It’s Crystal Clear: Maria Constanza Ferreira Has a Special Skill

By Zach Rosen   |   September 9, 2021
Maria Constanza Ferreira had her animations projected in Times Square

Much like how an interest can form and spread, a crystal begins from a seed point and grows from there. For Maria Constanza Ferreira, her interest in crystallography and animation has led to her own life growth with her award-winning films and artworks being displayed around the world. Maria has had a deep fascination for art and science ever since she was little. For college she attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for animation and graphic design. While there she had access to the RISD Nature Lab, a large space filled with taxidermy and biological specimens. There was also a basement room full of different types of microscopes. Maria recognized that microscopes and animation share a lot of similarities, both using lights, stage, and an optical device. 

Maria Constanza Ferreira

As she studied, Maria stumbled upon crystallography and polarized light. Conducting her own research and after speaking with the minerology department there, she was able to use what she had learned to produce a short film, Lattice. The animated movie was well-received, and it has since toured throughout the world at places like San Francisco’s Exploratorium and last year the film was screened around public spaces in Poland. A popular art and science blog covered the film where it caught the eye of a Bart Kahr, an NYU professor that specializes in the type of twisting crystals she was using for it. Bart reached out to her about her work, offering his help and was eventually able even to offer her an artist residency in his Kahr Research Group at NYU. From then on, her interest in and work with crystals has only grown.

There are two main methods of growing crystals: by evaporation through a solution or by melting the compounds and allowing them to reform under specific conditions. In solution evaporation crystals, Maria mixes very specific combinations of different types of salt-based chemicals and dyes. When mixed in just the right portion, the dye molecules begin to align themselves as the solution evaporates, forming a dye pattern throughout the resulting crystal. These physical objects can be held but many of them are quite small, and Maria and Bart wanted to figure how to properly capture them.

Maria discovered that scanning them under the right conditions produced stunning images and began amassing thousands of scans. She then began to play with the images on her computer, bringing them to life through animation. The regular forms and unique dye patterns of the crystals make a mesmerizing animation with the crystals seeming to pulse and dance along the screen. By using animation to capture these small crystals, she can display them on a grand scale, and a few years back her animations were projected throughout Times Square in New York City. 

Maria Constanza Ferreira brings crystals to life through animation

Melted crystals are the ones that produce the twisting forms that Bart specializes in. To produce melt crystals, Maria uses simple non-toxic chemicals like aspirin and tartaric acid and melts them in the microwave. She began using this technical device while experimenting on her own, unable to afford proper lab equipment, but later discovered this is a legitimate lab tool for crystallography. She places the melt between glass slides and as the chemical resolidifies, the resulting crystal grows based off of its heating and cooling conditions. 

These types of melted crystals can be seen in her newest installation, Crystal Landscapes. This collection is comprised of a series of light boxes made from an aluminum frame with the original crystal slide placed underneath layers of glass and illuminated from within by white light. The boxes come accompanied with a handheld 3D-printed watch glass containing a polarizing light filter. When the viewer looks through the device, the relatively dull crystal slide lights up in a dazzling display of lines and vivid colors. The radically different areas of colors in these stunning works are an indication of how thick the crystal is in that particular spot. While the crystal slides are a few inches in size now, she is currently working on how to grow these crystals larger as theoretically they could grow forever given the right conditions.

Three of these light boxes have just been installed at the Museum of Sensory, Movement, and Experience (MSME) with a larger collection to soon go on exhibit at the MOXI. Maria will be hosting “Into the Crystal Hourglass,” an open house exhibit of her work on Saturday, September 18, from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm at SBCAST where she has been sharing a work studio space with several other artists. The show will have a few of her Crystal Landscapes light boxes on display with her animations projected throughout the space and accompanied by a soundscape that she just created with Bart. This open house is the last part of a three-week open house series with her fellow artists in the studio space. Meighann Athena Helene will use the studio first on Saturday, September 11, to exhibit her eclectic style including jewelry and art produced from organic found objects like palm fronds, shells, and other organic found objects that she paints with cold cast bronze, acids, and patinas. The following Saturday, artist Lindsey Appleyard will use the space to display projections, stained glass, and metal works that will be commemorating her mother’s life as well as her own life journey. Maria met Meighann and Lindsey when she moved here about a year ago and began using the studio space at SBCAST. Since then, they have become fast friends and together these three shows express the distinctiveness of their personality and the closeness of their friendship. Whether it is Maria’s own career, friendships, or the crystals she explores, her passion and interest in the world continues to seed her endless growth. 

Visit to see examples of Maria’s videos and crystal art works.  


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