fig. 12. Bronze fulgurite installed as lightning rod on studio roof (test)

3. Images made by Keraunic or Fulguric Rays

3.1. Fulgurites


A few years ago, I had the opportunity to launch my investigation into spontaneous manifestations caused by lightning when I was granted permission to work in a lightning simulation lab in Abingdon, near Oxford (UK). The lab is designed to study the effects of direct and indirect lightning strikes on complex technical structures such as airplanes, military installations or wind-turbines. Equipped with high-voltage impulse generators that are capable of producing up to 2.4 million volts, and high-current generators specially outfitted to produce over 200,000 amperes of current, the test facility can accurately replicate the effect of a lightning strike as it occurs in nature [fig. 5, 6, 7].


I was allowed to use the high-voltage generators and experimental setup to produce artificial fulgurites or 'petrified lighting', three-dimensional vitreous structures that are formed when lightning strikes in sand and alters its composition to a crystalline mass. The silica-rich sand was strewn into a twenty-centimetre section of a PVC pipe, which was placed on top of a metal ground plate, just below a large rod made of steel. A thin copper wire, running through the centre of the sand-filled pipe, connected the plate with the rod. When artificial lightning was initiated, the current passed from the metal rod through the copper wire toward the metal ground plate where it impacted [fig. 8]. As the air and moisture in the sand rapidly heated by the explosion of the electrical discharge, lasting for one hundredth of a millisecond, both expanded and pushed the molten glass to the periphery of a small void, creating a hollow, tubular mass.The subsequent relatively rapid cooling of the molten glass caused it to solidify. I managed to produce several artificial fulgurites in the Abingdon lab [fig. 9, 10, 11]. One of those fulgurites was subsequently scanned in 3D, enlarged, made into a mould and cast in bronze. I then installed this 'Fulgurite Zero' as a lightning rod, so, in turn, it served as an intermediary to create a new fulgurite, which is undergoing the same process of scanning-enlarging-casting as I write [fig. 12, 14].

This closed circuit of image-making by lightning will be repeated until - in the long run - a network of connected fulgurites is formed, thus embracing the concept of an artwork as an ongoing, self-generating process, in which I consider myself the enabler or facilitator rather than the author. I extended my research into fulgurites to my studio by building a small-scale version of a high-voltage circuit made of different parts of household appliances. For these experiments, I used river sand mixed with a saline solution to enhance the electric conduction. I was able to gather a whole collection of fulgurites, ranging from small, solid forms to large tubular or branched ones [fig. 13, 15].

fig. 8. Lightning impact

fig. 13. Homemade fulgurites

fig. 14. Bronze fulgurite in high-voltage circuit

fig. 9, 10, 11. Produced fulgurites and digital rendering

fig. 5, 6, 7. Test site and generators at lightning simulation laboratory in Abingdon

fig. 15. Homemade fulgurites