Sachiko Kodama, Shizuoka, 1970.
The surprising techniques developed in her projects by Japanese artist Sachiko Kodama are unprecedented in contemporary artistic practices, inside or outside the field of digital arts.
The sounds produced by visitors cause alterations in the magnetic fields of the magnets that make the liquid defy gravity and physics and rise, acquiring three-dimensional forms that mutate every second. A camera amplifies these movements and projects them onto a screen, where it is possible to appreciate in detail the richness and sophistication of the images produced.
These images, curiously enough, are not entirely foreign to us: they remind us of synthetic images created by computer, with their shiny surfaces and their ability to change volume and shape in a second. This approach to a virtual aesthetic through a physical substance that we can observe in front of our eyes is one of the most intriguing aspects of this project.
Kodama has continued to develop his research with ferrofluids in later works such as Pulsate, an installation in which the magnetic liquid rests on a porcelain plate; Breathing Chaos, where the flickering of candlelight is the element that produces the movement of the fluids, or Morphotower, the most sculptural of his projects, formed by a ceramic cube with holes through which the sinuous forms composed by the liquid emerge.
Kodama's works have been shown in the exhibition "Machines&Souls" at the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art in Madrid and in "Digital Creatures" in Rome in 2017.
His work is an example of how scientific research can expand the expressive vocabulary of artists today, to allow them to model physical reality and create images that we would have previously thought only possible in the realm of the imagination and the dreamlike.
Kodama's work is based on the study and manipulation of specific substances, ferrofluids, whose properties are, at first sight, almost magical. Ferrofluids are liquids that, due to their metallic content, have magnetic properties and respond to the proximity of magnetized fields by vibrating and changing shape.
Through a computer system, Kodama controls the strength of these magnetic fields in order to precisely adjust the liquid's response. Protrude, Flow, the project that made his work known, uses this technique to create a liquid sculpture that constantly changes shape in front of astonished viewers. In this installation, a tray containing a solution of water, oil and ferrofluids is placed between two large magnets. The liquid in the tray responds to the sounds it receives from its surroundings.
Morpho Tower black, Morpho Tower white, 2006
First project “Protrude, Flow" used six electromagnets. But, the electromagnets occasionally prevented people from viewing the moving liquid. To solve this problem and to simplify the work, I discovered a new technique called “Ferrofluid Sculpture.” This technique enables artists to create more dynamic sculptures with fluid materials. One electromagnet is used, with an extended iron core that is sculpted into a particular shape. The ferrofluid covers the sculpted surface of the three-dimensional iron shape and the movement of the spikes in the fluid are controlled dynamically on the surface by adjusting the power of the electromagnet.
The “Morpho Tower” series in 2006 was my first realization of a “ferrofluid sculpture.” Figure 2 shows the spiral tower covered with numerous ferrofluid spikes. A spiral tower standing on a plate holds the ferrofluid. When the magnetic field around the tower is strengthened, spikes of ferrofluid are generated at the bottom plate and they gradually move upward, trembling and rotating around the edge of the iron spiral.
The movement of the spikes in the fluid is controlled on the surface by adjusting the power of the electromagnet. The shape of the iron body is designed to be helical so that the fluid can migrate to the top of the helical tower when the magnetic field is sufficiently strong.
The surface of the tower responds dynamically to its magnetic environment. When there is no magnetic field, the tower appears simply as a spiral shape. But when the magnetic field around the tower is strengthened, spikes are generated in the ferrofluid; simultaneously, the tower’s surface dynamically changes into a variety of textures — a soft fluid, a minute moss, spiky shark’s teeth, or a hard iron surface. The ferrofluid, with its smooth, black reaches all the way to the top of the tower, spreading like a fractal and defying gravity.
The spikes of the ferrofluid are made to rotate around the edge of the spiral cone, where they either increase or decrease in size depending on the strength of the magnetic field. Using a computer, the transformation and movement of the shape can be controlled along with its speed and rhythm. The rotational speed can be controlled without motors or any shaft mechanisms. It works calmly; simply controlled by gravity and a magnetic field
The inspiration for my artwork comes from life and nature. The organic forms and the geometry and symmetry observed in plants and animals are important inspirational factors when considering kinetic and potentially interactive art forms. The behavioral movement of animals and other natural materials is also important. Rhythms of breathing in living things are an excellent metaphor for textures that dynamically change according to time. One of my goals is to apply these dynamic behaviors into computational interface design as well. (Public and Private collections.)