Lost Wax shows artists at work in the traditional brass-casting district in Benin City (Nigeria), using the ancient lost wax technique (cire perdue) and recycled metal from the West to produce metal cast artefacts. The newly produced artworks are in an uneasy relationship with the Western-dominated market that maintains a self-interested and arbitrary divide between authentic (pre-1897) objects and ‘cheap’ reproductions, destined for lovers of ‘African’ art or seen to be ‘flooding the market with fakes’. However, even if the new casts are in the historical style of those famously looted by the British in 1897, they are not reproductions, as each cast is a unique work of art.
So what is their status and who are they for? Lost Wax does not directly answer these questions but instead creates an immersive environment, a visual and auditory mise-en-scène of the extraordinary interplay of materials and the ‘dance’ of the hands working on them. The visual and auditory constellation of the spread-out monitors mirrors the shared labour and the simultaneity of different processes and stages of production. Lost Wax creates a tactile portrait of the skills and gestures inloved in making the metal castings: the careful handling and preparation of the basic elements – earth, wax, discarded metal, wood, fire – the modelling of a clay core, the precise application of details with wax, the minutely timed stages of the casting process itself and finally the filing and polishing.