In 2016, British visual artist Anish Kapoor took over the boastblack, one of the materials reputed to be among the blackest ever produced by humanity, for its exclusive artistic use. The production of black materials is the subject of continuous scientific and technological research. One wonders what problems lurk behind this endless search for new, increasingly obscure materials, and why British visual artist Anish Kapoor has taken advantage of it.
Black, light and infinity, three universal questions
Black, the lightlight and infinity, for scientists, are permanent questions. If in the International Space StationInternational Space Station, Thomas PesquetThomas Pesquet turns his head away from the Earth, only space remains, infinite, black and crossed by lights of which cosmic radiationcosmic radiation directly from big Bangbig Bangimperceptible to his eyes.
We have seen previously, theastronautastronaut American Story Musgrave turned this way and shared his experience of space, of darkness, of these lights and this infinity. He beautifully described how his damaged perception of him transformed into these unique moments.
The black body, an ideal in physics
In physicistphysicist, the interaction between light and matter is the focus of much fundamental research. Two of France’s Nobel Prize winners, Serge Haroche and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, have spent their scientific life studying this question. It is at the heart of the quantum information we expect appapp extraordinary news. There “quantum theory of the black body” thanks to Max Planck revolutionized at the beginning of the XXAnd century the understanding of the interaction between light and matter. In physics, a black bodyblack body designates an ideal object that perfectly absorbs all the light it receives. L’absorptionabsorption of this powerpower electromagnetic leads to its heating and the re-emission of a light whose wavelengthswavelengths are determined only by the temperature of this black body.
On Earth, the light received is essentially visible light. The one re-emitted at room temperature is infrared light, invisible to our eyes. According to this definition, nothing visible to our eyes results from such a black object. If the environment of the light reflecting object is visible, only the contrastcontrast locates the black body in space. It’s a flaw, sort of… black holeblack hole in our reality. After all, our eyes are detectors with limited performance, and a black object, even without being ideally black, can appear to us like this black hole. It is with this limitation of our perception that Anish Kapoor has been playing for years and more recently using Vantablack.
Projects such as the development of MaterialMaterial Vantablack has very clear motivations in the fields, space, science or military. He creates screens to absorb the lens flare is one.
Vantablack brings together forests of carbon nanotubes that trap light and act simultaneously on all absorption mechanisms. As a result, 99.965% of the incident light is absorbed. It’s extraordinary but it’s a simple little tip laserlaser red sends a huge amount of photonsphotons per second. The Vantablack still comes back a lot. 99.965% is not 100%. And this difference is significant for some applications! MIT announced 99.995% in 2019. The race continues.
Black, light and infinity also concern artists
The painter who, in his work, has perhaps most explored light in space is Pierre Soulages. His preoccupation with blackness is known and central to his work, but this has nothing to do with the ideal black body.
Instead, he is interested in very real black surfaces that have very sophisticated interactions with light. Just look around to find it: most black surfaces reflect oblique light. Some reflect a lot of light under these conditions.
Pierre Soulages plays with light on black in all these variations. I spent many hours at all times of the day and seasonsseasons in front of the big one Outrenoir of the exceptionally illuminated Museum of Grenoble. Pierre Soulages painted the first Outrenoir in 1969. He continued on this road for a long time to our happiness.
But this is not a search for the effects of absolute black in painting. I believe there is no link between Anish Kapoor’s artistic approach and that of Pierre Soulages. Anish Kapoor is closer to astronaut Story Musgrave than Pierre Soulages. History Musgrave insists on the experience of this absolute darkness that he “saw” in space through the window of the space shuttle: endless black areas of space in front of him, reflecting no light. As a scientist, he knows they are empty. But the perception of him does not know …
Descent into limbo, a black hole for our perception
The media noise around Vantablack therefore points to a fascinating case. One gets the impression that scientific and technological progress has radically opened up new possibilities for artistic creation. Maybe this combination of arts and sciences was necessary to look at these “blacks” this way?
However, Anish Kapoor didn’t wait for Vantablack to create and exhibit fascinating artworks that explored these questions and that worked. What do we see when, for our perception, there is no light? What exists before us in this case?
Anish Kapoor creates the installation Descent into Limbo (perhaps in reference with Mantegna paint) in 1992, long before black Vantablack, a principle he would later use in many works. The apparatus of this work is very simple: a hole 2.5 meters deep with a diameter of about 1.5 meters. Its coating reflects very little visible light and makes this hole unreal by misleading perception.
In the collection of interviews with an ironic title I do not have anything to say published in 2011, again before the invention of Vantablack, Anish Kapoor also talks about a very dark blue paint and adds: “ Blue just so happens to produce a much denser darkness than black because we can’t see it colorcolor entirely with the eyes. The eyes are tools of the intellect so we also perceive colors with the mind. “.
He said he was pleased with the anger of a visitor who, instead of a very dark blue hole, had only seen a black carpet… and fell in.
The ideal black body and our humanity
Finally, the intersection of the arts and sciences is notable here. The ideal black body in physics is perfect. All incident light is absorbed by matter. This ideal black body of physicalphysical does not exist.
For our eyes, yes! Anish Kapoor creates those situations where, for theeyeeye, everything is absorbed and apparently nothing is re-emitted. This is an ideal situation in terms of our perception, but obviously not for physics. Anish Kapoor then explores its potential for us. Also in the same collection, he says: It is a vision of darkness. Fear is a darkness in which the eye gets lost, to which one reaches out in the hope of contact and from which only the imagination can escape. “. And Story Musgrave adds in Dana Rana’s film, Facing the Darkness of Space: ” It would be something with your hands, you know, something you can feel with your hands. Something you can feel flowing through you, something that might be a little mushy “. Both tell us that absolute “black” is a shock. Extraterrestrial, it confuses us until we get lost.