Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lava Boats

In the summer of 2012 Michael Hengler moved to the Big Island of Hawaii to conduct research for his thesis project that consisted of him traversing the lava fields, launching lava boats into the molten rivers, and capturing it on video. Prior to moving to the Big Island, he discovered the cultural belief that  _Pele_, the volcano goddess, is embodied in the lava itself and therefore should not be used, but after months of research and meetings, Hengler received blessings and cultural permission from numerous Hawaiian Anthropologists and Hawaiian Cultural Practitioners to proceed with his project.  Ironically, he also learned that a company on Hawaii harvested and sold lava cinder which would now become the medium for his lava boats. Michael constructed six one-foot boats (as seen in the above picture) which he launched into the lava rivers, one by one, on three separate trips.  Watch the video footage of the lava boats riding the molten rivers by clicking here.  The eerie photo above was taken after a three hour hike into the caldera of Kilauea crater after dark.

The photo on the left is on location at Bryson Cinder on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It shows where the company extracts and crushes the cinder that they then package and sell to home improvement and garden centers as an attractive and durable ground cover.

In the photo on the right, you can see  the view from Michael's front porch while living in Kalapana, Hawaii.  The entire area has been decimated by the active volcano and, if you look closely, you can see the molten lava glowing in several locations.  A small community of approximately 100 off-the-grid houses have built new homes on the 50 foot thick solid volcanic rock earth.  Small shrubs and plants are starting to appear through the cracks of the black earth, but it will be centuries before it returns to it's original lush landscape.

Once back on the island of O'ahu, Hengler began the task of creating the next component of his thesis project: a ten foot lava boat. First, he created a styrofoam model as seen here on the left. Then he cut the styrofoam boat into two halves due to the size restrictions of the oven it would eventually bake in.

The styroboat was then covered in tape and a plexiglass wall was built around it (as seen in the picture to the right). A liquid plaster and silica mix was poured into the plexiglass frame and left to set for thirty minutes. In the photo below, the plaster boat mold is flipped right side up and completed after fine sanding and finishing touches were added.

The 800 lb plaster boat mold was lifted via forklift and lowered into the oven as seen on the left.  Michael filled the boat mold with a combination of the lava cinder and a thermal glaze he created for the project, comprised of the lava itself.  He added and sculpted the ingredients by hand to reach the desired boat shape.  

In the photo above, we see each boat-half after being baked in an enormous oven for over a week that reached temperatures of over 1600 Fahrenheit!  Once the pieces cooled, Michael was set to shape the halves into precisely the form he was looking for.  Hengler then connected the halves together.  The completed boat weighed approximately1400 pounds! 

It look a dedicated crew to assist Michael in setting up the solo exhibition. The gallery floor was covered with a foot of black lava cinder and three walls displayed a rolling video of the footage Hengler recorded while on the Big Island.  The exhibition showed at the University of Hawaii, Manoa's Common's Gallery in Honolulu, Hawaii.   A sincere thank you to Sidney Goo at Niu Nurseryfor his generous donation of three pallets of the lava cinder. And big mahalos to all of the assistants who helped Michael Hengler put together this show.