Exploring the gravitational waves / by Ekaterina Smirnova

When 100 years ago Einstein predicted the gravitational waves, he was in a debate with himself. How would you prove something that is not only invisible, but so difficult to detect? Earlier this year (2016) scientists of LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) finally announced to the world one of the major discoveries of the century: the existence of the gravitational waves, which opened a new door into the space exploration. In the meanwhile scientists of ESA (The European Space Agency) for many years (first proposed in 1998) has been already working on a mission called LISA Pathfinder, which is designed to explore the gravitational waves. The 1st spacecraft was launched in Dec. 2015, before LIGO's official announcement. This extraordinary mission inspired me to create a ceramic sculpture. 

I was carrying this idea in my head for a while, trying to figure out the way to pursue the task. I knew that I want to have two gold cubes to be the focus of the sculpture (the essence of the LISA Pathfinder projects is two perfect gold/platinum cubes that are placed in space to free-fall through the fabric of space, without touching the spacecraft). At first I thought I would like to make cubes appear falling (floating in a zero gravity), but the task was not easy to achieve.

 The cubes are ready for bisque firing. This set is close to the LISA Pathfinder's cube sizes.

The cubes are ready for bisque firing. This set is close to the LISA Pathfinder's cube sizes.

I picked ceramics as my medium, because I could hand-build the cubes and any other parts of the sculpture. I decided to make a structure to represent the gravitational waves, on which I planed to rest the cubes, to make it look like they are floating on the gravitational waves. 

 Gold luster appers bright red before it turns gold in a kiln

Gold luster appers bright red before it turns gold in a kiln

There are a few stages of the process: make the "perfect" cubes (easier said than done), and the waves. Fire once; glaze; fire 2nd time; apply gold luster on the cubes; fire them again. 
In reality, I made 8 cubes and 2 wave structures, there were many more then 3 firings too. The gold for the cubes would just not appearing perfect enough, so I had to make 3 gold coats for some of them! Between the multiple firings and using so much of the gold luster it became more pricier then I originally planned. But you can not stop in the middle of the project, you need to go all the way, even if the world doubts the outcome of it (have LISA Pathfinder as an example, a mission ahead of our time, that was very futuristic and yet is becoming a big success!). I was lucky to have Cesar Garcia Marirrodriga - LISA Pathfinder Project Manager - to visit me in art studio, who encouraged my work on the sculpture and explained a lot of details about the mission. 

I am still continuing on working on this sculpture, but it is already scheduled to participate at the 1st show! Stay tuned, more to come.

 Greenware (raw clay, before firing). 

Greenware (raw clay, before firing). 

 The waves were hardly fitting in the largest kiln! Greenware is extremely fragile and I had to shorten it on 2 inches - it is a very hard job, which took me 2 hours to do.

The waves were hardly fitting in the largest kiln! Greenware is extremely fragile and I had to shorten it on 2 inches - it is a very hard job, which took me 2 hours to do.

 Applying glaze for the 2nd firing.

Applying glaze for the 2nd firing.