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SB6 Archive (2012): The Ink Factory

19 August 2017

Words by France Fiction

An educational area proposed by France Fiction

‘If then, I say, thou seest not this head of the Crow, the black of the blackest black, thou must begin again.’

Le livre des figures hiéroglyphiques (The Book of Hieroglyphic Figures, 1612), attributed to Nicolas Flamel.

The production of ink is a metaphorical and poetic response to the proposal to set up an ‘educational area’ in an imaginary, temporary museum. France Fiction has decided not to produce information as content but rather as substance (ink), which potentially contains all the information and knowledge that can be expressed through language. In a closed, empty white space, five people dressed in white carefully handle the materials and implements (crucibles, test tubes, phials, crystals, powders, and so on) required for making ink. However slow and cautious their actions may be, accidental splashes and stains are inevitable, thus creating a constant tension between a situation of spotless cleanliness and a state of contagious dirt. The ink they produce is packed in cartridges that are then handed out to the public during guided tours to the factory.


Lampblack – gum arabic – copper sulphate (blue vitriol) – white wine

A. How to make lampblack:

Incomplete combustion of various materials, namely, wood, coal, resins, oil, grease, gas, etc. This incomplete combustion used to be achieved by pressing the flame against a cold wall. Nowadays, combustion black is made from the perfectly controlled incomplete combustion of the aromatic elements of petroleum, using a suitable burner. The particles of carbon are collected in successive chambers.

B. How to make ink:

1 – Isolate the lampblack. The lightness of this pigment means it tends to disperse easily. It thus needs to be handled carefully in a draught-free room.

2 – Slowly pour the gum arabic over the pigment, carefully mixing the two ingredients all the while with a knife.

3 – While doing this, weigh the copper sulphate. These blue crystals are produced by the action of sulphuric acid on copper oxide. They augment the depth of the black and protect the ink from mould.

4 – Mix the copper sulphate crystals into the pigment and gum arabic. Crush the grains and mix everything well with a knife or a pestle until it becomes a completely uniform paste.

5 – Add the white wine as a binding agent, mix again and transfer the ink into a glass container with an airtight seal. It can be mixed with distilled water to prevent coagulation. Let it rest for a few minutes before using.

What is proposed here is a ‘de-contraction’ of space and time, a slowing-down, or a tortuous bucolic derivation far removed from any ‘information highway’. The ink factory is a symbolic invitation with no specific informational content. It is an active meditation on the sensual consistency of one of the most spectacular vectors of the transmission, preservation and circulation of knowledge: the ink used to create manuscripts and printed texts. Those who produce this medium take part secretly and symbolically in the ideas that will be written or reproduced with this ink, which is the inspirational essence and black blood of ideas.


Ink acquires its mediumistic power from the four fundamental chemical principles that correspond to its four basic ingredients:

1 – Opacity (carbon black). Ink is primarily a deep black material that stands out against the light ground of its support. There is an alchemic progression from a complex material to an elementary one (carbon), with the destructive action of fire breaking down matter into energy, heat and light, leaving behind a residue of carbon black which, in practice, is devoid of light. This is the principle of apparition.

2 – Fluidity (distilled water or white wine). Ink is a diluted opaque material that drips, flows and spreads out. This is the principle of diffusion.

3 – Viscosity (gum arabic). Ink flows but contrasts the principle of fluidity and dissolution with a coagulating force in order to create a line, a trace or a sign. This is the principle of construction.

4 – Permanence (copper sulphate), a poison that prevents all form of organic life, moulds or funghi from developing and altering the product it is mixed into.

The ideas created by ink must outlive their author. Ink is rot proof and stains indelibly, enabling it to cross the boundaries of time. This is the principle of transmission.

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