Sculpture on the Gulf, Waiheke Island, 2019.
Corten steel plate. Dome head rivets.
Fabricated and riveted steel sections.
‘Brunel’s Kingdom’ is a fabricated steel structure which draws its end form from historically essential European construction practices inherently associated with the industrial revolution, and bridges them with an iconic piece of Aotearoa, and in particular Waiheke Island’s, natural landscape.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an English engineer in the 19th century, responsible for ground breaking designs and mammoth feats of large scale construction. During his time, the art of blacksmithing contributed greatly to the development of new ideas and the Industrial Revolution. Forging metals played a key role in the pursuance of societal advancement and was the pole that vaulted mankind into the quagmire of mass production.
Our modern construction industry is held aloft by a steel skeleton born directly from the industrialised womb of the Old World. It enables us to span large distances, shelters us from the inconveniences of our planet, and provides us with a sense of security. These methods contain visual data that directly reference 19th century technique: Steel profiles engineered for maximum strength and resistance, and rivets replaced with high tensile bolts but with very similar placement patterns, for example.
Today, the perils of industrialisation and its environmental impact are very apparent. And yet the question has to be asked: “Where would we be without it?” As Brunel’s inventions and the industrial revolution as a whole undoubtedly caused untold damage to the natural world we now so cherish, so did they inspire many following generations of engineers and contributed significantly to technological growth. By bringing the two elements together, natural form coalesced with industrial process, I hope to bring to the viewer a sense of understanding of the important symbiotic role they currently and historically have played in our existence on our planet.
The hard lines of the finished work have taken inspiration directly from the hammer marks left from large scale forging machines, which were vital during the revolution and which I have used throughout my entire career. The lines of rivets holding the sections together are immediately recognisable as jointing methods from 18th century steel construction, which still stand around the world today, and the patterns of which are recognisable in modern building methods. Riveting steel structures together like this has been another foundation of my education and subsequent career as a blacksmith, and links the work directly with the past, Brunel and the legacy he left us.
Brunel was a huge inspiration for me as a child. I was fascinated by the sheer scale of his mind, and equally so by the forces required to manipulate the massive blocks of steel needed to bring his ideas to life. I am often asked: “Why did you choose to be a Blacksmith?” and I reply that it was because of an early introduction to Brunel and his Kingdom of steel.