The Enigmatic Face of Time - Wacker Chemie AG

The Enigmatic Face of Time

The light effects associated with the LED objects created by Paris-based sculptor and industrial designer Alainpers entice the viewer into a world where time can be experienced. Silicone plays a hidden but indispensable role in his work.

The half dozen clocks in Alain Persouyre’s small studio are strangely silent: no familiar ticktock can be heard. Visitors don’t immediately recognize the timepieces for what they are, as the clocks have no hands. Instead, points of light appear on the walls; sometimes they flash. Glass rings suspended from the ceiling gradually fill with blue lights. A ray of light suddenly flashes across one of four quadratic, monochrome images hanging on the wall. It disappears as rapidly and as abruptly as it appeared.

“That was one second. The images are part of a series. Together they create a clock on the wall,” says the 56-year-old artist, whose artistic name is Alainpers, smiling as he looks around his office. “This here is my own little universe. Time has always fascinated me. My goal is to show time in a new and unfamiliar way.”

Alain Persouyre in his studio: the 56-year-old light artist is actually an electrical engineer by training. It was his work in industrial design that introduced him to art.

And indeed, his clocks resemble sculptures, architectural installations or contemporary works of art. His very first major project broke with all conventional notions of clocks: Alainpers joined three glass spheres, mounted one above the other, and placed them in the center of a rotating stainless steel ring. Droplets of water dyed blue drip from the upper receptacle through to the lowest one – much like an ancient Greek water clock or clepsydra. When an hour has elapsed, the glass spheres automatically turn and the passage of time is measured anew. The whole structure is synchronized with an LED display worked into the built-in mount where the full hour is displayed. Over three meters tall, this time display graces the entrance of a high school in Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb south west of Paris.

Using the Sun to Tell the Time

For over 20 years, Alain Persouyre has been using two of WACKER’s liquid industrial adhesives: ELASTOSIL® E43 and E41. Both grades are one-component silicone adhesives that cure at room temperature and are therefore easy to use.

Another work by this French artist is a clock called “Noon Somewhere” which can be viewed in the lobby of a Brazilian airline. Instead of showing local time, a bright red light appears on a four-meter-high map of the world made of sand-blasted glass, indicating locations across the globe where the sun is currently at its zenith.

A red light is also the protagonist in his time-play sculpture “12 Directions of Time.” It moves along twelve transparent resin poles which are suspended in the air on two steel wires spanning eleven meters. The resin rods contain diodes which display the minutes. The red light travels along one rod and then leaps up one level to the next rod. As the day progresses, it flashes at different places at various heights on this installation, which is mounted in the entrance hall of the Alcatel telecommunications offices in Paris.

“My goal is to show time in a new and unfamiliar way.”

Alainpers Light artist
The Blue Ring clock: luminous symbols indicate the hours, minutes and seconds.

Alainpers’ light effects are created exclusively with LEDs. “Ever since I visited an exhibition on the reaction kinetics of light when I was 17, I wanted to make objects come alive with light. LEDs are ideal for this purpose because they produce high-quality light, they’re easy to install and have a long service life. A diode only lights up once a day in some of my clocks. Theoretically, the clock could work endlessly.” The LEDs are embedded in steel, metal, glass, crystal, synthetic resins and sometimes also in PVC. They are fixed into place with silicone. Alainpers doesn’t use nuts and bolts; he relies on adhesives. “I use silicone everywhere. It’s perfect for bonding glass, metal and the LEDs.” The two liquid industrial adhesives ELASTOSIL® E43 and E41 have served him well over the past 20 years or so. Both grades are one-component silicone adhesives that cure at room temperature and are therefore easy to use.

No Distractions Please

Alainpers points to a clock made of 60 glass panes. A glass bead equipped with a diode has been glued onto each one. “Can you see anything?” he asks, only to answer the question himself: “No. The bond is completely transparent. That’s important to me. That way nothing detracts from the light effect.”

