Jameson Whiskey Takes You 100X Closer

Throughout human history, the urge to look closer has arguably propelled scientific and artistic progress. After contemplating an object, an idea, a person or a place, there’s a natural gravitation towards understanding its constituent parts in order to better appreciate the whole. From pointillism to nanotechnology, exploding the whole into the particular has defined mankind’s philosophical journey.

Jameson Irish whiskey is undoubtedly a beautiful substance to behold. The translucent golden liquid that ultimately emerges from the reaction between barley, hops, and water must have seemed quite magical centuries ago, before science had clarified the process for us. Even today, when the firelight or the moonlight or the bar light illuminates the liquor as it hovers in hand, the effect can be quite mesmerising.

It was in the midst of one such whiskey-sipping rumination that a question floated to the front of our consciousness: what would Jameson look like if we could literally climb inside a drop of it? What frontier lies beneath the amber sea; beyond the spectrum of our limited vision.

It was clear that we would need a microscope to answer this question. Seeking out a microscope technician helped to address some of our concerns about methodology, but it soon became evident that science could take us only so far, and that we would need the eye of an artist to truly bring this idea to life.

It turned out that our technician’s son was an avid photographer and (being a technician’s son) he had been playing around with microscopes since he was a young boy. Thus began our relationship with Elden Swart.

One of Elden’s first breakthroughs (after some initial trial an error) was to realise that the water ratio in neat whiskey was too high to yield visible results, which led him to experimenting with whiskey cocktails. The cocktails, with additional elements like sugar, fruit, and denser alcohol, created a molecular environment in which the whiskey became more visible. We opted to explore four classics: Jameson, Lime and Ginger, The Tipperary, The Irish Wolfhound, and Jameson Whiskey Sour.

From this stage, Elden spent several weeks ‘farming’ a selection of usable crystals in small dishes. It was pure guesswork as to when the crystals were large enough to be visible under the microscope. With little other choice but trial an error, Elden applied a drop or two on a slide for inspection each day, making notes on their progress and any anomalies.

Two months into the project, some beautiful formations began coalescing on the microscope stage. However, these images were largely colourless and difficult to discern – which is where the artistry comes into play. Manipulating the light source beneath the stage with various cross-polarizers, filters and optical plates, Elden infused the images with a spectrum of near-psychedelic hues, accentuating the nuanced differences between various crystalline structures. Important to note is that all of these colours are the results of refracting light, and differing densities. As surreal as they might appear, nothing has been digitally added or manipulated.

With the crystals fully bloomed and illuminated, Elden was then able to attach his DSLR camera to the microscope via a customised attachment, and meticulously capture these images through his lens. From here the images were chromogenically printed on archival photographic paper, and framed.

Attend the Jameson 100x Closer exhibition on 1 September 2016 at 99 Loop Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. Details here.

For those who can’t make it, a catalogue of the images appears below.

Watch a short film inspired by the concept of being brave enough to take a closer look here.

Print your own Jameson 100x Closer piece by downloading the hi-res artwork here.

Meet Elden Swart, the man who took Jameson 100x Closer here.

Follow @JamesonSA on Instagram for more.

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