The Swiss artist Raphael Hefti plays the part of a modern-day alchemist or pseudo-scientist who seeks transformative reactions in his chosen materials. His natural curiosity aims to push a process, whether it is manually or industrially produced, to a point where technically it would be deemed a failure. Hefti's process of creating extreme effects creates a palpable and exciting tension in his work between the sublime and the hazardous.
For his recent exhibition entitled ‘Addition as Subtraction’ at Camden Arts Centre, for example, Hefti created a series of mirrored panels that are made from ‘museum glass’, which is used to defract light and prevent reflections. Here Hefti relishes the challenge of convincing a factory to go against their usual procedure, asking his suppliers to apply multiple coatings on to the glass creating a highly colourful and reflective sheen. Enjoying not only subversion its own material, the work also celebrates the chance imperfections, optical effects and tonal variations that are the result of Hefti’s intervention into the normal production process.
For his ‘Inside the White Cube’ exhibition, Hefti has made his largest ‘Lycopodium’ photogram to date, produced in three, six metre-long stretches. Made in a pitch black underground storage facility, Hefti documents his movements across the photo-sensitive paper by maximizing the exposure lighting spores of highly flammable ‘Witches Moss’ or ‘Lycopodium’, a plant with historical links to both early photography and the occult. The image unifies to create an action-based work comparable to Andy Warhol’s seminal 'Oxidation' paintings, but one that records a five hour trajectory of light emitted in a wondrous nebula of chromaticity.
Installed opposite this photogram is a series of industrial steel beams that have been repeatedly exposed to such intense temperatures that they have combusted, charred and shattered. The beams, now transformed into sculptures, have had their very function of alloy strength and rigidity removed. As Hefti explains, "I like the idea of a material being subverted. I think that through intervention, a functional material can become ‘un-functional’."
Raphael Hefti born 1978 in Biel Switzerland lives and works in London and Zurich. In 2011 he received an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Recent solo exhibitions include Camden Arts Centre, London (2012) and SALTS, Basel (2012). He was included in the group exhibitions ‘How to Work (More For) Less’ at the Kunsthalle Basel (2011), ’Minimal Myth’ Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam (2012), and in 2012 he won the Swiss Art Award national prize. Raphael Hefti is represented by Ancient & Modern, London.