Bloomin trippy

• Artist Natalie Blom

IN a sort of modern day alchemy, local artist Natalie Blom dunks her photos in potions containing mie goreng, brick dust and perfume to create unpredictable and slightly psychedelic art.

Known as “film soak”, it involves submerging a roll of negative film in different liquids to achieve strange colour shifts and distortions.

The end result is psychedelic and grainy, and the photos in her exhibition Everyday Alchemy have the look of experimental 1960s films like Blow-Up and Easy Rider.

“The thing I enjoy the most about film soaking is severe colour shifts so I do try to get a strong result which often does feel very psychedelic,” Blom says.

“I enjoy the effects because they speak to the very chemical process which is inherent to the photographic medium.

“Now that I have been using this technique for a while, I can give a summation of what I think the results will be like, but there are always surprises.

“[Early on] I managed to have an entire roll of film have the emulsion slide right off by using too much hair developer!”

Sometimes Blom will submerge the film in materials related to the subject matter – she recently used brick dust from the Belmont kiln towers she photographed and plant materials for an exhibition on WA flora.

“Things which are very acidic or very alkaline work well, but you have to be careful in how long they are left in there as they can corrode the film canister or eat the emulsion off the film entirely,” she says.

“I use vinegar and perfume regularly, plus cleaning products or hand soap. 

“By photographing local flora on film and then soaking those rolls with plant materials, the natural environment and the plants themselves were providing interventions into the artwork.”

Like many other recent exhibitions, Blom’s art was borne out of boredom during the early days of the pandemic.

“I was riding my bike a lot for exercise and to clear my head along the Tonkin Highway bike path, which is a bit boring,” she says.

“It was these mundane views of power lines and street lights that got me experimenting with soaking to bring a level of chance, risk and interest into these images. Because the images were of things I could easily rephotograph, I was more willing to take more risks with the mixes I was making for soaking.”

Accompanying the photos in the exhibition is a trippy stop-animation movie made from a soaked roll of film, and a mysterious and slightly sinister sculpture.

“The sculpture or installation uses a piece of furniture which looks a little like an altar,” Blom says. 

“Traditional alchemy was a bit mystic and I wanted to tie that theme into the exhibition more formally.

“Included in the items presented on the alchemical altar are items which I have used in the soaking process, such as the corroded jars I use to soak in.”

And as for that roll of film dunked in mie goreng?

“No images were visible any longer, but the effects on the film surface themselves was interesting…”

Everyday Alchemy opens tonight (Saturday June 11) at the NextDoor 24/7 art venue, 391 Canning Highway in Palmyra, and is on until July 10.

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