Liliane Lijn

Liquid Reflections


Liliane Lijn born 1939
Perspex, metal, water, liquid paraffin, motor, electrical components and lamp
Object: 838 x 1397 x 1143 mm
Purchased 1973

Not on display

Catalogue entry

Liliane Lijn born 1939

T01828 Liquid Reflections 1968

Not inscribed
Perspex drum 1 7/8 deep, 41 3/4 (106) in diameter, filled with water and liquid paraffin; turntable with transformer for light and motor for drum; light projector; and four perspex balls, two 3 1/8 (8) and two 4 (10.5) in diameter, one of the larger ones incorporating a greenish yellow plane
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1973
Exh: Continuum, Axiom Gallery, London, June-July 1968 (works not numbered, repr.); Prospect 68, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, September 1968 (works not numbered, repr.)
Lit: 'Liliane Lijn in Discussion with Vera Lindsay' in Studio International, CLXXVII, 1969, pp.221-2

The artist wrote in 1975 of this work and its place in her development: 'The development of the work I call Liquid Reflections dates back to 1962, when I wrote in a working notebook:

'Water in Crystal
'Instead of plastic lenses on the outer surface there are other alternatives.
'1. In a transparent cavity already fabricated inside the plexiglas inject water or oil or both ...

'At the time I was working with 7 to 9cm thick blocks of perspex, using a hypodermic syringe to form pressurized droplets of clear acrylic polymer which I arranged on the surface of the perspex blocks in near geometric patterns. The word near is of importance because the pattern on which I decided was a matter causing a great deal of thought and concern.

'At the very start these patterns were arbitrary and I allowed the drops to form more or less at random over the clear surface. But I soon felt that they had to be organised into a predetermined pattern. The reason for this was that once the droplets dried they became invisible having the same index of refraction as the perspex itself. Their existence was perceived only by means of the use of LIGHT and a reflective surface placed directly behind the block. I incorporated this into the block by spraying the back surface with white emulsion. What then became the focal point of my interest was their relative motion as particle reflections when the angle of incident light could be made to change and this change to be continual. At this point the spacial relationship between the droplets themselves took on a new meaning. It was as if each point of light, which the droplets became as reflections, radiated a force or a field of force. In fact this was no abstract notion since once I had made a revolving light source the reflections appeared not only as light particles but when illuminated from a specific acute angle literally emanated lines or trails of light so that they seemed to radiate to and from each other creating a mobile web of light.

'This then determined the necessity to properly organise their patterns, random droplets causing a confusion of lines and luminous points. I found however the determining of specific patterns exceedingly difficult to make. Linear geometric patterns sat there stiffly and did not function as organic wholes when set in motion as reflections. It occurred to me to experiment with a pattern based on the notion of a set of concentric circles thus mirroring the form of the droplet itself. Working on this and influenced by the radiating force of each droplet I followed the direction of this force (the trials seen in the mobile reflections) between each point (droplet). The initial concentric circle idea thus gave way of its own to spiral clusters, in which each point in the central circle emanated further points along spiral arms.

'My interest at that time in Astronomy and Nuclear Physics moved me to relate my particle reflections to photons or particles of light, and to endeavor to make them behave as particle and field at one and the same time. It was my idea to create a visual metaphor of what had seemed for so long to be a paradox - that light behaves simultaneously as particle and as wave. I felt that it could be seen to behave in both ways and that in fact the two were perhaps merely aspects of a totality. I could in fact say that already in '62 I was engrossed in creating metaphorical propositions concerning the essential behavioral aspects of electromagnetic waves, and using that narrow section of the spectrum, white light, as my medium.

'The thickness of the blocks used was essential in order to achieve the maximum displacement of the reflections. By far the most interesting motion was achieved by the use of a rotating lense in a special projector which I devised in the summer of 1962. This lense so altered the direction and intensity of the beam of light that the reflections of the polymer droplets appeared to split, double, and triple themselves going even beyond the metaphor I had wished to achieve and relating to atomic fission. Curiously enough I had at the time used a large block of perspex which had already been used in an atomic reactor. I was assured that it bore no trace of contamination, and was thrilled by the idea of the external world impinging so closely upon what I felt were my own intimate fantasies.

