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Incendiary art: Evelyn Rosenberg’s detonography

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Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 2:30 pm, Fri Oct 18, 2013.

In 1888, Charles Edward Munroe, an American chemist, observed that when a block of explosive guncotton with the manufacturer’s name on it was detonated next to a metal plate, the manufacturer’s name was etched onto the plate by the force of the blast, a phenomenon that became known as the “Munroe effect.” Nearly a century later, Gideon Sivan, an Israeli scientist working on civilian uses for explosives at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, was studying the Munroe effect and its possible application in creating decorative images. The energy of an explosion could force a metal plate around the contours of a raised object on its surface. His search to find an artist to help him explore creative uses for explosives led him to Evelyn Rosenberg, an Albuquerque-based printmaker whose etching plates, Sivan was told, resembled his exploded pieces. “It was one of these things,” Rosenberg told Pasatiempo. “He was like a cousin of a friend of an aunt, that kind of thing. So he got my name and came over one night and asked me if I wanted to go down to Socorro and blow something up. Of course, I said yes. You can’t resist something like that.” Rosenberg deemed the art-making technique she developed with Sivan “detonography.” Nearly 30 years later, the technique is still Rosenberg’s primary means of creating art, and a new book by the artist, Detonography: The Explosive Art of Evelyn Rosenberg, is available from the University of New Mexico Press.

As part of her process, documented in the book in photographs by John Trotter, Rosenberg makes plaster molds of objects and covers them with a metal plate coated with C-1 plastic explosive. The shapes of the molds are imprinted into the metal plate after detonation. “My original thought was maybe this would be a way to make very big etching plates,” Rosenberg said. “I had these huge vats of acid in my backyard. I thought this was maybe a less dangerous way to make the etching plates. But when I saw that the potential was not for making etching plates but for making the actual pieces themselves, I skewed in that direction.”

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