Internationally acclaimed British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley was commissioned by the Perth International Arts Festival to generate a piece for its 50th anniversary in 2003. Titled Inside Australia the piece showcases 51 steel statues positioned approximately 750m a part, that seem to disappear across the vast salt lake. Offering a more or less 360-degree view of the horizon, the strikingly white sodium crust ensures the statues stand out clearly.
To create Inside Australia, Gormley travelled to the old gold mining town of Menzies and persuaded 51 locals to be digitally scanned. The pieces remain true to size in regards to height but were digitally shrunk by two-thirds in the horizontal dimension before being made into CNC cut moulds.
Gormley had the patterns but was struggling to find a manufacturer to cast the statues in stainless-steel alloy here in Australia. After being approached by the Australian Foundry Institute on Gormley’s behalf, it was at this point that VEEM Ltd were engaged to work on the project. Whilst VEEM Ltd had never manufactured anything using the lost foam process before, they accepted the challenge with vigour.
VEEM Ltd received the CNC cut patterns from the East Coast – much like a model kit, they were assembled and glued together to form the final pattern for each statue. These polystyrene patterns were then submerged in silica and zircon casting sand, which was then compressed around them.
Next the stainless-steel alloy was heated and poured into the casts, dissolving the polystyrene patterns in the process. As VEEM Ltd used environmentally friendly polystyrene, no toxins were released as a result. Left to set for 24-hours, the silica and zircon casting sand hardened into pink sandstone-like blocks around each statue.
After a day or so, the statues were broken from the moulds before the runners and risers formed during the casting process were ground off (fettled). Gormley instructed we leave a 1mm ‘scar’ where each of these had been and that any cracks were welded and retained as marks of production before the statues were transferred to a heat-treatment plant.
The process of being heat-treated presented one of the biggest challenges for production due to the spindly nature of the statues and their likelihood to distort when heated. The VEEM Ltd team foresaw this and implemented heat limits, whilst also conducting regular quality control checks by measuring the key points of each statue – the forehead, fingertips, toes and chests, throughout the production process.
Once the footings were fitted to each statue, they were then ready to be transported to Lake Ballard for installation by Gormley and his team of volunteers.
From first contact to completion, VEEM Ltd.’s involvement in the process took approximately 9 months. A now iconic local installation, it was an honour for VEEM Ltd to work with an internationally acclaimed artist to bring this vision to life.
Photography credit: Australia’s Golden Outback