It takes about twelve hours for the adhesive to dry completely. But then it works forever. “Like the LEDs!” The mechanical resistance and the elasticity of the silicones do an excellent job. “The bonding also withstands sudden jolts well – should something fall down.” The structural properties of the adhesive, which automatically forms a compact round shape, practically eliminate the human error factor. “I use regular disposable syringes from the drugstore to apply the adhesive. If my work isn’t accurate, the consequences are minimized because the silicone is able to form the right shape by itself. The result almost always meets expectations and looks good,” says Alainpers, proving his point by picking up an abandoned syringe and pressing a drop of silicone onto a sheet of paper. Initially an unshapely blob, the droplet takes on a homogeneous round form a few minutes later.

“Silicone has the ability to form a round shape all by itself. That is one reason why the result is persuasive.”

Alainpers Light artist
“60 Opalescent Minutes” with 12 glass disks at its center. These disks are successively illuminated to show time. Around them, the seconds and minutes are gradually filled with blue light.

The table the syringe lay on is a work in progress: several batteries, cables, a soldering iron, random sheets of paper, rulers and adhesive tapes clutter the surface. Even though Alainpers’ most famous works are gigantic, the artist doesn’t need more than a small, modest studio for his designs. His office and studio are located in the drab 13th arrondissement of Paris, an eclectic architectural mix comprising modern high-rises, elegant, Haussmann-era apartment blocks and old low-rise buildings. On the ground floor of his studio, there are a few desks and a cast-iron spiral staircase leading to the basement whose ancient arches house countless shelves full of screws and tools. Generators and drills of various sizes are attached to the workbench over which cable trays are draped. There isn’t much room to move. But this doesn’t seem to bother him: “I mostly work alone. Most of the objects are set up elsewhere in collaboration with other companies.”

From Atomic Clocks to Sundials

It takes about twelve hours for the adhesive to dry completely. But then it lasts forever.

His studio functions mainly as a place for developing ideas and reflecting on time. “The subject is multi-faceted and has an inherent vitality. Time is ever changing and has a fascinating history – beginning with sundials right up to modern atomic clocks.” At the moment he is working on a clock that reflects the position of the moon in relation to the sun. “It’s about where the moon is visible at a given time. I’m interested in the position of the earth, the sun and the moon in relation to one another – in terms of latitude and longitude.” It is evident that Alainpers has internalized time, his subject, and approaches it from a scientific perspective.

He has acquired the requisite knowledge over the years. Alainpers is actually an electrical engineer by profession. After completing his studies, he worked in aviation, which was followed by a career as an industrial designer. “This job change was a catalyst in my life. In the industrial sector, you work with narrow and rigid constraints. Design is freer.” But he still felt that the performance specifications in this sector placed too many restrictions on him. Originally from central France, the engineer then enrolled at an art school and started his own business once he had qualified. “I have enjoyed creating objects ever since I was a child. Now the only boundaries are those set by technology and myself.

Considerable Leeway from Clients

WACKER’s silicone adhesive forms a completely transparent bond so that nothing detracts from the light effect.

From the beginning, his clients generally gave him a great deal of freedom. Many projects came to fruition, but many did not. “The 1980s were better when it came to installing large-scale works.” Now he works more on smaller sculptures for individuals, like the “Blue Ice Clock” LED clock made from a rough wheel of crystal. With its shimmering blue hues and white LEDs, this beautifully shaped object is representative of Alainpers’ design goals: “My work hinges on three points: the beauty of the object, the unlimited freedom in creating the form and the vitality of the time I wish to bring to life.”

On the opposite wall, a ray of light illuminates the passage of a second in time traveling across the monochrome wall images. When, and in which of the four images the next ray will appear, is a mystery, even to the inventor himself. “In this piece, I have set the timer for the seconds at random,” explains the designer, laughing. Sometimes even time itself escapes from its stringent parameters and enjoys the freedom Alain Persouyre has sought for so long.