"The great god Vulcan must be enraged! It's so volcanic! It's like some sort of... volcano! All those people!"Art What amounts to be my 500 year diary for this journey, the Biennial booklet, isn't clear about how to access this example of their annual commissions programme. There's mention that the film is shown at end of each screening during their film programme but nothing which attaches it to this location. So I got in touch:
-- Caecillius, "The Fires of Pompeii"
@feelinglistless You can watch an artist film by Raphael Hefti. Just ask at reception. More info here: https://t.co/p6O8hIUjaJ— Liverpool Biennial (@Biennial) July 31, 2016
The link indicates that if you ask at reception "they will guide you to a room where it is being shown".
The reception is near the entrance, a staff member and a laptop. When I asked, she turned to a colleague who said something about the remote control not having batteries and then about the room having been book, but I was quickly ushered to a giant plasma screen in a nearby lounge area, and Sky News was turned to a channel dedicated to showing Raphael Hefi's An Alumothermic Reaction Producing Liquid Steel, Filmed at 2000 Frames per Second, 2016 and here I sat on a very comfy sofa watching this fifteen minute film amid the clinking of glasses in the bar being prepared on one side and clients checking in on the other.
The film was shot in the Kings Dock. As part of a live performance, to quote the booklet, "a huge pile of sand worked as a makeshift foundry, and with a technique usually used to repair high-speed railway lines [...] The welding process melts steel very quickly: lava-like flows of molten metal poured down the sand. finding final form as the material cooled down. Heft references heavy labour and iron casting, the backbone of contemporary infrastructure: processes that have long histories but that usually remain hidden."
The images burn off the screen, the white heat of the raging metal flowing through dunes and out of silos in an enthralling beautiful expression of humanity's control of the elements, albeit with the usual caveats about us being a general blight on gaia. There's no particular narrative as we're shown various elements of the process and ferocious temperatures bend towards abstraction, like the rushes from a Godfrey Reggio movie (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi) without the customary Philip Glass score, replaced by "natural" sounds.
The website has much business about the technicalities of capturing the images, "using a 150lb, 4k resolution, ultra-high definition camera that captures 2,000 images per second, the artist collaborated with the film crew to test the possibilities and technical properties of the equipment, exceeding the parameters it has been designed for. Some parts of the equipment even melted in the process." This is unsurprising and a demonstration of how nature finds a way. I'm amazed there's no mention of injury. As shown, these elements seem as though they'd continue forever if prompted.
Actually watching this in the atrium added to the atmosphere, what with the screen hanging in a recess on a wall with a surface resembling bronze. Watching it on a much larger screen, a cinema version is being shown at FACT every Thursday at 6:30pm, must be an even more involving experience although it's arguably just slightly too long, the host of images just slightly losing their power within the repetition. Or it's possible I was simply distracted, wondering what visitors were making of this art work as they made sure they had a bed to sleep in that night.
Hondo Chinese Restaurant.