Inside the Crystal Lab: inputs from Kamil Czapiga and Sudha Neelam
This is an ode to a humble amino acid, Beta-Alanine. It is not a DNA building block, and usually plays a supporting role in human biology, but in our film it’s the lead.
Terminology in science can be confusing and misleading at times. For example, there is a phenomenon in human genetics called ‘anticipation’. It refers to how a hereditary disease becomes more severe at an early age with each passing generation. It seems odd to give a negative phenomenon such a positive name. Nobody is waiting with bated breath for a severe hereditary disease.
Another prime example is the term ‘non-essential amino acids.’ Our body makes these amino acids, which is why we classify them as non-essential as we do not need to get them from our diets. It’s also considered non-essential because it is self-sufficient. But even though they are not involved in protein synthesis, these amino acids are essential and beneficial in many ways. This is the case with Beta-Alanine.
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is synthesized naturally by our body. Although it may not be directly involved in protein folding, It can boost our strength and spirits. It can make us sweat and burn those forbidden calories and increase our endurance. Beta-Alanine may be considered non-essential by textbooks, but it will always be an intrinsic part of our lives.
So, what does this have to do with the making of The Crystal Lab. The story begins when we approached Kamil Czapiga, the explosively talented artist from Katowice, Poland.
We asked him to create something with amino acids. We knew he was the right choice for this film given his Cosmodernism project which oscillates around experimental audiovisual arts and performance. It balances at the intersection of the unexplained, unspeakable, and unimaginable but not impossible.
The film is not generated by computer graphics. It features his muse, Beta-Alanine and some vodka. We assume it’s fine Polish make!
In the video, he uses only pure powdered Beta-Alanine mixed with a 40% solution of ethyl alcohol (vodka) on glass microscope slides. He used a different temperature on each slide to make it recrystallize, as you can see in the video. Sometimes he just let it dry, and at other times, he used a really high temperature to do the job. In each case you see different results. He observed the process of recrystallization through a microscope with a transferred and polarized light technique. The polarization is responsible for the crazy background and crystal colours. In a normal white transferred light, the crystals are transparent.
We have also asked Kamil to document his process, which we will share soon on social media. It’s as fascinating as the film. We hope you enjoy both.