Friday, 25 May 2012

Elephant No. 236: Coulage

When I first read about this Surrealist technique, I thought it was something you could only do with molten metal, so it wasn't an activity I was necessarily rushing to try. Then I read the description more carefully, and realized it was something I could do with molten wax or chocolate. Either one works for me, but today I thought I'd try using birthday candles.

Coulage involves simply pouring a molten material into cold water. As it hits the water, it will either solidify and take shape immediately, or will take on a random form as it cools. The final shape is often a result of the specific physical properties of the molten material. Metal, for example, often spreads into spikes before solidifying. Chocolate frequently forms threads attached to large blobs. I'm guessing that candle wax will likely form discs, which I'll then have to layer and overlap.

Because the behaviour of the material itself is random and doesn't allow for precise handling, manipulation of the material is allowed in this technique. At first I thought, lucky me, then I discovered that it solidifies too quickly to manipulate anyway.

Interestingly, pouring wax into cold water is also used in a divination process called ceromancy. For this particular ritual, a brass bowl is used. Wax is poured from a candle into a bowl, and the resulting shapes are interpreted.

For today's elephant, I took a glass bowl filled with ice water. For candles, I used a package of birthday candles in pastel colours. I thought briefly about using crayons instead, but I thought the candle wax might flow a bit more freely, adding a greater element of randomness.

I started with a few tentative drips. The wax did one of two things. It either held together and congealed in a spherical blob, or spread out immediately, creating a fragile, translucent area with rough edges. It also floats quite nicely, which was reassuring.

I added a few more blobs with the green candle, adjusting the angle to drop different amounts of wax. For smaller, more precise dots, I made sure the wick was short, and I held the candle parallel to the water. For larger blobs, I angled the candle at almost 90 degrees. This causes the candle to burn quickly and the wick to lengthen, so keep scissors handy, and make sure not to burn your fingers.

This wasn't proving terribly hard, so I kept layering different colours of candle. The more wax you add, however, the more tendency it has to sink in the middle and buckle. I didn't mind this, but I thought I'd probably have to stop before it sank too far.

This only took me about half an hour, and I rather enjoyed it. The final piece has lovely delicate edges, and is incredibly fragile, so I'm not sure how well it will last. But it's very pretty and I'll definitely try this again sometime. Perhaps next time with chocolate.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants are nothing if not playful. At bathtime on various elephant preserves, they will often deliberately spray mahouts and other helpers, appearing to find it rather funny.

One of the most important parts of Thailand's New Year celebrations each April is a festival during which people spray or toss water at one another. In the country's Ayutthya Province, elephants get into the act as well.

Brandishing small pails, people toss water at a line of elephants. Similarly armed with constantly replenished buckets, the elephants happily blast celebrants with water from their trunks. No one seems to mind, although the human participants are obviously unable to muster the same water pressure.

Elephants during Songkran Festival, Ayutthya, Thailand, April 2011.
Photo: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP

Elephants spraying water at a group of tourists, Ayutthya, Thailand, April 2012.
Photo: AFP

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)

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