The cloud hunter

After discovering a material that can 'make clouds', Dr Ioannis Michaloudis has done everything to bring this heavenly object into man-made spaces

Imagine working with a material that is 99.9 per cent air and 0.1 per cent silica; imagine, as a visual artist, working with a material that is as ethereal as it is intangible; but with it you can create clouds. Imagine.

Dr. Ioannis Michaloudis literally dared to and has done so with his free-dimensional space art, creating clouds in sculptures, bringing the heavens down to Earth. The visual artist – who is loathe to use titles and labels, preferring to be referred to as an interdisciplinarian who likes to tackle subjects that spark his interest, that his soul is stirred towards, rather than focus on one thing. The Greek-born is a modern day renaissance man bringing back the times of Da Vinci, and melding the worlds of art and science.

Born in 1965 in Anavra-Karditsas and raised in Athens, Greece, Dr Michaloudis graduated in 1989 from the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design (TEI Athens), and continued his studies in France and the United States. In 1992 he gained his masters degree in Visual Arts from the Sorbonne University. He completed his doctoral thesis in 1998 at the same university, on the theme ‘Androgynous’ garment: (Re)covering an elastic parenthesis in the field of Art’.

It was during his postdoctoral Art & Science research in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001 that he met aerogel, a nanomaterial used by NASA to collect stardust; that he processes and transfers – becoming the first artist ever to introduce this material to the visual arts.

“It looks like solid sky, you can not imagine it,” he tells Neos Kosmos. “It’s amazing material!”

When he first came across the material the research project (Nephele)3 (Nephele to the third power) began.

“In Greek nephele means ‘cloud’, and the objective of this project was to realise what seems unrealistic and crazy: a cubic cloud,” he says.

Michaloudis had received a Fulbright Grant and a Research Scholarship from the Hellenic Government for this research. During the collaboration with scientists and engineers at MIT, the author had the chance to see a small piece of silica aerogel.

In his study paper, Dr Michaloudis says:”I was so surprised by the appearance of something that one is not quite sure is there! To believe your eyes, you need your hand, not only to touch, but also to handle, to move around, to press the material… thus you discover that this “frozen smoke” is so lightweight and fragile. Immediately, I thought of creating immaterial, ethereal sculptures with it. I knew nothing about aerogels and the difficulties of its expensive fabrication, but I was certain that I had something important to do with it. I was looking for a cubic Nephele and I found the sky!”

With an academic background in textiles, fashion design, art and science, Dr Michaloudis is bringing back the ethos of yesteryear.

“I am interested in interdisciplinary,” he says, “I don’t like labels like ‘he’s an artist, he’s a designer’,” he explains. He says he wants to bring back the time of Leonardo Da Vinci – a time when you could be an artist, a painter and a mechanical engineer, a medical man, among so many.

“The universal man had to know everything, but knowledge at this time was very small,” he explains, “now the knowledge is very big that’s why we decided to make specialisations,” he says, showing that it is now hard to have a universal knowledge.

But there is a solution, one that Dr Michaloudis always utilises within his work – collaboration.

“Because people know specifics, we can collaborate and create networks.

“We can not know everything, but we can create a network, a web of collaborations and my collaborations are not only from art and science, they are from architecture, design and this kind of network is what I am interested in. The network in your mind – you are a dot and you can connect with somebody else.”

He says this will be the study of the future, when students can go online and select what they want to do, instead of adhering to a regimented program set out by one discipline.

He uses his example of studying and working in textile, and felt a strong connection between this and text.

“As a Greek, I like etymology – the origins of the word and text and textile are very related,” he says.

“It’s like a woven fabric; every text we read has verticals and horizontals and because I like literature and linguistics, textiles became easy for me to work with.”

As a visual artist, he is drawn to visual representations of subjects, especially words. He plays with words to recreate them as images.

“For example the word mother, by putting ‘m’ in parenthesis we have [m]other; we have created two words.”

And where does science connect to textiles, art and design?

“Imagine our planet,” he starts, “it has many layers of Earth and the last layer is the sky surrounding the Earth.

“What is this?” he asks rhetorically, “this is a garment surrounding the sky, so this kind of garment is what I am working on.

“We destroy this garment because we have holes in this garment and what I make with my works, the meaning behind my works, is to take care of this garment, this last layer of our Earth, this protective garment of our Earth. The veil that covers the planet is being destroyed.”

He says the environmental message, the “save our sky” cry is more powerful coming from an artist by using visuals than an environmental scientist, as “the general public respond much better to images than research and data”.

On Cloud Seven, a solo exhibition by international artist and Curtin University School of Design lecturer Dr Ioannis Michaloudis, will be hosted at the Perth Town Hall between 6 and 14 June 2014.

The exhibition, presented by the Embassy of Greece in cooperation with the Greek Consulate in Perth and curated by Mrs. Eva T. Dafaranos, showcases Dr Michaloudis’ pioneering work using the space technology nanomaterial silica aerogel, the lightest solid known to man.