Kate Hammersley is the first artist-in-residence at the University of Oxford Department of Engineering Science (supported by Arts Council England). She worked alongside hypersonics research scientist Dr Tobias Hermann who studies cooling systems for spacecraft re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Throughout her practice she has experimented with different materials and materiality to push materials to the limits of their capability.
Intrigued by the question; if artists did the same experiments as scientists what would the results look like? Hammersley set up a series of tests using similar materials and media to the scientists, such as helium, electrical tape and film creating a type of parallel universe of experiments. Working alongside Dr Hermann in the Thermofluids Laboratory they filmed an artistic experiment using a high-speed camera at 1000 frames per second.
The resulting work is Flows, a 6.5-minute film and 9 metre helium drawing that consider how we make sense of these experiments and their context. The work attempts to shift the emphasis away from a human centred view of the universe to look at the relationships between art, science and macrocosm. Conceived as a split-screen moving collage of experiments, the film Flows was shot on three different cameras each with different aspect ratios, two colour, one high speed black and white. At the end of the film is the sound of the sonic boom recorded during a live test in the University of Oxford Thermofluids Laboratory.
The scientists use helium gas as a coolant to protect spacecraft from the high temperatures they experience as they reach temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. The artist used helium filled balloons to drag brushes loaded with ink over paper. The colours of the balloons relate to the colours of electrical wiring. The balloons are finely balanced dropping to the surface of the paper when the brushes are loaded with ink and then floating off the paper when the ink has been used. Part directed, part aleatory, the drawing was produced on location in a barn and left for one week in situ to incorporate chance marks and animal tracks on the drawing. It is intended that the drawing will eventually have all the materials used in its production added to it such as electrical tape and threads to reflect the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created or destroyed it can only be transferred from one state to another.