Thursday, 26 January 2012

Raphael Hefti's games of chance

Subtraction as Addition, 2011

We usually think of art as being a pretty controlled activity, with the artist as the ringmaster. Yet Raphael Hefti, who has a series of works on show at the Camden Arts Centre right now, actively embraces chance in his work, as well as celebrating 'misproduction'...

Hefti joins a rich tradition of artists who introduce accident and fate into their work, as well as placing process at the centre of their art. Hefti works with glass and steel factories, experimenting with what happens when you encourage mistakes in industrial processes. Included in the show are steel bars that been subjected to different stages of the hardening technique, leaving parts of them brittle and vulnerable, but also unexpectedly colourful. Hefti has also experimented with the process used to create 'museum glass' (glass specially created so reflection is eliminated, making it perfect for exhibitions), adding several layers of the anti-reflective coating so that the original function becomes reversed, and the sheets of glass become artworks in their own right.

Subtraction as Addition, 2011 and Replaying the Mistake of a Broken Hammer, 2011

Subtraction as Addition, 2011

"I'm interested in collaborating with industry as a part of my work," Hefti says in the catalogue accompanying the show. "With the museum glass works I can control the outcome maybe 50% and the other 50% relies on what the factory does, their regular process and its imperfections. It's not that I go to a factory and just tell them what to do. I ask 'can we push this mistake to make something new?' With my intervention, something new is created, a kind of 'd├ętournement' of the normal way of things."

Lycopodium, 2011

Hefti also conducts experiments with colour photograms, creating abstract images by burning the spores of the Lycopodium plant onto photosensitive paper. The resulting images contain vibrant, almost violent, patterns of colour.

Lycopodium, 2011; All works courtesy Ancient and Modern Gallery, London, images by Angus Mill

It's telling perhaps that, while officially 'errors', Hefti's works are also beautiful objects, far more fascinating as accidents than they would have been if the usual process of their creation had occurred correctly. Their beauty opens up the question of whether Hefti has a store of other experimental works that are ultimately failures, because the resulting objects were ugly or broken.

Writing on the use of randomness in art, the artist Henry Krokatsis has said "chance is only one strategy for escaping the preconcieved image and opening up a field of transformation... Randomness for its own sake is not interesting. It's the right kind of randomness - the kind that resonates in a relevant way and how you position yourself to allow for it - that's important." Hefti's exhibition at CAC displays works that perhaps contain 'the right kind of randomness' - those that result in ambiguous though ultimately visually appealing objects. Yet his work also invites the viewer to think about the narrative of crafting an object, and the many different twists and turns this process can take.

Raphael Hefti: Launching Rockets Never Gets Old is on at the Camden Arts Centre until March 18. More info is at

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