Planning the trial blasts
Posted by Alex Mickle
Blast forming is the process we are following to make the Paraburdoo sculpture. Blast forming is a largely unknown steel fabrication process whereby steel is shaped and pushed into particular forms by harnessing the pressure wave produced from an explosive charge.
Glen Johnson and I have been working closely with the Blast Crews and Blast Engineers to produce blast plans and conduct a series of trials in order to ascertain which particular types of blast would produce results that could be used in the production of a large-scale sculptural work.
It took us seven months to work through all the safety issues associated with conducting these trials and to produce both risk assessments and blast plans that conformed to Rio Tinto's high safety standards. The blast plans that we established were important in allowing us to experiment with different types and quantities of explosives, within fixed parameters.
With blast plans in place, we began trials that will work towards producing large curved plates as cladding for the final work. From the trials, data will be collected and upscaled to reproduce the same shapes on a much larger scale for inclusion in the final artwork.
In some ways the artwork itself is a byproduct. It is the process surrounding it that is important. This is essentially a complex team building exercise aimed at offering engaging alternatives and activities to those that have no real access to them. It is about improving communication, connection and wellbeing in a town that is socially isolated with little access to arts and cultural activity. It is about trying to build a space outside of work where it becomes possible to begin to address difficult issues, offering art as a form of dialogue to do that.
I have been working with Rio in Paraburdoo for almost a full year and have spoken with hundreds of mine workers in almost every work area of the mine. To date there are dozens of people involved in making this sculpture a reality. From senior staff and supervisors to truck drivers and welders, this is a project that has room for anyone that is interested, and as we near construction many more employees will be required to see this project through to completion.
The level of engagement and the willingness to participate has left me a little stunned. I had no idea the reactions to a project such as this would be so overwhelmingly positive.
For me as a sculptor this is a unique opportunity to push the boundaries of the way I work. To be able to access equipment, process and the vast knowledge base of a company such as this is no small thing for an artist. I have always been interested in the point where art and industry meet – as a sculptor working on often very large scale work, I have to be.
The work we are doing in Paraburdoo is innovative and experimental. The possibilities that exist when you remove the normal restraints have the potential to really push the boundaries of what contemporary sculpture is capable of.
There is no way this sort of work can be done by one person – it requires a team of highly specialised individuals to pull it off. The fact that we are doing this in a tiny town in the Pilbara, in the middle of the West Australian outback, is amazing. That we are doing this with a bunch of miners, using explosives to create art and attempting to affect social change at the same time, is in itself a particularly unique challenge that we are meeting head on.