Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit July 02, 2010 - 3:40 pm

Fire and molten rock gives birth to art

“The medium is the most important thing”

GABRIEL ZARATE
 Iqaluit artist Danny Osborne hefts an volcanic rock helmet molded from a replica of a colonial-era Spanish conquistador helmet. (PHOTO BY GABRIEL ZÁRATE)
Iqaluit artist Danny Osborne hefts an volcanic rock helmet molded from a replica of a colonial-era Spanish conquistador helmet. (PHOTO BY GABRIEL ZÁRATE)
The bronze mold will only last a few minutes of contact with the glowing red-hot molten lava before it melts into destruction, so quick work is essential.
The bronze mold will only last a few minutes of contact with the glowing red-hot molten lava before it melts into destruction, so quick work is essential.
Guatemalan assistants muscle a long ladle with a bronze mold into a lava flow during an eruption of Mount Payaca in the highlands of Guatemala.
Guatemalan assistants muscle a long ladle with a bronze mold into a lava flow during an eruption of Mount Payaca in the highlands of Guatemala.

Red-hot lava isn’t the easiest material for an artist to work with.

Iqaluit artist Danny Osborne’s unusual exhibit at Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum showcases the product of his highly unusual and risky craft — moulding sculptures from a river of fire.

“The medium is the most important thing,” Osborne explained. “Dealing with this most primeval substance that the whole world used to be made of, it has special significance.”

From the ash-covered slopes of Mount Pacaya, a volcano in Central America, Osborne and his team of local hires scooped globs of lava into bronze moulds made specifically for this purpose.

Even so, the crew had to work quickly to remove the 1,000 C moulded lava to keep the bronze moulds from melting.

The heat was searing. Osborne’s shoes caught fire more than once before he purchased some leather mats to stand on while working on the burning mountain slope.

He later marveled at the apparent ease with which his Guatemalan assistants handled the heat and the volcanic fumes.

Osborne had three bronze molds made at a local foundry, cast from hats to represent three facets of Guatemalan life.

An ancient Spanish conquistador helmet represented violence and death.

A decorated festival hat represented partying, sex and procreation.

A plain working man’s hat represented the day’s work for daily bread.

“It’s a projection of people’s character, what they wear,” he said. “Like a projection of people’s head, like a hat is a mould of the brain.”

Around the fringes of some of the hat’s rims, the rapid cooling of the rock has become obsidian, a hard volcanic glass.

Obsidian was the main material used for knives and other sharp tools of the ancient Maya culture, whose descendants are the now largest ethnic group of Guatemala.

Alongside the physical products of his strange craft, Osborne has two short documentary clips playing on video, explaining the process of

Osborne’s exhibition “Red Hot Lava Sculpture” is on display at Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum until August 15.

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