THE EVENT: Petrified Lightning from Central Florida (with supplemental didactics)
is the latest in a series of projects in which McCollum explores the
ways in which treasured objects are created "in nature"
and "in culture," and how their meanings are constructed
within the community that gives them value. He specifically explores
the creation of objects by lightning as a way taking apart our common
fantasies of "instant" production of objects (as described
in myth and also industrial production), the popular metaphors we
commonly use to describe the processes of "creativity,"
(as with our fantasies of receiving "illumination" from
above, being "struck" with an idea like a "bolt from
the blue," etc.), and he hopes to "reverse-engineer"
these kinds of metaphors into an exploration of the way we all like
to imagine human agency interacting with natural processes in general.
To produce the Petrified Lightning project, Allan McCollum collaborated
with both a geologist and an electrical engineer from the University
of Florida's International Lightning Research Facility at Camp Blanding,
near the small town of Starke, Florida. With the help of the team
at the center, McCollum spent the summer of 1997 triggering
lightning strikes by launching small rockets
with hair-thin copper wires trailing behind them directly into storm
clouds as they passed overhead. The triggered lightning bolts were
directed down the wires into various containers prepared by the artist
that were filled with Central Florida minerals donated by a local
sand mining operation. The bolts instantly liquefy a column of sand
with temperatures up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which immediately
re-congeals into a column of naturally created glass that exactly
duplicates the path of the lightning bolt. These are then dug out
by the artist in manner similar to the way
a paleontologist might remove a fragile fossil from its matrix. These
rootlike glass structures are called fulgurites,
or sometimes, petrified lightning.
Paleontologist Russell McCarty prepared a selected fulgurite and made the mold from
which 10,000 duplicates are being produced using a mixture of epoxy
and the same mineral, zircon, from which the original was created.
For this phase of the project McCollum collaborated with Sand Creations,
a local souvenir factory in Sanford, Florida, where sand is regularly
used to create souvenirs for tourists who visit local beaches.
As another element of the installation the artist is producing a series
of 10,000 small
booklets on sixty-six subjects related to fulgurites and
lightning. A display of the booklets will be presented alongside the
fulgurite replicas in the Petrified Lightning exhibit at USF
CAM in connection with an exhibit on lightning and fulgurites the
artist has helped to create at MOSI,
the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. The booklets will
also be distributed to students at the local schools in Hillsborough
In producing the fulgurites McCollum collaborated with Dr. Martin Uman,
well-known expert on lightning, author, and chair of the Electrical
and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Florida;
Dan Cordier, geologist; Russel McCarty, paleontological preparator
at the Florida Museum of Natural History; I.E. Dupont Mining, and Sand
Creations Manufacturing. The project is being coordinated by Jade
Dellinger, independent curator, Margaret Miller, director of the University
of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, and Wit Ostrenko, Executive
Director of the Museum of Science and Industry of Tampa and Hillsborough
This Art and Science Project has been partially funded by Hillsborough
County; Rooms To Go; Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural
Affairs; The Arts Council of Hillsborough County; WUSF Television;
I.E. DuPont; and The Tampa Tribune.
In November, 2000, the project was displayed again at the
Friedrich Petzel Gallery, in New York City, New York.
In March through June, 2011, the project was displayed again at the
Miami Art Museum, in Miami, Florida.
INTRODUCTION to the project, with a quote from the artist.
on the project, lightning, and fulgurites (In PDF format); edited by the artist
Man-Made Fulgurites by Allan McCollum, by HELEN MOLESWORTH
Coups de foudre:
les fulgurites d'Allan McCollum [In French], by MICHEL MENU
Interview with Allan McCollum, by JADE DELLINGER
Lightning Makes Glass, by VLADIMIR A. RAKOV, PhD
Learning About Lightning, by AARON HOOVER
Review, by FRANCES RICHARD
Review, by DENA SHOTTENKIRK
Review, by MARK DANIEL COHEN
Review, by AMY JEAN PORTER
Review, by CAREY LOVELACE
Review, by ADRIENNE M. GOLUB
Of related interest:
All about lightning: an interview with Martin Uman,
by BRIAN CONLEY and SINA NAJAFI
in CABINET Magazine