Species #24 — Vitralucis pastafarensis ramen
Glass artist Dylan Kehde Roelofs takes pages out of the books of Edison and Tesla to create stunning works of art that would be at home in a HG Wells novel.
The age of the incandescent bulb is ending as the more energy efficient compact fluorescent and LED lamps find their way into homes around the world. In Australia, our government has been working on phasing out incandescent bulbs, and now all but a few types of bulbs are banned from sale.
But there's one thing that incandescent lighting can do that has yet to be replicated by CFL or LED — and that's create an atmosphere of old-world wonder. Case in point: Dylan Kehde Roelofs, a glass artist who has been hand-making lamps and bulbs for around 10 years.
Roelofs began some 22 years ago, learning to make beakers, retorts and test tubes. "I went to a trade program in scientific glassblowing some 22 years ago," he told CNET Australia, "But [I] had a bit too much artistry in my heart to just spend my life making beakers..."
"These works ... herald the creation of the poetics of the filament: the delicate interplay of the incandescent arc with chimerical vacuum envelopes of Modernist and Surrealist paradigms," Roelofs said. "Each is a piece of lighting history, evocative in colour of candles and candelas past, and of a paradigm shift in the quality of light."
First, Roelofs hand-winds doped-tungsten, which is designed not to sag and which he obtained in an 80-kilometre spool from a liquidation sale. Then he constructs the bulbs. These, he said, are made of three different types of glass in order to match the expansion of the tungsten wire. The substance has to be heated to about 400 degrees Celsius, while a high-vacuum manifold and pump work to extract impurities from the glass.
Roelofs told Wired: "The torch flame is thousands of degrees hotter than your stovetop, so even a glancing brush of it will peel your flesh. I am speaking a sign language in which errors of syntax are punishable by death."
With the filaments placed inside, Roelofs then seals the bulb with a torch, and adds limbs and tentacles crafted from Pyrex.
But he doesn't just work with Edison's filament bulbs — much of his work is also inspired by Nikola Tesla, who invented the fluorescent vacuum light. The artist has recreated Tesla's original wireless brush bulbs in a limited edition using techniques lost for nearly a century.
"Much has been written and rumoured over the years concerning Tesla's various lighting systems and their frequencies, distances and voltages. Much has been muddled, confused and mistaken," he said on his blog. "To my knowledge, nobody but myself has ever faithfully recreated the wireless bulbs."
Each of Roelofs' bulbs runs at about 12-15 watts per filament, so the single-filament bulbs fit well within Australia's 25W restriction (at least for the time being). Once they burn out, Roelofs can replace the filament for a nominal fee — although at 25,000 hours, his test bulbs show no sign of slowing.
Roelofs doesn't make as many fluorescent sculptures as he does incandescent, which makes this Vitralucis pastafarensis ramen (more commonly known as a "Flying Spaghetti Monster") particularly delicious. Lit from within by noble gases and plasma, the creature stands at 23 centimetres tall and makes the perfect accompaniment to any true believer's home.