Artist Allan McCollum has been included in the Mercosul Visual Arts Biennial in Brazil for a project that was first shown here at the USFCAM. The project, Petrified Lightning from Central Florida (1997-1998), was commissioned as part of the Hillsborough County’s Public Art Program and opened at USFCAM in Fall of 1998. Our exhibition was accompanied by a simultaneous exhibit and presentation on the project at the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).
How to Turn Lightning Into Art in a Central Florida Summer
While the official title may be disputed, some still consider Tampa the lightning capital of the world. But how can an artist capture the essence of lightning?
“It’s hard to imagine how memory and meaning could exist without language — both are always only available through some sort of representation. I imagine that objects having meaning — artworks, keepsakes, people, stones — could not exist for us without their “literature.” How could a bolt of lightning, lasting only for the tiniest fraction of a second, be understood otherwise? Events this brief will always evade our synapses — and their existence will always only exist after the fact, amongst one’s representations. Perhaps a true picture of how an artwork has meaning could be constructed if the literature supporting the artwork was put on display at the same time, along with it. The Petrified Lightning project was created to explore this idea — an exhibition to enact the “event” as always already absent, with the residue and the meaning always already appearing in its place.” — Allan McCollum
Here’s an excerpt from McCollum’s website about how he was able to harness the creative power of lightning. Warning, do not try this at home!
“…To produce the Petrified Lightning project, Allan McCollum collaborated with both a geologist and an electrical engineer from the University of Florida’s International Lightning Research Facility at Camp Blanding, near the small town of Starke, Florida. With the help of the team at the center, McCollum spent the summer of 1997 triggering lightning strikes by launching small rockets with hair-thin copper wires trailing behind them directly into storm clouds as they passed overhead. The triggered lightning bolts were directed down the wires into various containers prepared by the artist that were filled with Central Florida minerals donated by a local sand mining operation. The bolts instantly liquefy a column of sand with temperatures up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which immediately re-congeals into a column of naturally created glass that exactly duplicates the path of the lightning bolt. These are then dug out by the artist in manner similar to the way a paleontologist might remove a fragile fossil from its matrix. These rootlike glass structures are called fulgurites, or sometimes, petrified lightning….”
Learn more, and see photos from the project Petrified Lightning from Central Florida.
Petrified Lightning from Central Florida (1997-1998) will be on view in Brazil from September 13 to November 10, 2013. We are very proud to have contributed to this partnership between cultural institutions in Tampa and other art venues around the world.