What is carbon fibre?
Carbon fibre consists of carbon atoms bonded together in a chain to create filaments. These strands of carbon can be manipulated into a variety of formats including woven fabric. Impregnated with epoxy resin, carbon fibre sheets can be used in layers or ‘plys’ and cured at high heat and under intense pressure to create a composite material that is both high-performance and adaptable.
What is a composite material?
Humans have been creating composite materials for thousands of years. From the Ancient Egyptians’ use of linen or papyrus soaked in plaster to create death masks to the widespread practice of wattle and daub in building construction, a composite material improves the individual properties of the base materials through combining them, creating greater impact and effectiveness.
How is carbon fibre used?
Carbon fibre is commonly used in aeronautical, astronautical and automotive engineering and for the manufacture of sports and leisure equipment. It is highly suited for applications where lightness and strength are needed. It was first introduced to Formula One by the McLaren team and had its race debut in the 1981 Argentine Grand Prix. Modern Grand Prix cars are typically composed of 85% carbon fibre.
How can carbon fibre be used as an artistic medium?
The use of carbon fibre in art offers many opportunities. It probes the boundary between form and function, investigating advances in technological development in an evocation of the Bauhaus movement. Its aesthetic possibilities are also diverse. In solid form horizontally laminated sheets cured in a stack produce a wave like effect in contrast to the more familiar woven texture.
What makes carbon fibre a compelling material for an artist?
The diversity and adaptability of carbon fibre enables a variety of visual results. The material’s construction – unidirectional, plain, twill or herringbone weave or laminated to form solid blocks – its ability to be moulded into multiple shapes and dimensions, the choice to add different finishes – clear coat, laquer or tint – allow for multiple creative approaches making use of its chameleon quality.
What are the opportunities and challenges of working with carbon fibre?
The strength of carbon fibre can be employed to make pieces that are fine in appearance but with hidden rigidity – something not easily achieved with other artistic media. It can also interact with other materials to produce hybrid structures. Reliable refrigeration is essential (to ensure resin impregnated sheets don’t cure and become unworkable) as are sophisticated autoclave facilities alongside a diligent and meticulous attitude to all stages of the creative process – from preparing moulds and laying up to vacuum sealing ready for the autoclave. This need for consistent application of skill offers huge rewards in terms of output.
What are the environmental aspects of carbon fibre art?
While carbon fibre is not currently biodegradable the upside is its durability. In contrast to ‘throwaway culture’, it can be used to creates art that isn’t simply disposable and that stands the test of time, saving on material waste. Recycled carbon fibre is now becoming more common and companies are increasingly investing research into this area.