Artist and Scientist Collaboration Reveals Chemical Reactions at the Micro Level

Since the early alchemists, humans have been fascinated by the behaviour of elements. And it is only with recent technological developments that it has been possible to view and distribute the appearance of the reactions of those elements up close and personal. This was Budapest-based artist Andrea Kozma’s realisation when she began working on her video experiments Reaction Paintings.

Having the mind of a painter, Andrea knew what she was looking for in her reactions when she began creating them with a helping hand from chemistry expert Magdolna Békési-Gardánfalvi. The reactions involved various chemicals, alcohols and metals, which, when combined produce an exciting range of different colours, shapes, textures and compositions.

The atmosphere of the two-part video series is underpinned by the work of musical artist Lohuma whose infective rhythms add dynamism and vitality to the chemical reactions.


We pulled up a lab stool alongside Andrea to find out more about her Reaction Paintings.

THE PLUS: What was the concept behind these videos? Or are they experimental?
Andrea Kozma:
I started to research for the making of a feature film, in which they would have used my experiments as visual effects. This whole thing wasn’t new for me. I have already made similar experiments; I created colourful liquids for macro shootings – they were used for commercials and music videos.


TP: You’re also a painter. How does your painting influence your approach to these creations?
Even if I work with other means of media I have a painter’s attitude. As I started experimenting I realised I’m able to mix colours, create shapes, textures and compositions as if I were painting on canvas. Even if the whole “painting” was smaller than an inch and visible only under a microscope.


TP: How did you become interested in chemistry?
I have always been inspired by looking at chemistry from a different point of view. At school I found it boring, hence we didn’t do experiments but only had to learn formulas. In my job, I use loads of different materials, so I had to use a bit of chemistry. I cannot imagine painting with oil only, I have always been experimenting with various materials. Besides my own artistic projects, I work for the film industry as a prop maker and as a special effects make-up artist; both require a certain knowledge about different kinds of chemicals and materials.


TP: How did you discover you could create this type of work?
My very first experiments were accidents: while working, I spilt two cups, containing paints with different bases. When the two liquids met on the table I could witness pretty exciting things happening on their surfaces. After this I was researching further experiments for the project. For Reaction Paintings, I did the experiments with the helping hand of a chemist. Thanks for her I was able to control the reactions, more or less. We managed to find the solution for colouring different materials and speed up or slow down certain processes.


TP: What was it like working at such a micro level?
No matter if the scale changes, well known shapes and forms appear. For example, if we have a look at metal displacement experiments, visually they recall the look of mosses and ferns. When scanning crystallisation with a microscope it is like looking at a landscape from high above.


TP: Why did you choose music by Lohuma for these videos?
The recordings of these videos were finished long before deciding what kind of music to use. I was searching for quite a long time. The funny thing was that all kind of music – from classical to techno – worked with the visuals. So instead of searching for styles I started looking for sounds matching the processes seen on the screen. I’ve been friends for quite a long time with Mark Bartha, the creator of the album Lohuma, hence we’re the part of the same creative community. We worked together on several project before. When listening to his album, I realised that the music I was searching for was there, right in front of me all the time.


TP: Would you recommend other painters embrace other media, such as video?
Of course, why not. Though, I graduated as a painter, I was always interested in other media too such as sculpting or video art. All other means of art I have ever worked with had an effect on my paintings and vice versa, widened my perspectives and helped me to look at my art from a different point of view. 


TP: What can we expect next – will you keep creating Reaction Paintings?
If I could find supporters for the project I’d be able to create such videos on a much higher level of proficiency. I would gladly make new videos of biology and physics experiments. Otherwise, I’ve been continuing this series with some black and white paintings evoking the motifs of the videos using Japanese suminagashi painting technique. These paintings are soon to be seen on my website.