'To return to my initial statement concerning how this previous work relates to the Liquid Reflections, I must explain that in the process of making these pieces I was constantly delighted by the intrinsic life of the polymer drop. The viscous liquid drop trembles, forces within it tend to burst its skin emptying its form, threatening its dispersion. On the outside there is air pressure and the strength of its skin which hold it together. The skin is like the line containing a drawing. The droplet with which I worked soon dried, flattened, and became invisible, leaving me with the feeling of having lost something. An inherent part of the work had disappeared. And it was - this drying - a one way process. This led me to think of those natural crystals which millions of years ago trapped droplets of water within them. Since I was working with blocks of perspex sheet fabrication did not occur to me. On the contrary I wondered how to inject water within the block without leaving any trace. This was obviously impossible and the thought was laid aside.

'It was only in 1966 due to economic reasons that I began to use thin sheet perspex and fabricate framed internal spaces incorporating within the frame small spotlights which were programmed to come off and on sequentially in order to change the angle from which the light hit the surface. The reflections thus created were very different due firstly to the change in index of refraction from the thin sheet of perspex to the space between that and the hardboard backing which served as the reflective surface. This was entirely different from 9cm of solid perspex. I had also changed my method of lighting, and I was not entirely satisfied with the results as achieved.

'And this led me to see that instead of arranging for the light to come from a continually changing direction, I could have one static light source and rotate the perspex surface. I therefore cut a series of perspex discs of the same diameter and injected upon each of these a specific pattern of polymer droplets. The bottom disc of each piece had one surface sprayed white and the discs (three in the first piece and five in a later second piece) were placed one on top of the other onto a rotating turntable. As I had guessed the reflections mysteriously altered their respective positions and the original relationships between them within the pattern arranged by me, transformed themselves into new ones. I could not however help but feel that there was a need for more fluidity and one day, in a spontaneous gesture I threw some water onto the revolving surface. I was fascinated to see the water pulled outward, stretched and narrowed by some force of which in that moment I was unconscious, absorbed as I was by the visual demonstration of its power. Once the water had reached the rim and some of it had dripped off onto the floor I slowed the turntable down and stopped it and was quite amazed to see the liquid trail across the disc had taken on the form of a many armed spiral. It was at this moment that I decided that the water should not be thrown on the disc but be contained within it. Naturally it would replace the polymer droplets by simple condensation, and this natural process would supplant my own imposed patterns.

'It was at this point that my method of working changed quite radically because up until then I had always made all my pieces by myself but I was not equipped to make the shallow perspex drum which I now needed. I can in fact say that the step I took then to draw up what I wanted and go with this drawing to a small factory was the beginning for me of a new way of working, which would prove to be important as it opened up possibilities of working in many different mediums at once and liberated me from the most elementary technical problems allowing me to concentrate on solving more complex ones. This first drum containing water was in fact the first stage of what I later called Liquid Reflections. It was a shallow drum of clear perspex 3/4in thick, 20in in diameter. I painted the bottom surface white and filled it approx. 1/3 full of water. It occurred to me at this point that by adding a small proportion of a more viscous liquid the condensation formed within the drum would tend to adhere more permanently to its upper surface. I tried glycerine at first but it proved too thick, so I experimented with liquid paraffin to arrive at the right proportions. I was quite amazed at the result as it went beyond what I had been attempting to achieve. Instead of simple reflections, the disc was alive with a strange lunar landscape of reflections and shadows. The condensing droplets remained alive and trembling, forming and changing in time. I exhibited this first preliminary piece at the Kunsthalle in Berne in the summer of 1966 in The White on White show.

'During that same summer I happened to be at the house of some friends and while conversing sitting in their garden in the sunshine I found myself playing with three large clear marbles or glass balls about 1 1/2in to an inch diameter. I was fascinated by the pure beam of white light which they threw across my palm as I played with them, and the intense focal point that refracted through them. I decided then and there that I would make some experiments with similar balls on a pure white rotating surface.

