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> > > Launching Rockets Never Gets Old/Camden Arts Centre
photo of plate of mirrored glass installed in a white gallery space, reflecting a row of victorian windows in the background

Raphael Hefti: Launching Rockets Never Gets Old; installation view at Camden Arts Centre 2012; © the artist

'Launching Rockets Never Gets Old' looks at the artistic accidents generated by Raphael Hefti by interfering in industrial glass processes. Obi Chiejina assesses the impact of these accidents upon the artist and gallery visitor. The exhibition runs until the 18th March 2012 at Camden Arts Centre

Looking back at the events leading up to the discovery of pencillin Alexander Fleming acknowledged the importance of the ‘happy’ accident in what had been a routine scientific experiment: "When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer...’

Fleming is widely regarded as one of the early pioneers of intelligent serependity. He combined the rigour of carrying out laboratory experiments with curiosity, keen observation and a creative boldness to circumvent the boundaries of accepted scientific thinking.

Eighty-four years after the accidental discovery of pencillin the Swiss artist Raphael Hefti is re-visiting the principles of intelligent serependity by uncovering ‘mistakes’ in industrial processes in his first UK solo exhibition ’Launching Rockets Never Gets Old.’

As a researcher of industrial accidents Hefti designs experimental briefs complete with project cycles, specifications for chemicals, materials, named factories and team members. The research programme is conducted in glass factories using chemical processes to remove or maintain the natural reflective properties of museum glass. At each stage of the experiment Hefti observes the unexpected outcomes and records his finding using photographs and art catalogues. The artistic outcomes/unforeseen interventions are then shared with the wider arts community using exhibitions, talks and his website.
The research programme for ’Launching Rockets Never Gets Old’ produced seven pieces of museum glass measuring approximately five in width, ten feet in height and with a thickness of one inch. Superficially all the glass exhibits appeared to possess the same dimensions, shape and colour. After viewing three glass panels in succession I felt underwhelmed by this unexpected blandness.

Happily on closer inspection there are subtle variations in photo-sensitivity, colour and reflectiveness for each glass panel. Glass exhibit 4 (note these exhibits aren’t labelled in the gallery space) doesn’t react to natural daylight from the windows but responds to the spotlights embedded into the ceiling of Gallery 3 with colours of purple and pink. The non-reflective surface of the following glass panel is etched with a horizontal line of pink and orange scratches across the middle section. The neon colours of the horizontal line are offset by an incomplete ‘frame’ of blue, black and green positioned on the left hand side.

Judging by the range and intensity of colours Hefti is a skilled industrial technician. But the effort in embarking upon a large scale research programme acts a restrictive brake on his artistic imagination. The unexpected interventions are restricted to three areas and this isn’t enough to hold the attention of a visitor to a contemporary art gallery for an extended period of time. During my visit of an hour a mother and her son dashed in and then out whilst a female student left Gallery 3 after five minutes.

’Launching Rockets Never Gets Old’ re-discovers the scientific fundamentals of ‘happy serependity’ with assured success. But unlike Fleming’s laboratory in St Mary’s Hospital, London, the exhibition fails to manufacture sufficient fuel to push Hefti’s rocket of industrial skills into the outer space of the creative imagination.   

’Launching Rockets Never Gets Old' runs until 18th March 2012 at Camden Arts Centre