Raphael Hefti

An Aluminothermic Reaction Producing Liquid Steel, Filmed at 2000 Frames per Second (2016) is a new artwork by Raphael Hefti that continues his experiments in thermite welding - an engineering process devised in 1893, still used in the assembly of high-speed railway tracks today. The film will be shown at FACT as part of the weekly Another Version of Events film programme (which starts at 6.30pm each week), after each screening.

Raphael Hefti

An Aluminothermic Reaction Producing Liquid Steel, Filmed at 2000 Frames per Second, 2016

2K high-res film, colour, 15 min


Liverpool Biennial and AccorHotels have commissioned a new, site-specific artwork by Swiss artist Raphael Hefti for Pullman Hotel, Liverpool.


In Raphael Hefti’s art practice industrial manufacturing processes are pushed to their extremes in order to test the potential of everyday materials. After extensive research into the properties of a material, Hefti will deliberately misapply technical procedures, modify construction methods and even engage industry technicians to alter their routine engineering processes. These guided accidents in industrial alchemy result in sculptures, photographs and films that document the possibilities of epic material transformations.


For his project at Pullman Hotel in Kings Dock, Liverpool, Hefti transported nearly 100 tonnes of sand to the former construction site of the hotel, transforming it into an outdoor studio, performance site and make-shift film set. Here, the artist continued his experiments in thermite welding - a process devised in 1893 and still commonly used in the assembly of high-speed railway tracks.


Using the aluminothermic reaction required to create molten metal, over the course of two weeks Hefti welded together a body of irregular, tactile steel forms which are now on display in the lobby of the Pullman hotel. They are a timely consideration of a resource – steel – whose decline in commodity value has had significant repercussions on labour demands worldwide and particularly in Great Britain. 

The artist also engaged a specialist film crew to capture the performance which is screened in the rooms of the Pullman hotel as a new artwork. The heat generated in a conventional industrial setting – where temperatures reach 2,500 degrees celcius – means that documenting this type of process is usually impossible. However, the outdoor setting of Hefti’s welding studio allows the film crew to get their cameras remarkably close to the action. Using a 150lb, 4K resolution, ultra-high definition camera that captures 2,000 images per second, the artist and film crew were able to push the equipment to extremes and test the parameters of its intended use - even melting some camera parts in the process.


The result is an incredibly detailed video that draws viewers into the mesmerising beauty of heat and combustion. By using the most elaborate filmic equipment available to document a century-old manufacturing process, Hefti’s project oscillates between the industrial and the digital. Witnessing his welding performance is a spectacular event live, by contrast, the experience of the video is an intimate, near-hallucinatory encounter that speaks to the relationship between ever changing materials and technologies and chemical process that otherwise remain hidden.

Raphael Hefti was born in 1978 in Biel, Switzerland. He lives in London and Zurich. Raphael Hefti works with a wide range of materials and processes, from burning Lycopodium moss spores in the making of photograms, to the manufacture of museum glass and the extreme heating of steel and other metals. His actions are often performative, both in private and in public, and he frequently collaborates with industry in his quest to push the limits of what technological and physical actions are designed to do; the results are often charged with an air of mystery in a unique confluence of performance, chemistry and technology. His works have been exhibited widely, including Migros Museum, Zurich (2016) Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles (2015) Centre d’Art Contemporain de Genève (2015) Nottingham Contemporary (2014) CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain Bordeaux (2013) Camden Art Centre, London (2012) SALTS, Basel (2012) and Kunsthalle Basel (2011). In 2012 he won the Swiss Art Award prize.