'When however I arrived in Athens where I was at that time living, I found that I did not have any clean white discs, and that all I had ready at the moment was the piece which had been shown at the Kunsthalle, and which contained the water paraffin mixture sealed within it. In my impatience I took a small clear marble I had managed to buy and a clear perspex ball 1 1/2in in diameter which I found on my shelf (I had bought it on Canal street five years earlier with the thought that one day I would use it) and put them on the already made disc, somewhat annoyed that it wasn't pure white as I had hoped. It is hard to say that a piece makes itself but that is what happened in the instant in which the balls began to move across the surface of the disc picking up and magnifying the reflections of what it pulled into itself as it moved so that what one saw in the ball was everchanging. The piece was made, that is as a concept, and from that moment on it was the actual process of making it and discovering how to make it function. This turned out to be far more complex than I had thought. In the autumn I moved to London where I began to seriously make these pieces. Initially I had thought of making one piece as I was used to making the pieces myself and working on a one-off basis but the essential element in the making of the disc or drum was the ring which needed to be cut out of sheet perspex and turned on a lathe. Due to the effect of the centrifugal force set up by the rotation of the disc, the balls tended to move towards the edge and fall off the disc, and to deter them I decided to incorporate a lip at the edge of the disc. This meant that the ring of the disc had to be quite thick. For the first pieces I tried one inch leaving just over 1/8in protruding for the lip. The process of making the ring meant that it would be just as expensive to make one piece as to make several, therefore I cut rings for a series of 10 pieces only finishing two to start with, one of 18in and one of 36in (the largest and the smallest). From these two pieces I discovered that the lip alone was insufficient to keep the balls in, and that I needed to compress the disc itself creating a concave surface to balance the centrifugal force of rotation. I also discovered that the total equilibrium of the piece demanded absolute precision, the turntable needing to be absolutely level, or failing that its horizontal state demanding precise control. These changes I incorporated into the following pieces which were shown at the Indica Gallery in 1967.

'In 1968 I decided to draw up revised and perfected designs for a second series of Liquid Reflections using all the experience gained from the first series to ensure that the pieces not only functioned perfectly but also went as far into the concept of the piece as was possible.

'The basic changes were:

'The outer ring became 1 1/2in deep thus providing a proper lip to allow for the momentum of the balls, also allowing for more room within the disc itself so that it could be compressed more evenly towards the center. This set up a motion of the balls which I have been told is known as a 'Lissajous Curve' - the path a body describes when subject to two harmonic oscillations perpendicular to each other. The perfecting of the balance control of the turntable itself with the addition of a spirit-level allowed for a random motion of the balls on the surface with a degree of control. The use of a solid white perspex disc as a base reflector instead of using clear perspex painted white.

'The introduction of colour into the balls.

'This I did in order to show the orbit of the ball itself. In principle I was against using colour in the piece because I felt that it destroyed the essential purity of the work. But I was simultaneously aware that the balls were in a continuous state of spin. I found this fascinating in itself as it so closely mirrored astronomical events not to speak of particle behaviour in physics. This was an invisible layer of the piece. The idea which occurred to me was to insert within the clear ball of perspex a thin plane of coloured perspex which would be seen as a line of colour within the ball. This line would then indicate the spin of the ball. I used colour specifically as a means to see more of what was actually happening. Colour was used as information.

'T01828 is of this last series, in which I made 13 pieces, each of a different diameter, the largest 48in, the smallest 22 1/2in. In each piece the respective diameter of the balls (and at times their number which could be one, two, or three) were altered to relate to the specific diameter of the disc itself.

'In T01828 there are two balls one of which is dissected by a plane of colour. The decision to use only one ball with a coloured plane was due to the colour being used to follow the spin of the ball. I felt that seeing the spin of one ball was sufficient and that were I to use both balls in this way there would be a blending of colours which would tend to create a colour effect not in keeping with the essential presence of the piece.

'The Liquid Reflections series and thus T01828 developed gradually from my previous work over five or six years and is as I see it a cosmic model not only in the metaphorical sense of being reflections within reflections, circles within circles and spheres within spheres but also through a demonstration of forces. When the solution is first poured into the disc the condensation patterns which form are vague and formless resembling interstellar clouds of gas, but within a certain time limit they tend naturally to crystallize into precise spherical droplets which in turn seem to attract more of the same forming into clusters. These form, remain for a while and then dissolve, only to reform in slightly differing patterns. Their behaviour mirrors the natural behaviour of the macrocosmic world. The movement of the balls on the surface of the disc follows laws of momentum and its exchange as well as being governed by centrifugal force and the pull of gravity induced by the concavity of the disc. Finally I think that the particles which I saw as light in previous works have in the balls become three dimensional and their motion subject to real forces.'

Liliane Lijn provided the Tate with two alternative pairs of small and large balls, one of the latter incorporating a greenish yellow plane and the other clear perspex, and she has no preference as to which set is used.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.441-6, reproduced p.441