquid. Now it seems quite interesting, but let me add a little watercolor.
These are simple watercolors that you would use to paint. You would not paint with syringes, but it works the same way. Now what happened, when the watercolors ran into the construction, the watercolors did not mix with the iron. And this is because hydrocarbons are hydrophobic. This means that it does not mix with water. And at the same time it tries to hold its place above the magnet and for this reason, it creates these amazing structures from canals and tiny lakes from colored watercolors. This was the second project.

Now I will go to the last project, which has to do with Scottish national drink. (Laughter) These photos were made using whiskey.
You might wonder, how did this happen? He drank half a whiskey bottle and then painted his hallucinations of paperlessness? I can assure you that I was fully aware when I was taking these photos.
Now, whiskey contains 40 percent alcohol and alcohol has some very interesting properties.
You may have experienced some of these properties, but we are talking about physical properties, not the others. So when I open the bottle, the alcohol molecules are spread in the air and that's because alcohol is a very volatile substance. At the same time, alcohol is highly flammable. And with these two qualities, I was able to create the images you see right now. Let me make a show here.

What we have here is an empty glass container. It has nothing in it. And I will fill it with oxygen and whiskey. Little more.
Now we just wait a little and the molecules spread out in the bottle. And now, let's fire him.
(Laughs)
That's all. It is very fast and not so impressive. I could do it again to see it again, but some would say that whiskey was lost and that it would be better to drink it.

Let me show you, however, in slow motion in a completely dark room what I showed you now in this live show. What happened was that the flame traveled through the glass container from the top to the bottom, burning the mixture of air and alcohol molecules.
So the images you saw at first are actually a flame that stops in time as it travels through the bottle, and you have to imagine turning 180 degrees. So these images were created. (Applause) Thank you.

Well, I showed you three works, and maybe you ask yourself, where do they aim? What is the idea that motivated him? Did we just spoil whiskey? Are they just some odd materials?
These three works are based on very simple scientific phenomena such as magnetism, sound waves, or here, the physical properties of a substance and what I am trying to do is use these phenomena and present them in a poetic way we have never seen before and so invite the viewer to stop for a moment and think of all the beauty that surrounds us all the time.
Thank you very much. (Clap)

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Written by giorgos

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