Blingcrete – Concrete. Light. Action!

The BlingCrete pro­ject be­gan as a se­ries of artis­tic ex­per­i­ments with light-re­flect­ing ma­te­rials and the pheno­menon of retrore­flec­tion. It is thus an exchange ini­ti­at­ed from the artist’s po­si­tion, in which ways of know­ing and work­ing that are spe­cif­ic to the sci­ences are har­nessed in or­der to po­si­tion and de­ploy them in artis­tic con­texts – and vice ver­sa. At the thresh­old be­tween vis­i­bil­i­ty and in­vis­i­bil­i­ty, BlingCrete re­veals the con­tra­dic­tions of ma­te­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The re­search pro­ject picks up that thread, us­ing such ob­ser­va­tions to gen­er­ate fur­ther lines of in­quiry and re­con­ceive boun­daries. BlingCrete rep­re­sents a new genre of ma­te­rials with its own log­ic of ef­fect that can­not be de­scribed sim­p­ly in terms of the usu­al cat­e­gories of heavy and light or form, con­struc­tion and sur­face. The ma­te­rial, al­so known as lightre­flect­ing con­crete, com­bines the pos­i­tive char­ac­teris­tics of con­crete (fire safe­ty, so­lid­i­ty, build­ing meth­ods) with those of retrore­flec­tion. Retrore­flect­ing sur­faces send in­com­ing rays of light (sun­light or ar­ti­fi­cial light) back pre­cise­ly in the di­rec­tion of the source. This op­ti­cal pheno­menon is pro­duced by embed­d­ing glass mi­cro­spheres in the sub­s­trate ma­te­rial. Cru­cial for the re­flec­tive pow­er are the round­ness, clar­i­ty and re­frac­tive in­dex of the beads, as well as the bond be­tween the glass mi­cro­spheres and the sub­s­trate. The dia­logue with light, last­ing­ly in­te­grat­ed by the com­bi­na­tion of ma­te­rials, cre­ates the spe­cial, de­ma­te­rialised aes­thet­ic. BlingCrete cre­ates im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ments by lowtech ana­logue modes.

BlingCrete of­fers high de­sign po­ten­tial, that de­rives from the pro­duc­tion pro­cess. Ba­si­cal­ly, the build­ing pro­cess and use are com­para­ble to known pro­ce­du­ral man­n­ers of pre­fab­ri­cat­ed el­e­ments. Part of BlingCrete are nov­el High Per­for­mance and Ul­tra High Per­for­mance Con­cretes that are used. With th­ese the ad­h­e­sive com­po­si­tion of the glass beads and their po­si­tion in the ma­trix can be con­trolled pre­cise­ly. They could be po­si­tioned in any grid or pat­tern or in a ran­dom dis­tri­bu­tion on the sur­face, the colour of the ma­trix could be pro­duced in a greys­cale va­ri­e­ty from white to an­thracite (i.e. black), and colours like yel­low, red, green, etc. The sizes of the beads range from 0.7mm to 7mm, with 4 mm as a stan­dard size. Com­bi­na­tions of sizes are pos­si­ble. The pa­ram­e­ters for the ma­trix and ball re­sult­ing from the main com­po­nents en­able the ap­pear­ance and prop­er­ties of the sur­face to be ma­nip­u­lat­ed.

There is not one BlingCrete, but sev­er­al. The prop­er­ties of BlingCrete open up vari­ous de­sign pos­si­bil­i­ties in ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­ri­or de­sign and in tran­s­port safe­ty ar­eas. Po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tions are, for ex­am­ple, safe­tyre­lat­ed mark­ing of dan­ger spots in con­struc­tion (stairs, pave­ments, plat­form edges, tun­nels), as well as the de­sign of in­te­grat­ed gui­dance sys­tems and nov­el sur­face com­po­nents (façade, floor, ceil­ing).

BlingCrete is fa­cili­at­ing new and un­ex­pect­ed ways of per­cep­tion. In prin­ci­ple it is an un­ob­tru­sive ma­te­rial that is eye-catch­ing or even flam­boy­ant when re­quired. The in­for­ma­tion is la­tent­ly stored in the sur­face with­out dom­i­nat­ing the ar­chi­tec­ture, its vis­i­bil­i­ty is pro­grammed by users walk­ing paths and the po­si­tion of the light and is ful­ly vis­i­ble at spe­cif­ic points. It is the con­cept of a ma­te­rial ad­mitt­ing the cre­a­tion of sub­tle sur­faces that ma­n­age to me­di­ate be­tween ma­te­rial and light and thus in­di­rect­ly re­fer to the re­la­tion­ship be­tween mass and sur­face.

The ac­ti­va­tion of the BlingCrete sur­face is contin­gent on the po­si­tions of sur­face, light source and view­er. At a cer­tain mo­ment, the re­flec­tive ef­fect be­comes per­cepti­ble, estab­lish­ing a re­la­tion­ship be­tween mo­tion and a (ma­te­rial) prop­er­ty ex­pe­ri­enced as a state. Nei­ther ma­te­rial fac­tors nor the ob­jects of the sub­ject’s per­cep­tion and ac­tion are suf­fi­cient by them­selves to con­vey this prop­er­ty. The phys­i­cal pheno­menon of retrore­flec­tion trans­mitt­ed by the ma­te­rial en­ables a flex­i­ble slice through a sin­gle, mutable whole. The con­crete (the sur­face) changes from a pas­sive to an ac­tive state. It makes no dif­fer­ence whether sun­light or a care­ful­ly po­si­tioned ar­ti­fi­cial light source is in­volved, or mul­ti­ple light sources of dif­fer­ent colours, di­rect­ed at the sur­face from dif­fer­ent po­si­tions. BlingCrete al­lows to trans­form any or­d­i­nary space in­to a high­ly im­mer­sive or in­ter­ac­tive en­vi­ron­ment by lowtech ana­logue modes. De­spite their flat­ness, the two-di­men­sio­n­al sur­faces made of this ma­te­rial are cre­at­ing a three-di­men­sio­n­al il­lu­sion. The vis­i­tor’s van­tage point, that is nor­mal­ly per­ceived as the in­te­ri­or fac­ing the ex­te­ri­or or vice-ver­sa, is called in­to ques­tion due to this dou­bling. BlingCrete in­vesti­gates the pos­si­bil­i­ties of en­liven­ing ma­te­rials by tak­ing the sur­faces as a start­ing point both con­cep­tu­al­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly. It is a change of fo­cus from the ap­pear­ance of a ma­te­rial to the per­for­mance of sur­faces.

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