Carmarthen School of Art tagged along to help. Andy’s performance was programmed to take place on 20 June, the day before the Summer Solstice. The schedule was pretty hectic, but even so, I managed to meet a bladesmith from Portugal, a sculptor from Kentucky, a Czech glass blower, another glass artist from Turkey and a metal archaeologist from Greece – as well as numerous Polish artists. There were also a few trade stands, so I watched in fascination the demonstration of a ceramic digital printer, a micro raku kiln, and an induction furnace the size of a large coffee cup; but unfortunately missed the neon workshop. The issue of how a production technique, however intrinsically dramatic, can become an artistic performance is a pertinent one at this festival. Andy commented, “Having watched and participated in molten iron performances in the UK and abroad for the last ten years, there were several things that were important to me in the work; it had to be completed with just one tap of the furnace so that from beginning to end there was a sense of immediate narrative with no repetition of actions. Such a ‘one-shot’ performance gets the adrenaline running in both audience and participants. I also think that there should be a tangible artefact at the end of such a performance that can act both as a standalone sculpture and as a memento. The three minute punk songs I used to perform on stage in the late 70s (as lead singer in The Wall) have now become short explosive performances with cast iron, filled with the same energy and sense of danger.” In the four days before the festival Andy’s team created the necessary props for his performance, Sunrise. Among other things, this involved the creation of a nearly fivemetre-high trebuchet–like structure in wood, which would be capable of gently lowering a steel and wooden former into a sand/wood mould. Into this mould would be poured about 100 kilograms of molten iron at nearly 2000°C which would, in turn, burn the wood and encapsulate the steel. The importance of this choreography was emphasised by Andy: “The prologue is the slow lowering of the steel skeletal former into the mould and the charging of the furnace. The start
p86 High Temperature Festival Poland, 2015 Photo: Dawid Biernat p87 High Temperature Festival Poland, 2015 Photo: Paulo Tuna p89, 90 & 91 High Temperature Festival Poland, 2015 Photo: Dawid Biernat
of the performance proper is the moment metal is received from the furnace; then the metal being poured into the mould via the beam resulting in the main performative and explosive element; and the finale is the very slow raising of the solidifying, but still red hot, ‘sun’ into the darkening sky.” This very suitable and simple poetic tribute to the solstice is obviously perilous, exhausting and spectacular, as anyone who has seen the film documenting Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament (2014) project could testify. The beauty of this festival in Wroclaw (the 2016 European City of Culture) is that it focuses on the experimental: after all, this is a city with a long history of art performances and happenings that goes back to 1957 and the founding of a Theatre of the Senses. At the High Temperature Festival, even the public can experiment with sculpture by forming polystyrene and having their resultant pieces cast the next day in aluminium; or carving sand blocks and casting the negative space in iron; or creating small bronze talismans using cuttlefish moulds much as people did hundreds of years ago. And that was just the public participation within a single department – glass and ceramics had other workshops on offer for the eight to ten thousand visitors (no definitive figures are recorded as the event is free, and there are at least two entrances to the site). The professional artists are also encouraged to try new things. For instance, there was a heroic attempt this year to create the first flying ceramic kiln, using the excess heat generated in the process of firing various pots to lift a small hot air balloon. So Andy Griffiths’ risky venture Sunrise was the subject of only a single health and safety meeting. The production of molten iron and pouring it into a mould was never going to be the problem. As Head of Sculpture at the Art School in Carmarthen, Andy has had a decade of experience of this metal: the issue was one of weight, balance, flow and the potentially explosive interaction with the wood and cold steel frame. Somewhat anxious the night before the performance, I had a dream that I was back in Poland in January 1986 (at the time of the crackdown on Solidarity), and became an
actor on the Lódź stage in Kantor’s Let the Artists Die. I needn’t have worried so much. Not only had the refining of the choreography helped clarify the narrative of Andy’s performance, but the practice dry-runs had resolved all the safety issues. So everything ran smoothly, at least initially. The 100kg of iron (as much as two strong people can carry safely) was melted, tapped into a ladle and poured into a receiving cup carved into the trebuchet beam. A stream of metal ran down the carved channel into the mould, creating a line of fire. At this point some metal was spilt, both in the transition from beam to mould and, because of the speed of flow, some more metal overshot the mould. As predicted only a very small amount of metal was shot into the air as the wood combusted. However, the amount lost was critical as, when Andy had determined that the metal was solid and initiated the lift, it became obvious, after just a few centimetres, that the steel structural web was not properly encapsulated in the cast iron. Red hot metal started to break and deform, but Andy continued with the slow lift and what rose into the night sky was not a new sun but more of a phoenix. As Andy later reflected, “This was my first large scale performance piece in iron and was deliberately highly ambitious due to the nature of the event. The idea of lowering a form into a reactive mould to be poured, and raised while just solid and still glowing, is something I will continue to develop as I feel it speaks about the transformative nature of metal. “I had hoped to leave the piece at the top of its beam, in the sculpture garden at the Academy in Wroclaw, as a permanent work and reminder of the event. However, as some parts failed to become encapsulated in the steel former, the iron has now been shipped back to Wales, where it is being fitted together to make a final piece, Wroclaw Sunrise – 95 kilos of iron which, because of being poured into a reactive mould, shows in its surface the explosive nature of its creation.” —CCQ
Venice Biennale interviews: herman de vries, Katerina Gregos, Song Dong, Sean Lynch. As well as conversations with Laura Ford, Sammy Baloji,...