Blacksmith creates first instance of original Tasmanian steel

Pete Mattila
KNIFE-EDGE: Artisan blacksmith Pete Mattila will launch his new exhibition, Catalysis, at Design Tasmania as part of Mona Foma next week. Picture: Scott Gelston

In Tasmania’s ancient, human-scarred landscape, the only constant is change.

For blacksmith Pete Mattila, that change is a source of inspiration. Working with materials from around the island, he has created pure Tasmanian steel, along with an exhibition that embodies the idea of transformation in large-scale sculpture.

The show, Catalysis, opens at Design Tasmania on Monday, January 14.

RELATED: Mona Foma guide: Set times, map, artist profiles, local recommendations

The process of making steel from scratch begins with the raw materials, Mattila explained: iron and charcoal.

He’s long been in the habit of venturing into the old-growth forests of the Weld Valley, and collecting charcoal from the desolate pockmarks of abandoned logging coups.

The iron comes from naturally-occurring magnetite in the Savage River, also collected by Mattila on the advice of a geologist friend.

The materials then go into a purpose-built, shoulder-high furnace, smouldering in its belly at about 1700 degrees Celsius.

“Then I pull the top off it, and I dig something out, and there’s this spongy mass,” Mattila said.

“This thing is glowing white-hot. I grab that, and I slowly start working it, hammering it, and it starts to stick together.

“Then I take that, and I put it into my big gas forge, and I keep getting it hot, and I slowly start refining it.”

The result is the first instance, that he knows of, of purely Tasmanian steel.

Catalysis is a combination of Tasmanian steel works, and large-scale sculptures made of purchased steel that embody the ideas swirling through Mattila’s head during the forging of his original product.

The conceptual basis of Catalysis is all in the name.

“A catalysis is is the thing that speeds up a catalyst,” he said.

“In chemistry, when you have a catalyst, to create change, the thing that presses the acceleration button is a catalysis.

“As a blacksmith and as an artist, the core of my practice is about transforming one thing into something else. That’s what I’m seeing on a daily basis.

“Through the show I’m trying to present that to you, as well as bringing up these conversations about damaged sites, forestry, mining, etc, and really showing, and remembering, in a primal way, that this transformation exists, and getting in touch with it.”


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