Fantastic Black Goo: Casey Hughes and the art of Ferrofluid
OOEY, GOOEY, ART: Meet Casey Hughes and his wondrous ferrofluid, a black magnetic goo he uses to create contemporary art that combines science and chemistry to make mesmerizing shapes.
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image
It moves like it’s a living alien life form. It burbles. It spikes. It mesmerizes. It’s addictive to watch and oh so fun to play with. But what on earth is that black goo and what does it have to do with art?
According to Casey Hughes, everything.
He creates art with the goo, known as ferrofluid, and calls it his muse. It was love at first sight, he knew he had to use it, to work with it. It was calling him.
So he started working away, learning, making and creating, until he figured out how to create a clear suspension liquid that works with the fluid. In October 2011, he finalized the chemistry and started to create piece that have ferrofluid contained within a display cell. The suspension liquid allow for people to play with it, not having to worry about splash or staining the cells it is in, which was one of the biggest challenges with working with ferrofluid.
“It’s art but it’s also science,” he said. “It keeps [the ferrofluid] from staining the glass. It’s a nano fluid, the carbon will go into any little crack. I started with the glass and went from there. Science and art just mix so nicely.”
Since his breakthrough, he’s made works that have been featured at the TELUS Spark Science Centre, the Endeavor Art Gallery here in Calgary and internationally at the San Luis Opisbo Children’s Museum in San Luis Obispo, California. His work has even gone into space as part of the Ferro Magnetic Fluid Zero Gravity Nano-Lab Experiment which was a collaboration with Valley Christian Schools in San Jose, California and was recognized by United States President Barak Obama.
Casey explained that although he’s been at this just over a year he sees big things ahead including the Mini Maker Faire on September 8. The Faire runs 10am to 6pm along the East Village Riverwalk and is organized by Protospace – Calgary’s Hacker and Maker Space. Casey has been a strong proponent of the faire and said he’s always seen the arts as lacking in connections and the future of modern art lays in collaborations be them with science, with other artists or something new altogether.
“I started to look for people in Calgary who were awesome to connect with,” he said.
“[Jeff de Boer] always says do something that’s cool,” said Casey. “I want to share with other artists. One person can only have so many ideas.”
He explained the ethos of the faire is the culture of sharing and open source is the future.
“There’s so many ideas out there,” he said. “People make the coolest stuff. The possibilities are endless.”
He currently works in downtown, in the oil and gas sector, but has big plans for his work.
“Oil and gas isn’t really where I belong,” he said. “I love selling my work, but I actually give out more than I sell. I want to show it off. I’ve been staring at it for over a year and I still don’t get sick of it. I love to give them out.”
A recent graduate of Media Arts and Digital Technology at the Alberta College of Art and Design he’s now working on ways to make his art as a full time gig.
The commercial end is CZFerro, a place where Casey and his American partner Nicky Nada from Concept Zero sell their awesome creations. Although they’re a lot of fun, he was quick to point out that these are not toys and should not be given to children – they’re desk displays.
“The beauty is how simple it is,” Casey said. “There’s no magic here. You see the ribbons of the magnetic field and the patterns change. It defies the human mind. It’s a solid and a liquid, the particles are so small but it never settles. The magic is the magnetic field.”
His work is currently on display at the TELUS Spark Science Centre and if you’re curious about the science, The Geek Group has a great video about ferrofluid. You can also read all about the technical stuff here.