Raphael Hefti
14 Jun – 7 Jul 2012

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Opening: 14 June 2012 6–11 pm

Not long ago, it was announced that Raphael Hefti would speak about his work within the context of Le Foyer, a conversations platform in Zurich, about his interests in photography, science, his own working methods and his inert curiosity in an eclectic range of artificial and organic processes, around his scientific and natural (or nature-based) information pool. Summarising, Hefti's interest in the history of materials and the moment and sites of scientific discovery is what fuels his trained background in electronics and mechanics and coats his endeavours into the photographic image and its underlying chemical processes. More so, his curiosity towards the stories that accompany a product or the creation thereof, his involvement into the social and geopolitical traditions, is what makes Hefti a sort of modern day alchemist.

It is within this frame of mind, that Hefti didn't speak about his work but rather introduced Guido Rudolphi and his truffle finding dog, the Lagotto Romagnolo, a rare bread of dog, originated in Italy and whose instinct seems to have been inbred so he can find one thing and one thing mainly, the very valuable truffle. Despite or maybe albeit the lack of hard facts to explain its growth, origin, recurrence, makes the hunt of the white or black truffle, a pseudo-forensic chase for professionals as well as amateurs. For Rudolphi, who does not enjoy the taste of the truffle per se, nor the monetary greed which is associated in the business chasing it, his passion lays in the attempt to understand and train his dog, the intense daily immersion into the outdoors and the search into why this valuable growth spreads throughout the earth almost in inexplicable ways to the top of our social tastebuds. The truffles are parasites: „sucking the sap from their host plant. Contained within the sap are the nutrients the plant extracts from the earth and it is these that give the truffles their distinctive perfume, taste and colour. The truffle's roots are a mass of white filaments (known as hyphas), while the fruit, in the form of a tuber, (known as a gleba) is covered with a tough skin (the peridium).“ They are by definition - always changing in origin, having continuously alternating states of growth. Their composition of bacteria, spores and overall 'character' is what connected Rudolphi and Hefti over a chance encounter, to eventually talking about organic food to eventually make the connection with the artist's Lycopodium photograms. Raphael Hefti's photograms are made by burning the spores of Lycopodium moss plants on photo-paper. The results are an abstract firework, in the literal sense, which is burnt onto the surface and which creates a unique image of photographic effect. 

„There has been a tendency to interpret Land art as not truly Conceptual art“, as Tony Godfrey writes in his book on Conceptual Art (Phaidon 1998), he continues to explain: „because it created such large objects and because it is thought to have a somewhat uncritical, sentimental or nostalgic philosophy.“ Coupled with the element of Performance art, we have the powerful triad in which Raphael Hefti acts out his fervidness. When Walter de Maria created his first earth filled gallery space in 1968 in Munich, he brought Land art into the city, the venue of conceptual art. A highly material act, which aimed to become an intense, physical and psychic experience. Hefti's immersion into all living elements, and subsequently cosmic elements, as a trained rower, as a harvester and cook, as someone who plays with chemistry and physics, he takes his own empirical journey in understanding how the world functions around him, in the hope he uncovers something new or even better, a mistake. (An investigation into the entropy of a system.) 

For this exhibition, Hefti unites two of his interests with the history and location of the former butcher shop, now SALTS. In the week prior to the opening, he will fill the central room with a mountain of sand, which serves as a mould and gravitational tool, to pour a metal structure. It is a method, which expands on an old technique pioneered by the Germans in the 1890's called Thermit-welding, made to join or rather melt together train tracks. In the wilderness, on the hilly dunes of Wales, where he initially tried out this technique he hand-moulded a channel where the welded metal could flow into and down the slope. Through the controlled bonding of the thermit welding components, iron oxide and aluminium and its
catalytic properties, a high intensity flame, creates heat in excess of 1600 degrees which in turn transforms the base materials into one solid piece of metal. In the United Kingdom, the sand of the country belongs to the queen, here it comes from a construction company but the origin is the same as everywhere, finely divided rock and mineral particles which act as a vessel for the iron oxide (basically rust) and aluminium (the most abundant metal element in the earth's crust) in order to create a new fusion metal. It is no coincidence then, that Hefti's Luxar coating process applied to museum glass fits nicely into his oeuvre and thinking. It is no surprise then that he uses the residual heat of the metal to fry the sausages he is planning to make from scratch, together with the chief sausage maker of the former butcher shop. It is through the locality of this place here, that he furthers his investigation, neatly and like on a parallel track, into the oral traditions of handing down family recipe vs business secrets. At the upcoming exhibition preview, the visitor is invited to share Hefti's hospitality, his love for cooking and food and to partake and interact with the newly cast metal, in its most superficial manner, to heat up the food – or on a more profound level, to connect the universal dots in an existential post-material fashion.

Photography: courtesy Gunnar Meier