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Explosive Artist Wins Space Agency Residency

Using everything from black powder to explosive fuses, artist Aoife van Linden Tol explores time, density and matter.
Artwork by Aoife van Linden Tol. Images via ESA, courtesy of Aoife van Linden Tol

Explosives materials are creative mediums in the hands of London-based artist Aoife van Linden Tol. In doing so, she has tried to fuse the powers of the natural world, the universe, and human-made objects, with explosives. Using this “explosive media,” van Linden Tol explores her fascination with fields like nature, cosmology, chemistry and physics, resulting in “devastatingly ravaged and torn pieces.”


Recently, van Linden Tol became the first artist in the European Space Agency’s arts and science residency, organized in partnership with Ars Electronica. The residency will give van Linden Tol more time to explore time, density and matter with her particular materials. For the ESA residency, van Linden Tol proposed Star Storm, a performance spectacle inspired by “the physical processes that characterise the life of stars.”

In the first phase of the residency, van Linden Tol will head to the ESA facility in Noordwijk, Holland, where she will spend time with space scientists researching, “the composition, life cycle, magnetic behavior, and light production of stars, including our Sun.” In the second phase, she will work on designing the performance with Ars Electronica’s Futurelab team in Linz, Austria.

A look at van Linden Tol’s work reveals all manner of explosives-driven art, which suggests something interesting afoot with Star Storm. In Scorched, she routed a long trail of explosive fuse through 26 blocks of ice. The fuse flickered in the darkness, gradually working its way through the ice and creating what van Linden Tol calls, “one fluid drawing.”

Aoife van Linden Tol

In Monolith, van Linden Tol created an explosion in which black powder left two monolith-shaped expressions on the surface of pages from The Bible. And with the works collectively titled Meta, van Linden Tol—influenced by minimalist Chinese calligraphy aesthetic—unleashed powerful explosions on copper and aluminum using a variety of techniques. It was this unique variety that appealed to ESA and Ars Electronica.


“What impressed the jury the most was Aoife’s individual approach in asking and exploring fundamental questions about our Universe,” says Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director at Ars Electronica.

“We were greatly impressed by Aoife's exciting and poetic project that will tackle concepts of stellar birth and death in the Universe, blending art and space science into a unique performance,” adds Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s Senior Science Advisor.

Just how van Linden Tol will pull off, explosively speaking, the birth and death of a star, is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably safe to assume that nuclear material will not be involved.

Click here to see more work by Aoife van Linden Tol.


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